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A.Word.A.Day--goldbrick

Pronunciation RealAudio

goldbrick (GOLD-brik) noun

1. Something that appears valuable but is worthless.

2. A person who shirks assigned work or does it without proper effort.

verb intr.

To shirk duty.

verb tr.

To cheat or swindle.

[Sense 1 from the con artists' old trick of selling a gold-polished piece of less valuable metal as solid gold. Sense 2 was originally military slang for an officer appointed from civilian life.]

"Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko was rushed to the hospital after suffering a heart attack, and we all felt guilty to learn that we were at fault. ... Still, it is lucky that the heart attack was real, because the medical establishment takes a dim view of goldbricks."
Russell Working; Feeling Nazdratenko's Pain; The Moscow Times (Russia); Feb 5, 2001.

"Underminers, half-steppers, gossips and goldbricks were not tolerated on his (Jack Kent Cooke) watch."
Thomas Boswell; The Buck Stops With The Man Who Signs The Redskins' Checks; The Washington Post; Oct 19, 2001.

Oh, how we're fascinated with metals, particularly the yellow variety, and especially in the business world! We flock to a gold rush (headlong pursuit of wealth in a new, potentially lucrative field), we retain executives with golden handcuffs (rewards given at specific intervals) or when the gold rush is over, we bid them adieu with a golden handshake (generous severance pay for early retirement). Unless, of course, they had already negotiated a golden parachute (a contract that guarantees generous severance pay). Let's just hope they didn't turn out to be goldbricks.

While the yellow metal symbolizes wealth, the gray kind is often used as a metaphor for strength, toughness, or impenetrability, from nerves of steel to iron curtain. Often we use them to describe people, from the Iron Chancellor (Bismarck), or the Iron Lady (Margaret Thatcher, also Bosnia's Biljana Plavsic).

This week we'll discuss metal words used as metaphors.

-Anu

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