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What does the expression "Canary in a Coal Mine" mean?

What's the Canary in a Coal Mine Expression Really Mean?


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If you would use the phrase “canary in a coal mine” to describe your life, then it simply implies that you have lived briefly yet with a certain purpose. It can also mean that you are ready to face life’s uncertainties with your mind, heart and soul.

Coal mines during the ancient centuries didn’t have proper air ventilation. According to legend, caged canary helped miners in the past determine whether they would be able to safely breathe inside the mine or not. The animal’s susceptibility to CO and methane makes miners aware of harmful gases inside the site. If a canary dies inside the mine, then it only means that the miners would soon be next so they have to leave the place as soon as possible.

This technique has been used by companies up until the 2000’s. They have tried using other animals as an experiment but the canary proved to be the best animal in recognizing even the tiniest gas concentration and its instant reaction to that chemical is simply commendable.

Canaries may not be used in coal mines anymore but the expression that uses the famous bird is something that can leave a lasting legacy.

In fact, the political and business world applies the expression to describe situations that are currently happening in different countries today. They use it for minor details that can bring potential harm to the greater community in the years to come. An example for this is the action done by China with its newly released passports. They have placed the picture of the Philippine Western Sea on those documents which is considered as a canary in a coal mine for maintaining a peaceful relationship between the two nations.

The expression is also used by a few companies for them to be warned in giving out large amounts of investment for new projects.

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