Modern Idioms (and where they come from)



Release the Kraken: the emergence of a beast of an idiom?

Posted on April 30, 2021 at 5:10 AM

Release the Kraken” emerged in late 2020, following the refusal of Donald Trump supporters to graciously accept defeat in the US Presidential Election. A BBC article published in late November 2020 described it as “an internet meme representing a sprawling, unsubstantiated set of claims that purport to outline the case for widespread fraud”.(1) Lawyer Sidney Powell said that she was ready to “Release the Kraken” of evidence that would ensure the immediate downfall of Joe Biden, even if such evidence proved distinctly difficult to pin down. A similar article in the New York Times highlighted that “Release the Kraken” had begun trending on Twitter on Tuesday November 17th, with close to 100,000 tweets utilising the phrase.(2) Many repeated the conspiracy that Trump had “won” the election in a landslide, and the implication of “Release the Kraken” in such cases was that a reckoning was imminent once the “evidence” of this was made publicly available. A reassuring number of counter-examples also cropped up, ridiculing the idea and imagery.

The legend of the Kraken appears in multiple cultures, where the name conjures images of a gargantuan and terrifying sea monster. One article suggests that it has its roots in Nordic history, specifically an account from 1180 written by King Sverre of Norway.(3) Most commonly envisaged as some kind of giant squid, references in literature and popular culture have been common, including as the subject of an 1830 poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, an appearance in Jules Verne’s 1870 novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and as a fearsome behemoth in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. A brand of black spiced rum even takes its name from the mythological beast, with the company website suggesting that an attack on a ship carrying barrels of the drink resulted in it getting “badly stained by the squid’s black ink”, creating “a liquid of unparalleled darkness”.(4)

The phrase itself, however, is directly inspired by the command to “Release the Kraken”, uttered by Zeus in the movie Clash of the Titans, first in 1981 (when Zeus was played by Laurence Olivier), then again in a 2010 remake (when Liam Neeson took over duties). In both versions, the Kraken appeared more as a vaguely humanoid monster than a giant squid, but its destructive power was plain to see nonetheless. Soon after the remake was released, Urban Dictionary listed “Release the Kraken” with a sense akin to “unleash hell”, which seems like a logical generalisation.(5)

At the time of writing, nothing has appeared to bring down Joe Biden’s presidency, so the long-term status of “Release the Kraken” as an idiom remains in the balance. However, one unforeseen effect of the rise of the “conspiracy theory” meaning was to interfere with the launch of newly-formed ice hockey team the Seattle Kraken, who unveiled their campaign to “Release the Kraken” in July 2020. Despite an initial surge in merchandise bearing the slogan, plans to utilise it longer term may have been hastily reconsidered given events that came in the latter half of the year.(6)









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