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USA Network's Newest Series Is All About The 'Snake In The Grass' — What Does That Even Mean, Anyway?

"Snake In The Grass" is a new game show on USA Network, but it's also an idiom with a very storied etymology. 

Two 'Snake In The Grass' contestants sitting next to each other

Snake In The Grass” is coming to USA Network in August, promising a reality competition show like no other. The series will take four contestants with a background in either survival, physical fitness, or both and have them live in the wilderness of Central America for 36 hours. As they compete in various challenges as a team, their ultimate goal is to figure out who among them is the titular “snake” that’s been secretly lying to them and trying to sabotage their game the entire time.

While the title is fitting for the show, many people may not even know what “Snake In The Grass” means. Before it was the title of your next favorite game show, it was a phrase commonly used to describe a person with nefarious intent. It even goes a little deeper than that, in fact. The most proper use of “snake in the grass” as an idiom is in reference to someone who masquerades as a friend or ally only to be plotting their own agenda, biding their time, and waiting for the right moment to strike at you in a negative way. 

A similar idiom that people may be familiar with is “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Whichever way you use it, the terms refer to someone who cannot be trusted but wants you to do exactly that. In this metaphor that trust is the grass and the person’s real intent is the snake. Also, don’t forget that snakes literally tend to hide in tall grass — so, be careful out there. 

Like all good idioms, the phrase is a quick way to describe a complicated idea. That's probably why it's withstood the test of time and been around for so long.

According to Grammarist, the first recorded use of a version of the phrase was by the Latin poet Virgil in the third Eclogue, which is roughly dated around 37 BCE. In it, Virgil writes “latet anguis in herba,” which has been translated to English as either “a snake lurks in the grass” or “there’s a cold adder lurking in the grass.” 

An “adder” is a European viper snake so … same thing. 

Many believe that what popularized the expression that English speakers all use today, though, was the release of Charles Leslie’s book “Snake In The Grass” in 1696. The book itself was a controversial text at the time due to it being highly critical of Quakers. 

In fact, its full title is “The Snake in the Grass, Or, Satan Transform'd Into an Angel of Light: Discovering the Deep and Unsuspected Subtilty which is Couched Under the Pretended Simplicity, of Many of the Principal Leaders of Those People Call'd Quakers.” (A bit wordy if you ask us.)

Somewhere along the line, it was adopted as a common idiom for those hoping to warn others that someone is not the team member they may claim to be. However, will the warning be enough to help contestants on “Snake In The Grass” suss out their saboteur and earn the $100,000 grand prize? 

Tune in on Monday, August 1 at 11 p.m. ET/PT on USA Network for the "Snake In The Grass" premiere.

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