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In our native language, we say this "The above technique is a double-edged sword".

Is it appropriate to say it in English? If not, what is the nice way to express the same meaning?

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The expression "doubled-edged sword" has been in use for millennia, but I came across it first in the Bible (Hebrews 4:12) where we read "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Man prides himself in being able to "split the atom"; God's word is able to split soul from spirit. The thoughts and intentions of man's heart are laid bare with this sword of judgment, and it thus has both a punitive and healing effect. –  rhetorician Jun 6 '13 at 12:36
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marked as duplicate by jwpat7, RegDwigнt Jun 6 '13 at 9:13

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1 Answer

Something being a "double-edged sword" is fine in English. It's fairly common, although, I believe some might find its use to be less formal in style -- which may or may not fit your intent. A related phrase in English is "to cut both ways." For example, "The above technique cuts both ways. It makes it easier for web developers to identify security flaws that they need to address, but it also makes it easier for hackers to find and abuse these flaws."

[Addendum]

I should note that, when we say "double-edged sword," we mean something that has both risks and benefits. This is usually in relation to a specific person or group. I assumed (perhaps prematurely) that this was the meaning in your language. Also saying something has "risks and benefits" may sound more formal and might be more appropriate, for example, if you were writing an instruction manual or some sort of guide. For example, "Taking an anti-schizophrenic medication may have risks and benefits, as it should reduce mood swings, but may also generally dull your emotions." If you were a therapist, you could describe it as a "double-edged sword," but I think some people might find that language a bit too informal for the topic at hand.

[Edited per Cmillz's comments]

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You got my upvote, but I do take issue with the statement that the phrase could be construed as "too 'fancy'". I believe it would seem out of place in an instructional manual not because of its "flair", but because of its informality. At this point in time, with the phrase's relatively common use (at least in the Northeastern United States), I would describe "a double-edged sword" more as an idiomatic expression than a metaphorical one. –  Cmillz Jun 6 '13 at 8:33
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@Cmillz Thanks for the comments! I've edited it in line with your notes, substituting formal or informal in the cases where I previously used "literary" or "fancy." I think you are a correct in that it's a better descriptor. I removed the reference to it being metaphorical, although I think being idiomatic and metaphorical aren't mutually exclusive. Those terms do suggest different registers and I'm still on the fence to what register "double-edged sword" belongs. I'm leaning towards "depends on the context." –  chaosamoeba Jun 6 '13 at 8:45
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