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Hayange is not a place given to metaphors, but memories. The relics of its shattered steel furnaces stand sentry to a new political age. Communists and socialists used to run this place together, but unemployment here has soared by 75% in the past decade and in its wake has come the Front National

I saw this on the BBC's Learning English website. What does "given to metaphors" mean?

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    related What does “it is not given to” mean?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 24 '17 at 10:11
  • I think it means that Hayange is not a place that can offer metaphors for progress for the country's current economic situation. In other words, it's a place of historical interest, but not a place full of symbolism for the direction the country is currently headed in. Feb 24 '17 at 20:52
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Idiomatically, the phrase given to can mean "inclined to or "having a tendency to." The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition (2011) notes this meaning as definition 2 in its entry for given:

given v. Past participle of give. ... 2. Having a tendency; inclined: My neighbor is given to lavish spending.

So "not a place given to metaphors" means something like "not a place inclined to view things in metaphorical terms or to express ideas metaphorically."


According to Christine Ammer, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, second edition (2013), this idiomatic form has been a part of English for a long time:

given to Tending toward, inclined to, as in She was given too eating crackers in bed. {Late 1500s}

One fairly early instance of the idiom appears in a letter from James Howell to Doctor B., dated August 25, 1635, in Epistolae Ho-Elianae: Familiar Letters, Domestic and Forren (1655):

There are besides all those Religions, and People before mentioned, an irregular confus'd Nation in Europe call'd the Morduits; which occupy the middle confines betwixt the Tartars and the Russe, that are mingled in Rites of Religion, with all those that have been fore-spoken; for from the privy Members upwards, they are Christians, in regard they admit of Baptism; from the Naval downward, they are Mahometans or Jews, for they are Circumcis'd; and besides, they are given to the Adoration of Heathenish idols.

The idiom may have developed out of another phrase that carries much the same meaning: given over to. Examples of this (perhaps) earlier phrase appear in Thomas Morton (Bishop of Durham), Of the Institution of the Sacrament of the Blessed Bodie and Blood of Christ (1635) [combined snippets]:

Hee himselfe waxed wroth with Protestants so farre, as to iudge them Men given over to the Devill, because they did not believe them according to the outward letter.

and in John Smith (Minister of Clavering), Essex Dove, Presenting the World with a Few of Her Olive Branche (1637) [combined snippets]:

So long therefore as we live in our sinnes against conscience, and will not repent of them and amend our lives, so long as we be thus given over to wickednesse, our wills stand in subjection to the will of the divell : as Christ said to the Iewes, Ye are of your father the divell : so he who doth the workes of the divell, without doubt is at his subjection ; this is the first thing we pray against, that we may not do the will of the divell.

In these instances, the expression "given over to" seems to mean something like "abandoned to" or "surrendered to."

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I happen to know Hayange, and I am (not really) sorry to contradict by saying that it is a place as well given to metaphors, in the sense that its particular decay can stand for a lot of conditions in the area, in the industry, mind of people etc.

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The scene is so sad that poetry does not come readily to mind, only thoughts about the past glory and depressing outlook.

Hayange is not a place given to metaphors (the place is sad, not poetic), but memories (looking back). The relics of its shattered steel furnaces (the shadows of its past glory) stand sentry to a new political age (give way to a depressing outlook). Communists and socialists used to run this place together, but unemployment here has soared (more depressing outlook).

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I am not familiar with the place. Objectively, In the quoted passage, I would interpret the word as meaning that the residents of the area demonstrate a more literal or practical approach to life that is rooted in reality rather than imagination or poetry.

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