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Today's Word



Aug 21, 2023
This week’s theme
Terms used figuratively

This week’s words
gilded cage
cold feet
golden handcuffs

The Gilded Cage
The Gilded Cage, 1908
Art: Saint George Hare

Previous week’s theme
Words borrowed from Yiddish
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with Anu Garg

A language is a quilt stitched with stories from epochs past. Each word unfolds a tale, and its literal meaning is often just the beginning. It means more than what it means when used idiomatically.

We often borrow from one context to illuminate another. Consider the word grasp. While it literally means to physically hold or seize something, figuratively it’s used to denote understanding, as in grasping a concept.

In the same vein, when we talk about the roots of a problem, we aren’t speaking of actual plant roots but drawing from nature to convey the origins of a situation.

Limiting words to their literal interpretations is to miss the rich tapestry of stories, cultures, and histories they encapsulate. A gilded cage could only be a gold-plated enclosure if we wanted. But why would we? Metaphors are where the magic is.

This week, join us as we explore five terms, unraveling their figurative beauty woven into our language.

Do you have a story relating to the figurative expressions featured this week? Share on our website or email us at words@wordsmith.org. As always, include your location (city, state).

gilded cage

(GIL-did kayj)

noun: A place or situation that’s superficially attractive but confining.

Alluding to a bird in a gilded cage, which may be shiny and beautiful, but ultimately it still imprisons the bird. From gilded (coated with a thin layer of gold) + cage. Earliest documented use: 1693.

“Charles is little more than a dilettante, living a life of useless luxury in a gilded cage. The sooner Canada grows up and removes the anachronism of the monarchy the better.”
Frank Malone; King and Country; The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); May 9, 2023.

Life cannot be classified in terms of a simple neurological ladder, with human beings at the top; it is more accurate to talk of different forms of intelligence, each with its strengths and weaknesses. This point was well demonstrated in the minutes before last December's tsunami, when tourists grabbed their digital cameras and ran after the ebbing surf, and all the 'dumb' animals made for the hills. -B.R. Myers, author (b. 21 Aug 1963)

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