Posted by Smokey Stover on December 02, 2006
In Reply to: Re: Don't open up a can of worms posted by ESC on December 01, 2006
: : : don't open up a can of worms
: : If anyone has a better example, jump in.
: : Don't mention a certain subject. It could lead to a conversation topic that is going to be unpleasant. "He asked about her ex-husband. That opened a can of worms." Or it could refer to a course of action. "We decided to remodel the kitchen. That opened up a can of worms and we wound up remodeling the whole house."
: : From the archives: http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/5/messages/250.html
: A visual aide at: http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&q=can+of+worms
: : It is about the same meaning as "opening Pandora's box" (See http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/6/messages/167.html )
I think the comparison with Pandora's box is a little misleading, primarily because Pandora's box is a cautionary tale with a quite specific history. A can of worms simply means, as has been pointed out, a tangled tale of complications that tend to wriggle when you look at them.
The "can of worms" metaphor is very widely known, and one of my favorite examples, although a bit tangential to the usual meaning, is in Rochester, N.Y. When the circumferential highway network (the outer and inner loop) was being built in Rochester as part of the Interstate Highway System, the road designers did their best to accommodate every traffic need. But one group of highway connections was so complex and confusing that the locals dubbed it the "can of worms." If you used that term in connection with the road system, everyone knew exactly which area you were talking about, and why you called it that.