Dead metaphors are idiomatic expressions so common to our spoken language that we all understand what they mean, even if we don’t know where they came from. Oddly enough, blacksmithing has contributed many of these to the English language. Here are a few of the most common.
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Scott Wadsworth of Essential Craftsman explains in the video below.
Strike While The Iron is Hot
The premise is simple. Heat (up to a point) makes steel malleable and elastic. The force needed to shape it is greatly reduced. our intrepid blacksmith demonstrates this by hitting a heated bar with a six pound hammer. The red-hot steel flattens predictably.
He then comes back and hits the same bar after the heat has dissipated for 30 seconds or so. The same blows have little impact on the steel.
The metaphor, broken down into its component parts, becomes clear. The vehicle of the metaphor is the working window a blacksmith has after removing the stock from the fire. The tenor of the metaphor has far reaching implications. Don’t miss an available opportunity that will allow you to make the most of your energy.
Too Many Irons in the Fire
Such a cliche. Not for the blacksmith. Steel needs to be heated to a point, but not over heated. If you burn steel, you are stripping carbon. The steel changes, at a molecular level. It can actually melt. Disaster. Focus on one project at a time and don’t leave something important in the proverbial fire.
The third isn’t nearly as common.
Going at it Hammer and Tongs
This isn’t one I’ve actually heard in common usage. It implies, according to Wadsworth, an all-in effort. Hard as you can. Even if you tire, you still have to strike while the iron is hot.
It Has a Nice Ring to it
This one may be the most common idiom, and the one that has traveled farthest from the forge. A well made anvil will ring when struck by a hammer. The face of a hammer (dense carbon steel) strikes the face of the anvil (another hard piece of steel) and it pings audibly.
A blacksmith can judge the quality of an anvil by the sound in much the same way one might judge the accoustic potential of a guitar’s tone wood, or the ring of a crystal wine goblet.