the literal, the colloquial, and the peace of nothing

I try very hard to write using phrases that convey literal meaning. I look down on writers who rely too much on colloquial phrases. I consider it sloppy, especially when the writer is unfamiliar with the concrete situation from which the phrase originated. Then, the phrase is merely repeated to convey a shallow meaning without understanding its deeper meaning and context.

Today, I was curious about the origin of the phrase “extend an olive branch”. I thought there must be a great, gripping story behind it. It turns out the origin has long been forgotten. It was that memorable and significant. The symbol of peace that is so widely understood across many cultures is anchored by… nothing. It is learned by rote and repeated mindlessly, not knowing that it is hollow and empty. Perhaps that becomes the truly significant origin of the modern phrase. Contemplate what new and deeper meaning this would assign to the phrase “extend an olive branch”, when applied to present day situations like the Middle East peace process. There is a certain perfection to that. Shaka, when the walls fell.

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