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In old books, I keep coming accross the saying,

...is so transparent it could pass through the proverbial wedding ring.

What does this mean?

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You could look it up. –  Robusto Jan 16 '13 at 22:37
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@Robusto - I'm not sure that just looking up the definition of "proverbial" would help the OP to understand the meaning of "the proverbial wedding ring"... –  MT_Head Jan 17 '13 at 0:27
    
Welcome to ELU! We welcome questions that include the research you've already done on the subject. That way, you learn and we all share the knowledge. After doing your research, if you still have a question, please repost. –  Kristina Lopez Jan 17 '13 at 0:28
    
@Robusto if the OP tried looking it up, they'd be up the proverbial creek without a paddle. (In this case, I used "proverbial" as a way to avoid saying a certain word, whereas that doesn't apply in this text) –  Andrew Grimm Jan 17 '13 at 12:44
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1 Answer 1

Some makers of some fine, light cloths — or the garments made of them — will boast that because they are so fine, you can roll them up and pass them through a wedding ring. (You are supposed to be able to do this with a Shetland shawl, a superfino Panama hat, a ring pashmina [see where the name is from?] and other items.)

The proverbial in this case means "often talked about in a common idiom, saying or cliché", so it's directly addressing the fact that other people have used the same statement before.

Personally, I dislike this use of proverbial: It's almost like saying "I'm going to write or say something corny and tired now, but that's okay because I'm pointing out that I know it's corny and tired". When I find myself using it, I try not just to cut it, but to cut the whole passage and re-write.

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I always thought 'proverbial' meant pertaining to an actual proverb - I'm not aware of any such proverbs in this context and I would also have been confused by this. –  Kyudos Jan 17 '13 at 1:28
    
To restate your last paragraph: The author is hanging the proverbial lampshade on it. –  Ben Jackson Jan 17 '13 at 2:16
    
@Kyudos proverbial certainly can mean that, but see e.g. Merriam-Webster: "that has become a proverb or byword : commonly spoken of <the proverbial smoking gun>". –  Jon Hanna Jan 17 '13 at 3:39
    
@BenJackson Yes, only but lampshade hanging can be enjoyable, when it's done better than just saying "I am using a well-known trope". –  Jon Hanna Jan 17 '13 at 3:40
    
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