Jelly in a vise is a proverb mentioned in "Asian Figure" by W.S Merwin. What does "Jelly" mean in this proverb? Does it mean gelatinous? Or the jelly that we eat? What kind of clamp is a "Vise"?

  • Does it matter which type of jelly? You can google image search to find what a vise is. The meaning is clear, there's no idiom at use. – AndyT Jan 8 '19 at 10:45
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    As a Brit, I'm finding the spelling "vise" really weird to look at. There are many American spellings that I am used to, but not that one. It's "vice" over here. – Colin Fine Jan 8 '19 at 11:30
  • You might want to check out the exchange for English Language Learners. – J.R. Jan 8 '19 at 13:40
  • Americans, who spell 'vise' thus, also use the word 'jelly' for something that Brits call 'jam'. What Brits call 'jelly', Americans usually call "Jell-O", I think. Which makes this odd because jam is runny and cannot be placed in a vice, whereas you could put a block of jelly in a vice, and try to grip it, with results that Merwin's metaphor seems to envisage. – Michael Harvey Jan 8 '19 at 16:43

It is a metaphor. A Jelly cannot remain intact when tightened in a vise. A vise is like a clamp used to hold things firmly.

Vise - a tool with two parts that can be moved together by tightening a screw so that an object can be held firmly between them while it is being worked on

So to describe a very tight / tense situation this phrase can be used where the subject is in tight scrutiny / focus and cannot hold the pressure mounting on it.

Example usage - "I literally felt like Jelly in a vise to have written the final exams without preparation"

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