Note: while reading, pay special attention to the expressions in bold. Here’s why
Prof. Michael T. Osterholm, a well-known public health expert, speaking about COVID-19, recently said: “My job isn’t to scare you out of your wits; it’s to scare you into your wits”. This is a good opportunity to learn the expression to scare someone out of their wits. Let’s see what Prof. Osterholm meant.
If I scare you out of your wits, the things that I do or say make you so afraid that you lose control and may do stupid things.
Your wits means “your intelligence”, and in this expression it is, metaphorically, a container, a box, that I can get you out of – by scaring you.
In English, your mind is also, metaphorically, a container – for your consciuosness, your thoughts and your memories. You are out of your mind means “you are crazy”. When we say keep this in mind we mean “don’t forget this” keep it in that box of yours, your mind. An open mind (or an open-minded person) lets in new ideas, whereas a closed mind (or a closed-minded person) does not.
Back to scaring people out of their wits, it’s true that fear often makes people do stupid things, but not always. Sometimes, fear makes us do the right thing instead. This is what Prof. Osterholm wants. He makes a play-on-words when he says that his job is to scare you into your wits – to make you so afraid that you will do the intelligent thing, instead of the stupid thing.
Prof. Osterholm, an expert on infectious diseases, was talking about the COVID-19 crisis. Many climate scientists could say the same thing. They tell us the scary facts about the situation, hoping that we will do what is right and change things for the better.
Let’s hope so too!!
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