Stop making fun of the owls, Bacchus!
Here’s what it means according to The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: “having a stupid, vacant stare.”
Very useful! For instance:
Person 1: What do I look like?
Person 2: Like an owl in the ivy bush.
Person 1: What does that mean?
Person 2: It means you’re beautiful.
See? Useful. It’s a nice way of being rude.
The Dictionary goes on to explain the phrase: “Owls are proverbial for their judge-like solemnity. Ivy is the favorite plant of Bacchus, and was supposed to be the favorite haunt of owls.”
Clearly, the ivy was a very popular plant.
This explanation makes no sense. So according to it, owls, who loved ivy, went into the ivy bush, that was also loved by Bacchus, and once in the bush they would lose their solemnity and get stupid and vacant stares. It sounds to me like the ivy is a bush best avoided.
This explanation flummoxed me when I read it. What does Bacchus have to do with owls or ivy bushes?
So I did some digging of my own.
And found that the ivy was, indeed, Bacchus’s favorite plant because it used to grow in his homeland. (That’s not a reason to like a plant. And don’t you just love ancient gods? They have a homeland, like people.) Also, Bacchus wore on his head a wreath of ivy.
Well, in view of this new discovery, LIKE AN OWL IN THE IVY BUSH makes perfect sense. The owl sees the ivy, can’t resist it because it’s its favorite haunt, flies and lands in the ivy, only to realize that it is actually the ivy on Bachhus’s head, and at this point the owl begins to feel stupid.
I hope you find a good use for this phrase that only Bacchus knows how it became an expression and why.