"" THE ROAD NOT TAKEN: Golden phrases

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Sunday, 18 January 2009

Golden phrases

LOVELY, rich, shining gold is one of the most coveted metals on earth. Linguists also point out that “gold” is one of the oldest four words in English, the others being “bad”, “tin” and “apple”.

In honour of this precious metal, let's take a look at some common auric phrases.


Gold digger

Around 1830, this was purely a job description. But from 1920 onwards, the term took on a nasty connotation, referring to people who enter into relationships in order to enrich themselves.

Gold digging is still thriving today. An excellent description of the gold digger’s tactics made the single Gold Digger by Kanye West a number one hit in 2005.

Although men can be gold diggers, the phrase is mostly used to describe women. Male gold diggers are more often called parasites.

Example: I knew Yazmin was a gold digger by the way her eyes lit up when she spotted Rahman’s platinum credit card.


Golden age

A time in history when the people are prosperous, arts flourish and good times are had by all. Also a euphemism for retirement.

Vedic, Greek, Latin and Persian culture believed mankind lived in a Golden Age until tempted into the first evil. European scholars commonly use the phrase for the years 70BC to 14AD when the great Latin authors such as Ovid, Catullus, and Horace were at work.

Today, the expression is used more loosely to describe any thriving period. For example, many scholars refer to the Song (960-1279) and Tang (618-906) dynasties in China, the Renaissance, and other periods as golden ages as well.

The second sense became popular in the 1980s. The term golden ager is now a common synonym for senior citizen and pensioner in the United States.

Examples: 1) The 1930s are unquestionably the golden age of jazz. 2) We’re meeting a group of golden agers tonight.


To be worth your weight in gold

To be very useful; to be very valuable.

A few years ago, someone calculated that a person weighing around 60kg would be worth about US$1 million in gold. Although the price of gold fluctuates somewhat, there must be plenty of celebrities and rich folk around today who are valued at such a price.

However, this phrase, which first found print in 1705, is most often applied to office staff who can sort out problems without bothering the boss; to charity workers who can smooze money out of tight-fisted sponsors; and other talented people who have less than a million smackers in the bank.

Example: Rafli is competent but Nasha is worth her weight in gold.


The golden rule

A basic principle that will ensure success in a particular venture.

This expression used to refer to the Bible (Matt. 7:12) where Jesus advocates “do as you would be done by”. However, the meaning has blurred quite considerably over time, and it is now often used as the equivalent of a “prime directive” rather than an oblique reference to the biblical injunction.

Example: The golden rule of self-defence is to not get yourself into dangerous situations needlessly.


To have a heart of gold

To be noble-hearted or very good as a person.

First used in print in 1553, the phrase describes the person with a heart of gold as someone who is above petty grudges and ordinary nastiness.

Funnily enough, the phrase is often associated with prostitutes who are often caricatured as rough and tough but basically much kinder and more forgiving than the average citizen.

Fantasy sci-fi lovers will also recognise The Heart of Gold as the name of the extraordinary powerful spaceship stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Example: Sathiswaran often scolds his relatives for not working hard enough but he actually has a heart of gold.


All that glistens/glitters is not gold

A proverb that warns we should not be fooled into thinking well of something or someone just because it looks attractive.

This proverb appears in many languages and in many cultures. The Yeoman in Chaucer’s classic Canterbury Tales (1385) uses it to caution fellow passengers against his boss who pretends to have a gift for turning base metal into gold.

Lord of the Rings fans will recognise an allusion to the phrase in the poem that describes Aragorn, “All that is gold does not glitter,/ Not all those who wander are lost.”

Example: The car looks great but all that glistens isn’t gold. The aerodynamics and the engine are second-rate.

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