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Re: Sword sayings from Brewer's

Posted by ESC on March 21, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Double edged vs two edged posted by TheFallen on March 21, 2003

: : : First, thanks to all who helped with the previous inquiry - very helpful community!

: : : The latest mystery is "to cut both ways". I know what the expression means, but any ideas as to its origin? Google's not yielding too much information.

: : : --Dave

: : It refers to a "double-edged sword" that cuts both ways.

: Given that ESC and I both posted simultaneous answers on this, I thought I'd idly googlefight "two edged sword" versus "double edged sword". The results? A very inconclusive 198,000 hits for two edged, and 184,000 for double edged. My instinct was instantly for two edged. I wonder if it's a UK/US thing?

Sword (phrases and proverbs):
At swords' point. In deadly hostility, ready to fight each other with swords. 1

Poke not fire with a sword. This was a precept of Pythagoras, meaning add not fuel to fire, or do not irritate an angry man by sharp words which will only increase his rage. (See Iamblichus Protreptics, symbol ix.) 2

To put to the sword. To slay. 3

Your tongue is a double-edged sword. 4

You first say one thing and then the contrary; your argument cuts both ways. The allusion is to the double-edged sword out of the mouth of the Son of Man-one edge to condemn, and the other to save. (Rev. i. 16.) 5

Yours is a Delphic sword-it cuts both ways. Erasmus says a Delphic sword is that which accommodates itself to the pro or con. of a subject. The reference is to the double meanings of the Delphic oracles, called in Greek Delphik muchaira.

E. Cobham Brewer 1810-1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898. http://www.bartleby.com/81/16149.html