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I was interested in the term, “reverse fig leaf” in an article titled, “Should Germans read ‘Mein Kampf'” appearing in the New York Times (July 7), which deals with the planned publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf in Germany due to expiration of the copyright held by the state of Bavaria in 2015. It reads:

“(Facing an outcry among academic and in Bavarian Legislature) in an awkward dance, Mr. Seehofer’s government was forced to reconsider its reconsideration. It agreed to leave the money in place while withholding its government seal of approval (for release). This reverse fig leaf may or may not mollify opponent, who thought they had stopped the book.

I know "fig leaf" has biblical origin and means a hasty/inadequate cover-up for something shameful, but I never heard of the word, “reverse fig leaf.”

Google Ngram shows growing currency of ‘fig leaf’ at 0.00000912% in 2008, but no track of “reverse fig leaf.”

If we reverse a fig leaf, we’re gonna disclose or publish a hidden object, secret, or shame. How can I define “reverse fig leaf” precisely?

Is it just an incidental combination of adjective, “reverse” and a figurative “fig leaf,” or a set of word to be applicable to many other instances, for instance, "Japanese Prime Minister, Abe’s latest decision to authorize the nation’s Collective Defense Right is a reverse fig leaf of the existence and nature of Japanese Defense Force under the pacifist Constitution prohibiting its engagement in any kind of wars."?

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    You're asking too many different things. Predicting whether a phrase will become popular is clearly a bad question. Defining the phrase is fine. – curiousdannii Jul 16 '14 at 7:09
  • @Curiousdanni. I reedited the question title. – Yoichi Oishi Jul 16 '14 at 7:21
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From the rest of the sentence, I think it's clear that the "reverse fig leaf" must be referring to the "withholding its governmental seal of approval" part, not the "agreed to leave the money in place" part, since only the former could have any hope of "mollify[ing] opponents, especially in Israel, who thought they had stopped the book". So "reverse fig leaf" can't mean what you suggest.

So, what does it mean? How is it a "reverse fig leaf" to withhold a seal of approval? I'm not sure, but I think that whereas a regular fig leaf adds something (thereby covering up the shameful bit, albeit without really changing anything), this "reverse" fig leaf removes something (thereby excising the overtly shameful bit, again without really changing anything).

This is not a common expression, and I don't particularly recommend you start using it. I find its meaning far from obvious, personally.

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Fig leaf:

something that you use to try to hide an embarrassing fact or problem.

Usage notes: In the Bible, Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover their sexual organs when they discovered they were naked.

  • Are the peace talks simply providing a fig leaf for the continuing aggression between the two countries?

.

  • In an awkward dance, Mr. Seehofer’s government was forced to reconsider its reconsideration. It agreed to leave the money in place while withholding its governmental seal of approval. This reverse fig leaf may or may not mollify opponents, especially in Israel, who thought they had stopped the book.

The fact that Mr. Seehofer has withold the Govermment seal of approval but left the money for the publication of the book shows that he is trying not to compromise too much his political figure with this delicate issue. The 'reverse fig leaf' refers to the fact that he is unable to cover/hide the ( embarrassing) fact that the book will be anyway published with the support of his government. The adjective "reverse" underlines the fact that by doing so, Mr. Seehofer actually highlights evidence of his support to the publication of the book.

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    It's plausible. Reversing a fig leaf actually rapidly reinstates the cover-up with minimal differences, while pretending to make a significant change. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 16 '14 at 10:17

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