In Reply to: Re: Spare/heir posted by Probe on January 16, 2009 at 06:35:
: : : "He's a spare, not an heir" - is this an idiom?
: : My thought is, no it isn't. I daydreamed through my college English classes, so I could be wrong. A definition is: An idiom is an expression whose meaning can't be derived simply by hearing it, such as "kick the bucket." More phrase definitions here: http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/21/messages/482.html By the way, there's a cool "Idioms are for the birds" T-shirt on the Mental Floss site: http://www.mentalfloss.com/store/product.php?productid=16212&cat=103&page=1
: Thank you. But is it a long-established phrase or one just recently coined?
The precise wording isn't an idiom that is is common usage, but the meaning would be recognised by many in the UK. The British upper classes inherit titles via the male line and so are keen to produce sons. The first son is the heir and the second is the spare.
Charles is the heir to the British throne and Andrew is the spare. In the following generation William is the heir and Harry, also known as the ginger binger, is (God help us) the spare.