Sunday, May 13, 2007

Double-Edged Sword

Out of all the cliches in all of the English language, one particular bothers me. Not many of them get at my nerves too much, most of them make sense. "Let the cat out of the bag" makes sense, for example. The concept of an angry cat being let out of a bag, running wild, both drawing attention and causing damage accurately portrays the idea of a negative rumor moving amongst the mouths of men.

The "double-edged sword" cliche makes no sense. I have tried for years to rationalize it, and it truly fails to perform the purpose for which it was coined. Essentially, the cliche portrays the concept that a given situation has a positive and negative side. For example, the Toyota Prius could be considered a "double-edged sword," since, although it may save money on gasoline, it is a relatively expensive vehicle.

It's not the concept that bothers me--the concept is a very common one, and having simple phrase to convey it easily is useful. However, the imagery fails completely. First of all, the majority of swords are double-edged, so why bother describe the sword as double-edged? It is merely redundant. Also, both edges of the sword are the same, while the concept portrays both a positive and negative end to the given situation. Unless the person weilding the sword is pushing it into their target with their hand on one of the edges, there is no positive or negative side of the weapon. The image of the cliche doesn't even touch this idea. If anything--with the weapon used properly--both sides of the weapon are positive; there is no disadvantage to using a double-edged sword.

The cliche has stuck around because it's useful, and it's not going to go away until there's a viable replacement. Hopefully, someone will come up with one that accurately portrays the concept and is simple, a difficult task.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you! I also spent a long time (5 minutes) wondering about this phrase and didnt think it made sense - i was glad to read your post.

Monday, July 28, 2008 12:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many types of swords do not have an edge on both sides. The commonly referred to sword that you maybe be thinking of is the type that were used by Celtics and such as broad sword or a heavy sword like those seen in Braveheart. However, think of swords such as a saber or a katana, which only have an edge on one side. One disadvantage of a double edged sword is that you maybe be overpowered while wielding it and the edge closest to you may be forced onto you by the opponent. Also, you might have recoiled when hitting something and it could possibly swing back and cut something to the left or right of you. There are many advantages, as well as disadvantages to a double edged sword...

Tuesday, February 08, 2011 4:16:00 AM  
Blogger The Emperor of the Moon said...

Finally! It makes sense now--although with twice the cutting surface, that extra "sliciness" could come back and cut you.

Thursday, February 10, 2011 5:19:00 PM  

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