Diamond geezers and golden balls: The metallisation of mankind
It seems strange and desperate that as humans we constantly try to appropriate the unique qualities of metals and minerals through our use of language. Soft fleshy organisms, feeble in body and frail in mind, we hubristically declare our selves to be hard as nails, or to have nerves of steel. In short, we want to be metal.
The metaphorical metallisation of our bodies and our minds is a pan-European phenomenon. Throughout Europe, flimsy, fleshy humans appropriate metallurgical nomenclatures, trying to be something we're not. Or perhaps we are simply trying to crystallise our competences in colourful metaphors? Whatever the cause, metallurgical metaphors pervade our language like a semi-benevolent virus.
Typically metallurgical metaphors come packaged as compliments. ‘Diamond geezer’ is the epitome of the mineralogical compliment. A diamond geezer evokes the unyielding resilience of the diamond- he is as hard as nails. Moreover, he embodies the unique, unparalleled charm of the diamond- a diamond geezer gives you his last cigarette or his last bread roll even when he's hungry. The diamond geezer is invaluable just like his namesake.
Many European languages take a pretty metal and metaphorically put it in their mouth. The Spanish refer to a smooth talker as ‘pico de oro’ (golden beak), the Polish say ‘złotousty’ which is synonymous with the English ‘silver-tongued’. Humans are seduced by silver-tongued smooth talkers just like magpies are by shiny things. These metaphors indicate the importance of aesthetics in seductive discourse.
The most popular quality to appropriate from metals and metaphorically apply to human beings is solidity and resilience. Irrepressibly good health is described as iron in French, ‘une santé de fer’ and Spanish too, ‘salud de hierro’. In French, Polish, and English sang-froid is metallicised as ‘nerfs d'acier’, ‘mieć stalowe nerwy’ and nerves of steel respectively.
We are jealous of metals on so many levels, and we all know that jealousy is soon followed by imitation. Just look at all those wounded humans with metal plates in their legs. The world of science fiction is populated with men made of metal- The Terminator, the Tin Man, Iron Man. With all these bionic arms and legs and shiny metal embellishments being incorporated into the human anatomy, before long saying someone has a silver tongue or ‘un mental d’acier’ will perhaps be a simple statement of fact rather than a metaphor.
This article is part of Cafébabel's 'Tower of Babel' series which explores the curiosities and delights of Europe's many languages.