Cliches communicate complex ideas in a word or two. Some are about an event, such as the Arabic word hijra. It refers to Prophet Muhammad’s flight from Mecca. Urdu poets use it for separation or for exile, and Indians in Karachi call themselves Muhajirs (those who fled).
Some clichés are about people. Draconian refers to laws that are oppressive. The word comes from the Athenian lawgiver Draco, who had a fondness for the death penalty. A pyrrhic victory is one like those achieved by Greek-Macedon general Pyrrhus against the Romans, involving high cost and little gain.
Most clichés are about objects. Some of these were objects of everyday use when the phrase was coined, though no longer. Others are still extant, but we have used the word so often that the object has been forgotten. Take this little test to see if you can identify the cliché, which you are quite certain to know, from the object, which might be less familiar.
1. Before matches were invented, this was the standard kit to light a fire. It contains a flint, a steel striker and some dry, fibrous material which would ignite easily. Today the word for this kit describes a place or a situation that is volatile. What is it called?
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2. These are gloves from a suit of armour (note the bits leaving the fingers
exposed to grip a sword). One of these was flung down by a knight as a challenge and picked up by an opponent as acceptance. The glove’s name is now synonymous with a challenge to a duel.
Photo Credit: 1. Theo V Bresler/Wikimedia Commons; 2. Rama/Wikimedia Commons; 3. USFWS/Wikimedia Commons; 4: FCB981/Wikimedia Commons; 5: Samuraiantiqueworld/Wikimedia Commons; 6: Gildos/Wikimedia Commons; 7: Aviad2001/Wikimedia Commons; 8: Giulio Nepi/Wikimedia Commons; 9: Massalim/Wikimedia Commons; 10: The Yorck Projects/Wikimedia Commons.
3. This freshwater carp is used as bait to catch larger fish. Its name is symbolic of an opponent who is small. Like David to Goliath, but with David losing. This poor creature is a particularly popular metaphor with cricket writers.
4. The unravelled extremity of a piece of string or of fabric has a name. This name is used to illustrate the final bit of something, like a career. What?
5.This short and heavy stick is an offensive weapon. When we threaten to use it on behalf of someone, we are said to be doing what?
6. A common firecracker such as this one is made up of many small tubes filled with explosive material. When one of these little tubes collects moisture, and is therefore unlikely to explode, it becomes a metaphor for a flop. What is this tube named?
7.Offal is the entrails, organs and otherwise inedible (and inexpensive) bits of meat. When a dish is prepared using these ingredients, its eater is said to accept his low estimate of himself. By what name do we know this famous dish, often spoken of but rarely made and almost never eaten (especially by politicians)?
8. This is an interesting one. A round-bottomed bottle such as this is produced when the glassblower fails to properly make the bottle’s bottom flat. And so the basket is needed to keep it upright. The name for such a bottle is synonymous with a disaster achieved in a humiliating fashion. The name is also the Italian word for flask. What is it?
9.This sleeveless cloak is worn formally by bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Church during processions and services. When they retire (or die) the robe goes to the man’s successor. The first instance of this is recorded in the Bible when Prophet Elijah gave his cloak to Elisha. Such transfer of authority makes reference to the name of this garment. What is it called?
10.This painting by Domenico Beccafumi (who died in 1551) shows Christ in a place that is not heaven nor fully hell. It’s somewhere in between, though nearer hell. People, or things, in this place are said to be in... what?
Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media.
Photographs courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
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