Gold has long-held a fascination for people from all over the world however the fascination has varied across time and place. (MacGregor, 2013) This week there has been perhaps even higher with Mathew Hart‘s new book Gold: The Race for the Worlds Most Seductive Metal being serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week. The British Museum has also been contributing to this interest: it’s exhibition of Pre-Columbian Gold is on (until March so hurry).
Gold and idioms to do with it have also had a long connection with the English language. There are lots of uses for gold, whether it’s jewlery, money or high-end-electronics gold has a certain cachet in consumer circles. It also appears in popular culture from Goldfrapp to James Bond Films, that’s right no fewer than 3 have used Gold in the title.
–Good as gold originally comes from currency, many nations used gold as a metal for coinage, for something to be as good as gold means that it has a high value. This one is also often used with behaviour.
“How were the kids at the dentist’s?”
“They were as good as gold.”
– The gold standard is another term with connections to money. Gold which had a universally high value was used as a measure of exchange between countries, especially in Europe. A currency that was backed by the gold standard meant that any bank would change the money for gold. Going to town with £10-20 to spend can be nice but having to carry that much in metal would be heavy.
– A gold-digger is often someone who gets in a relationship for the money (or the power, privilege or luxury it affords). This can be used for someone who is trying to get rich quick, without really working for it as well. For example someone who joins a wealthy but troubled firm, hoping for a pay out.
– If you strike gold you get lucky, usually in a financial sense. This can also mean that you put in a lot of hard work and it paid off, but perhaps better than could be expected.
–Silence is Golden is another one that connects to behaviour, but, not only with children.
“Don’t tell John about the party”
“Silence is Golden” means they won’t say anything.
It can also be used as an instruction or warning for someone to keep quiet, or especially not say anything bad.
– To go for gold comes from the world of sport, perhaps most notably in the Olympics where the best performance (without the help of drugs etc.) gets the gold medal. Going for gold means doing your best or trying to win, (this might shift a bit depending on context.
“Are you ready for the test?”
“I think so, I studied all weekend.”
“Well, go for gold, I’m sure it will be fine.”
– Golden Boy, many offices have a golden boy usually a very talented young person who is expected to do really well and could be said to have a golden future. Interestingly, Golden Girl tends to mean someone nearer the other end of life; connecting to the idea of golden years the idea that once you’ve retired and your children have left home you can have a great time. The Golden one can be used to talk about someone of either gender who is starting a promising career. This has it’s links back to pre-Columbian society. Where one chieftain would cover themself with gold dust before diving into a lake, as part of a ritual to prove they had the right to lead. You might even say that someone who’s very lucky in business (or perhaps life in general) has the Midas touch. If you don’t believe they do the work or are quite as good as everyone seems to think you can say they lay golden eggs.
–The Golden Rule: Also called the rule of thirds, in photography and graphic composition is about 1/3 so that any frame can be broken into 9 segments by applying the golden rule, where the four lines meet are natural focal points in the image. It is also often connected with the bible’s Mathew 7:12 “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or basically be nice/fair to people so they are nice/fair to you. The golden rule in any situation or discipline, is one that cannot/should not ever be broken.
–Goldsmiths is a London University with links back to the old guild system where goldsmiths were credited with excellent technical skills, knowledge and abilities. This is a reputation that the university continues to enjoy in a number of fields.
– The Golden Mile is claimed by a couple of resorts, usually to describe the concentration of tourist/nightlife activity, usually near a beach, even if it’s not a mile (Blackpool’s is 1.6 Miles long). The phrase is occasionally also used by racers similar to the home stretch, that part of the race near/leading up to the finish line, again not often exactly a mile long, (or even close).
–Fool’s Gold can be used to describe anything that someone is putting too much value or focus on. Traditionally this is a folk name for pyrite.
–All that glitters is not gold – is a nice little idiom, often used to give advice to people who may not have their values clear in the mind of the speaker. If your friend is pursuing an attractive, but not very nice person, you might warn them with ‘all that glitters is not gold’ meaning they might look nice but they aren’t nice.
All this however, is not the end of Gold’s impact on our culture or minds. There is a quiz show, (that I didn’t know about until the orignal publication of this article) called Golden Balls, but there is also a sports merchandise firm associated with the Japanese and Korean World Cup but based in London of the same name, not to mention a hotel in Cambridgeshire. At least 3 radio stations broadcast ‘golden moments’ and golden showers have also been mentioned as slang in messages, of course with no clear definition. Please leave any other gold you find in the comments.