Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

AN OUTBREAK of breaking has broken out. Dr John Stables from North Creake in Norfolk writes suggesting it may all derive from the mould-breaking of the Social Democrats. (Remember them?)

Certainly breaking the mould has since become a much misused phrase. The idea traditionally had been a metaphor taken from sculpture -- after they made you they broke the mould. It implied you were a one-off, sui generis, possibly nonpareil.

Since that January day in 1981 in Narrow Street, Limehouse, where Mrs Shirley Williams, Mr Roy Jenkins, Dr David Owen and Mr William Rodgers, as they then were, made their declaration, the idea has grown that their breaking the mould was in some way smashing the political system or breaking through a crust like a growing plant.

More recently the critics' favourite word has become groundbreaking (with innovatory close behind, carrying the same meaning). Presumably groundbreaking is a metaphor taken from agriculture, though some might suppose it comes from gold-mining or ditchdigging. …

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