The top ten: Misused fables
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Sunday 29 December 2013
Every time a footballer or football manager talks about 'sour grapes', Jerry Campbell wants to shout at the television. 'Has nobody read Aesop's fables?' he asks. 'It does not just mean complaining. It means pretending the prize just lost [the grapes] was not worth winning [were sour] to avoid admitting disappointment.'
1. Sour grapes Not another way of saying "whinge".
2. Pyrrhic victory A victory won at too great a cost, not just an empty victory.
3. Midas touch It was a curse.
4. Canute He sat in the waves to show sycophantic courtiers that he could not hold back the tide. Thanks to Peter A Russell.
5. Break the mould Uniquely beautiful, not dramatic change. From The Frenzy of Orlando by Ludovico Ariosto: "Nature made him, and then broke the mould."
6. The Good Samaritan "Unless you have anti-Samaritan prejudice, it's hard to get the point," notes Colin Rosenthal.
7. The writing on the wall A hidden warning. No one but Daniel could understand this cryptic message of doom. Thanks to Omer Lev.
8. Devil's advocate Not the taker of a position for the sake of argument (that's a troll), but someone who puts the devil's claims to candidates for sainthood.
9. Frankenstein Not to be confused with his monster.
10. Meritocracy A parable set in 2033, published in 1958, by Michael Young. It was a bad thing.
Next week: Most English remarks ('I think the rain's easing')
Coming soon: Unexpected etymology ('feisty' comes from a word for fart; 'blowsy' from a beggar's female companion). Send your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, to email@example.com
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