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I've seen a pattern in a couple of titles.

  • Asimov has a book called "Through a Glass, Clearly".
  • Philip Dick wrote "A Scanner Darkly".
  • Star Trek has the episode "In a Mirror, Darkly"
  • Agatha Christy wrote the story "In a Glass, Darkly"

Curiously, 3 of the 4 are sci-fi. Any reason for the commonality of phrasing? Does it have some sort of meaning? Anyone know how it originated? Is it used in spoken English?

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+1 ... even though I know where it comes from - see the mmyers answer - i've always wondered why it's considered so compelling. Can anyone add to the mmyers answer and explain? – hawbsl Oct 25 '10 at 23:15
@hawbsl: it's the imagery of seeing as if through an obstruction (or a mirror, depending on your particular translation), vs. seeing the real thing. It gets across a very complex idea in just a few words. (Which of course is the essence of poetry.) – Marthaª Oct 26 '10 at 14:08
Also, the English translation of Bergman's film, Through a Glass Darkly. – Charlie Oct 26 '10 at 19:57
up vote 15 down vote accepted

It originates from 1 Corinthians 13:12:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

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how do you know this is the actual origin? is it just the oldest written record of it? – Claudiu Oct 25 '10 at 17:33
I'd say 60 AD is very likely to be the oldest reference, yes :) Of course, it was the KJV in 1611 that translated it this way into English. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Through_a_Glass_Darkly_(disambiguation) for a larger list of works that borrow this phrase from this verse. – BradC Oct 25 '10 at 20:28
@Claudiu: Yes, it's the actual origin. If you were an educated person - or someone who'd attended a Protestant church - in the UK or USA between the early 1600s until the 1960s, chances were probably 99+% you'd at least heard that verse. And it's memorable because it's very poetic. – Bob Murphy Oct 25 '10 at 21:20
@BradC: so did that translator make up the phrase? why did he pick such a strange construction? (seems like it was wrong, too, as the modern translations are more like "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror") – Claudiu Oct 26 '10 at 0:31
@Claudiu: I'd say it's just a case of the general biblic way of phrasing things strangely. Just look at en.wikisource.org/wiki/Bible_(King_James)/… - the "through a glass, darkly" doesn't stand out as being more uncommon than the rest of the text. I guess it's the combination of being 400yr old and being intentionally poetic. – Stefan Monov Oct 26 '10 at 5:29

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