Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In reference to my question about the meaning of “It’s one thing to dance like Fred Astaire, but Ginger did it backwards in high heels,” on the Time magazine’s article (June 29) of John Roberts’ ruling on Healthcare, I found the phrase, “strike the match” in the following sentence in the same article, “Roberts rules.”

“When Roberts took his seat at the center of the bench on June 28, the final day of the court term, and began reading aloud his opinion, he sounded at first as if he were striking the match. The conservative critique of the so-called individual mandate was correct, he intoned: Congress lacks the power to require citizens to buy insurance they don’t want.”

To me whose mother language totally lacks the concept of article – a/an, the, non-article - in its language system, interpretation and distinction of definite / infinitive/ non-article is always a serious headache.

Although I see “strike a match” and “strike the match,” both of which are in constant currency since around 1980 in Google Ngram, I can’t find either of them as an idiom in Cambridge, Oxford and Merriam-Webster.

Only McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs defines “strike a match” as to light a match by rubbing it on a rough surface, with an example, Mary struck a match and lit a candle.

What does “John Roberts was striking the match” mean? Was he lighting a match to fuel the serious dispute, or bringing the dispute to the end?

What is the difference of “strike the match” from “strike a match”? Are they exactly same or totally irrelevant idioms or expressions?

share|improve this question
add comment

1 Answer

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Oishi-san, the match is part of an extended metaphor used by the writer. Looking further back in that article, we see

After a party-line vote by the court to decide the disputed 2000 election for George W. Bush over Al Gore, and another in the controversial Citizens United campaign-spending case, the Washington atmosphere reeked of gasoline, and the Obamacare case looked like a match ready to fall.

The image is of gasoline all around, rendering the President's agenda extremely combustible, and a match (Obama's health care bill) being readied to ignite it. Roberts' initial words seemed to be "striking the match" that would set fire to the gasoline.

So in this case there is no difference between the two expressions save use of the definite article to refer to a particular match being struck.

share|improve this answer
2  
Although it is not just any old match, it is the match which is suspended above and ready to fall onto the gasoline. –  Jim Aug 31 '12 at 4:33
    
@Jim: Exactly. Which is why I specified "a particular match." –  Robusto Aug 31 '12 at 11:46
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.