The saying "Canary in a coal mine" came from back when canaries used to help out coal miners, sometimes even giving their lives!
Canary in a coal mine: (phrase) Miners in the United States and the United Kingdom used to take canaries into coal mines as feathered alarm systems since coal mines lacked ventilation systems. Canaries would feel the effects of toxic gasses, such as carbon monoxide and methane, before the miners, so if the canaries got sick or died then the miners knew to get out of the mine. If the canary kept singing and living, miners knew the air was clear. Canaries are no longer used in coal mines, although apparently this practice continued well into the 20th century. Nowadays, it is phrase used to explain how one small incident is really an alarm for something bigger. A person or company can be called a "canary in a coal mine" when the person or company is being used to test something out before it is expanded to more people or the entire company. “Canary in a Coal Mine” is also the title of a popular song by the band The Police.
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