saints and sin­ners

A few ex­pres­sions re­lated to these two op­po­sites.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - By ELLEN WHYTE

A few ex­pres­sions re­lated to these two op­po­sites.

AC­CORD­ING to Chris­tian tra­di­tion, a saint was once a gen­eral term mean­ing Chris­tian or be­liever. From the sec­ond cen­tury on­wards, only prophets, heal­ers, mar­tyrs or other out­stand­ing mem­bers of the church were ven­er­ated as saints.

In the 10th cen­tury, Pope John XV be­gan recog­nis­ing saints of­fi­cially. As there are more saints than days in the year, Nov 1 hon­ours those who don’t have their own spe­cial day.

Saints also fig­ure largely in English id­ioms, as do their op­po­site, the sin­ners.

Young saint, old devil

A proverb mean­ing peo­ple who are ter­ri­bly well be­haved when they are young, turn mis­chievous when they are old.

Very few English-speak­ing peo­ple know this me­dieval proverb to­day but it some­times ap­pears in books and films set in the south­ern states of the USA.

For cat lovers there’s a syn­ony­mous re­lated phrase wan­ton kit­tens make sober cats.

Ex­am­ple: Sally boasts her lit­tle Tim is per­fect. I told her, “Young saint, old devil!”

Saint Elmo’s fire

Streaks of flash­ing, crack­ling light that comes from elec­tric­ity be­ing dis­charged into the air. Usu­ally seen in stormy weather around tall ob­jects like church tow­ers and ship’s masts.

St Eras­mus was a fourth cen­tury Ital­ian bishop who was res­cued from drown­ing by sailors. Af­ter he died, he be­came St Elmo, pa­tron saint of Neapoli­tan sailors. Tra­di­tion has it the saint sends the fire as a warn­ing that bad weather is on the way.

Chi­nese sailors be­lieve the sea god­dess Mazu sends the signs, the Welsh thank St David, and the Rus­sians thank St Peter.

Ex­am­ple: See­ing St Elmo’s fire flick­er­ing among the sails, the cap­tain de­cided to re­turn to port.

To have the pa­tience of a saint/Job

To be in­cred­i­bly pa­tient. St Elmo’s fire is seen as a warn­ing of bad weather.

Saints are fa­mous for be­ing a cut above or­di­nary folk, but Job of the Old Tes­ta­ment is re­garded as iconic for his pa­tience.

An­noyed by Job’s suc­cess and piety, Satan de­stroys his wealth, fam­ily and health. De­spite this, Job re­mains pi­ous. When his friends sug­gest he is be­ing pun­ished for his sins, Job re­futes the idea.

The story is one of the old­est tales ex­am­in­ing un­de­served suf­fer­ing.

The story also in­spired the ex­pres­sion Job’s com­forter mean­ing a per­son who ap­pears to be cheer­ing you up, but who makes you feel even more de­pressed, es­pe­cially by im­ply­ing your bad luck is your own fault.

Ex­am­ple: “I wouldn’t worry about your sci­ence exam. You’ll never get into col­lege any­way,” said Job’s com­forter.

As ugly as sin

Re­ally ugly. Sur­pris­ingly this is not a Bi­ble phrase. It first ap­peared in Ke­nil­worth, a pop­u­lar ro­mance writ­ten by Sir Wal­ter Scott in 1821. The im­age caught on, and re­mains pop­u­lar to­day.

There is a pop­u­lar tra­di­tion or long run­ning joke in the USA that in­cest is com­mon in the south­ern states such as Louisiana. This has in­spired the vari­a­tion as ugly as home­made sin.

Ex­am­ple: Soo said his blind date was as ugly as sin. Worse, she was smarter than him too.

Sin tax

A tax on goods or ac­tiv­i­ties con­sid­ered friv­o­lous, ex­ces­sive or im­moral.

The Amer­i­cans were the first to come up with this par­tic­u­lar term about a hun­dred years ago, but the con­cept is an­cient. His­to­ri­ans re­fer to them as sumptuary laws.

The Spar­tans in An­cient Greece were masters at for­bid­ding even the mildest lux­ury. They banned or taxed spiced food, ex­otic dyes, and even fur­ni­ture cre­ated with any­thing more than an axe and saw.

Mod­ern sin taxes tar­get al­co­hol and cig­a­rettes. Crit­ics point out this en­cour­ages black mar­kets, and af­fects the poor more than the rich.

Ex­am­ple: When sin taxes went up last year, ho­tels and restau­rants lost a lot of cus­tomers.

To live in sin

To live with some­one as if you are mar­ried, but with­out go­ing through re­li­gious or le­gal for­mal­i­ties.

This ex­pres­sion first ap­peared in print in 1838. Con­sid­er­ing Mid­dle English, the pre­cur­sor to the mod­ern lan­guage we speak to­day, de­vel­oped from 1100AD on­wards, and that co­hab­i­ta­tion out­side of mar­riage was gen­er­ally frowned upon from then un­til the end of the 20th cen­tury, it’s rather sur­pris­ing this turn of phrase isn’t older.

Some re­li­gious peo­ple use this to ex­press dis­ap­proval, but in gen­eral the ref­er­ence is now tongue-in-cheek.

Ex­am­ple: We’ve been liv­ing in sin for three years but we may get mar­ried next year.

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