In a weekend report, the Times managed a triumphant mixing of three metaphors in one short sentence: 'The gauntlets have been thrown down,
the opening cards have been played, the warning shots have been fired.'
What could this mean? In a special Midgie investigation to mark 'an historic moment from which there is no turning back' – except, shouldn't it have been 'a historic moment'? – we reveal the hidden meanings behind the clichés of the last epoch-making week.
Throwing down the gauntlet
This relates to the medieval practice of a knight throwing down his gauntlet – a metal glove – as a challenge to combat. It is believed to date from the second half of the 1700s; that prize chump Bonnie Prince Charlie would have been familiar with it. In some variations, the knight 'rips off his mask' before he throws down his gauntlet, whereupon his opponent is expected to 'take up the gauntlet'. The fate of the mask is unrecorded.
Historical precedent suggests that you cannot rip off your mask and throw down your gauntlet, as Theresa May did, unless you have a strong intuition that your opponent – name of Donald Tusk in this case – will take up your gauntlet and do something fairly menacing with it. Otherwise, the press will accuse you of making an 'empty gesture', no doubt with 'worthless currency'.
Playing the opening cards
In bridge, the bidding determines the declarer. 'The declarer' is the one who plays the hand (Theresa May again, after she's ripped off her mask and thrown down her gauntlet) and her partner (Boris Johnson) becomes 'the dummy'. The person to the declarer's left (David Davis) puts down the first card, face up in the middle of the table. The card, that is.
The 13 cards that the dummy (Boris Johnson) puts down are also called the dummy. Yes, Boris Johnson is a dummy twice over. But we knew that already. As a general rule, it is a good idea to discard worthless cards that can't play tricks (see you around, Phil).
Firing the warning shots
You may be tempted to fire a 'warning shot' if you are having a disagreement or a problem with another person. Military strategists warn that it is rarely if ever a good idea. In civilian life, too, the gesture often backfires (so to speak).
In West Virginia recently, a Sunday school teacher was walking home from church with his fiancée when they were surrounded by a threatening group of nine men. 'It was one of the most scariest experiences of my life,' he admitted later. 'They claimed they were going to rape my wife.' (It is not clear if the victim was part of some bizarre ménage à trois, in which he and his fiancée went to church while the wife stayed at home preparing the Sunday roast for the three of them.) In order to repel the gang, he reached for his gun, as Sunday school teachers do, and fired a warning shot. The
police promptly arrived on the scene and charged him with wanton endangerment.
The moral of these tales – there is always a moral and for some reason it usually comes at the end – is that ripping off your mask, throwing down your gauntlet, trusting those dummies Johnson to put down your cards, and firing your warning shots, are activities fraught with risk, especially in West Virginia. All things considered, it may be safer to stay in Bute House, put your feet up, and look as if you could be writing a letter to Santa Claus.
The Midgie's irritating phrase of the week
'It is what it is.' A cousin of 'It does what it says on the tin.' The Midgie finds more often than not that it isn't what it is, and that it rarely does what it says on the tin.