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English Idioms Inspired by Blacksmiths Posted by on Feb 20, 2020 in English Language

With only an estimated 500 – 1000 professional blacksmiths in the US today, 1https://www.npr.org/2012/06/03/154226599/blacksmiths-forge-a-new-kind-of-artisanal-future chances are excellent that you don’t think about the craft all that often. It is likely, however, that you have heard some of the most common phrases associated with blacksmiths sometime in the last month. In fact, these idioms are so widely known that they seem to have been with us forever. Which is basically how long there have been blacksmiths.

Image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay, CCO

The skill and craft of blacksmithing predate written history. Without the blacksmith to make tools the gardener could not hoe, the mason could not trowel, the builder would have no hammer. Charcoal, or coal, is heated in a forge, then the red-hot metal is hammered into the desired form, then cooled by water. This is a terribly simplistic explanation of the blacksmith’s art, but we all know how vital they have been in the development of civilization.

So, it should come as no surprise that the language of the smithy has filtered into our everyday lives. Here are some of the idioms that have been passed down to us from the blacksmith.

  1. Between the hammer and the anvil

If you are in a bad spot of trouble, there is probably no better way to express what that feeling is like than to say that you are caught between the hammer and the anvil, where it seems like you have no way out and the stress is pounding away at you. Look out!

  1. Forge ahead

If you have a task or chore which needs to be done, but it seems like the progress is slow, there’s nothing to do but to forge ahead. This perfectly describes the life of a blacksmith, toiling over a hot forge, painstakingly creating an object from a slab of hard metal.

  1. Go at it hammer and tongs

Any project or task requiring a lot of energy and effort should be done with hammer and tongs, which are the most basic tools of a blacksmith.

  1. Hammer out a deal

If you have hammered out a deal with someone, you have reached a settlement or conclusion after a long negotiation. The blacksmith hammers away at the hot metal until he is satisfied that the job is satisfactorily accomplished.

  1. It’s got a nice ring to it

You probably didn’t know that this expression comes to us from the blacksmith trade, but it does! The bell-like ring of a hammer striking the anvil as a project finally takes shape inspired this expression, which refers to something said aloud that is pleasing to the listener. You might also say, “I like the sound of that!”

  1. Lose your temper

Also known as losing your cool. When you get angry, you lose your temper. When a blacksmith overheats the iron in his forge, it loses its ability to be forged properly. It has lost its ability to be tempered.

  1. Strike while the iron’s hot

To strike while the iron’s hot is to do something at just the right time. For a blacksmith, to strike while the iron’s hot is to hammer the iron when it is hot enough to be shaped. You don’t want to wait.

  1. The heat is on

To say that the heat is on is an admission that the time to act on something has arrived. It is a time of pressure, excitement, and energy. For a blacksmith, once the forge is roaring hot, it is time to go to work.

  1. Too many irons in the fire

If you are trying to do too many things at once, you have too many irons in the fire. If a blacksmith has too many irons in the fire, they can’t all be worked on at the same time, and the quality will suffer. Indeed, perhaps nothing will work out right and you will have to start over.

And there you have it. I would have loved to have had an even 10 idioms, but I just couldn’t seem to hammer one out.

…Wait a minute!


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  1. Mary Ayeni:

    Such an insightful and interesting piece. So glad I read this

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