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"a bridge too far"

Posted by Smokey Stover on August 11, 2005

In Reply to: "A bridge too far" posted by Victoria S Dennis on August 11, 2005

: : Is the expression "a bridge too far" close to "sour grapes"

: Nowhere near. "Sour grapes" comes from one of Aesop's fables: a fox tried to steal some grapes from a vine, but when he couldn't reach them he stalked off saying "Huh! They're sour anyway". Thus "sour grapes" means badmouthing something because you can't have it. "A bridge too far" is the title of a book (and subsequently a film) about the Arnhem Landings, an operation in World War II in which the Allies attempted to seize three major bridges over the Rhine with airborne troops. The attempt failed, and one of the generals who had planned it said "I always though we were trying to go a bridge too far". I wouldn't have said that the quotation had become an "expression"; if it did, it would mean something like "biting off more than you can chew".

My impression is that the phrase is so well known to at least one generation that it became, at least for them, something of a catch-phrase. This is probably because the failed effort to capture the Arnhem Bridge was a dramatic and unexpected event, a disappointing reversal in the seemingly unstoppable march across Europe. The phrase was also the title of an excellent book by Cornelius Ryan. I'm not at all sure that "biting off more than one can chew" is a good equivalent, although I'm sure many think so. Certainly there were those who actually said, "Monty bit off more than he could chew" or something very similar. For those who heard the phrase in the context of the events belonging to it, it has an aura of disappointment and bitterness not at all associated with "biting off more than one can chew," although both can conjure up the hubris that led to the disaster. SS

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