When you hear that someone was the laughing stock at a recent meeting, you don’t immediately get an image of the stocks – a medieval form of punishment where a petty criminal was seated with their ankles and/or wrists locked into holes in a wooden frame for passers-by to laugh at. Another such form of punishment was the pillory, where a person stood with hands and head locked into holes in the wooden frame. Strangely, there’s no laughing involved if someone is pilloried. ‘Time is running out’ but no-one visualises the sand in an hourglass, the origin of the expression.
These are examples of dead metaphors, expressions so ingrained in the language that we no longer make the connection with the original. The metaphor has taken on a life of its own.
George Orwell described what he called ‘dying metaphors’, those somewhere between original and dead, worn out but not replaced with anything new and inspired.
And so to the dead metaphor that’s the bane of every translator’s life: the deadline, which we all understand to mean when something is due but a deadline originally referred to the line around the perimeter of a prison within which a prisoner would be shot if they went beyond it. And to be honest, some deadlines do feel more like that.😊 Speaking of which……