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I know the expression "every cloud has a silver lining". I know its meaning, I know its origin, I know the meaning of individual words.

What I do not understand and failed to find an explanation for, is why would someone starts talking about a lining inside clouds. I assume the silver part is merely an analogy to the grey color of the clouds, yet if it is a lining, there is no reason for it to be visible on the outside. But what about the lining? In my understanding as well as the dictionary's (M.W.) a lining is what covers the inside of something.

How does that apply to clouds? Is it like pretending clouds are hollow? Is this about a sort of imaginary hidden treasure? I know the expression is not about a real physical lining, let alone silver made. But still, does a native English speaker understand easily how a cloud could have a lining or is the expression just taken as it is, without trying to parse it? Could someone please tell me what I am missing?

Stating the obvious, English is not my mother tongue.

Reply regarding an alleged duplication: my question is strictly about the possibility of a literal meaning to the expression, not its origin in a regular sense. I made it clear I knew both the origin story (Milton) and meaning (bright side).

  • Some idioms still have a literal meaning of some sort, be it relevant or not. Here I am trying to understand if this expression is just a random set of words or if it has a meaning, be it imaginary. – Exocytosis Jul 28 '19 at 23:16
  • I should add an illustration. If I said "every sun has a golden lining", would that make more, less, equal sense/nonsense? What is a silver lining anyway? – Exocytosis Jul 28 '19 at 23:20
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    The real world effect you are missing is the sun or moon shining on the edge of a dark storm cloud giving it a partial bright rim. I don't know about other parts of the world but this is quite common in Britain where the metaphor originates (see @Xanne's comment). To a 17C eye this could look like the lining of a cloak showing at the edge of the dark outer material, if such a cloak were to be turned inside out the entire lining would show almost hiding the main fabric. The metaphor means that, although things may look gloomy you can 'look on the bright side' and see the positives. – BoldBen Jul 29 '19 at 0:21
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    You’re over-thinking this. Do look at Google images to see what others see. – Xanne Jul 30 '19 at 9:24
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    Possible duplicate of Origin and meaning of "every cloud has a silver lining" – Xanne Jul 30 '19 at 9:37
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As requested by the OP I am converting a comment without references to an answer.

The real world effect you are missing is the sun or moon shining on the edge of a dark storm cloud giving it a partial bright rim. I don't know about other parts of the world but this is quite common in Britain where the metaphor originates. @Xanne gave This Link showing that the idiom is credited to John Milton who was a 17th century poet. To a 17th century eye this could look like the lining of a cloak showing at the edge of the dark outer material: if such a cloak were to be turned inside out the entire lining would show almost hiding the main fabric. The metaphor means that, although things may look gloomy, you can 'look on the bright side' and see the positives.

There is a song written by Ivor Novello and Lena Guilbert Ford in 1914 called Keep The Home Fires Burning which has a refrain containing the lines

There's a silver lining

Through the dark clouds shining,

Turn the dark cloud inside out

Till the boys come home.

(Note the idea of 'turning the dark cloud inside out' like a cloak used 300 years after Milton. Some images persist in the imagination.)

This was very popular during the First World War and had a second bout of popularity during the Second World War.

More recently and more irreverently Eric Idle of the Monty Python team created "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" for the film "The Life of Brian" which references the idea of things having a dark and light side to them. Not quite 'turning the cloud inside out' but very similar. Don't forget that Eric Idle was born during WW2 and would have been very familiar with "Keep the Home Fires Burning" as a child in the late forties and early fifties, possibly to the extent of being sick of it!

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  • I am facing a possible dilemma here. First, thank you for taking the time to convert your comment to an answer and expanding it. My dilemma is that Edwin Ashworth is showing in his answer that lining can have the meaning of an external outline, removing the necessity to turn the fabric inside out. However your quote and explanations keep the same definition of the word that I had in mind from the beginning while making sense too. Do you have further comment on the matter? – Exocytosis Jul 29 '19 at 14:13
  • I am inclined to believe you are correct because a mere outline does not convey the idea of a soft diffuse fuzzy border as much as a textile lining, especially one helping to keep warm. Let me ask you this before I forget, does the word silver also have the meaning of the color of silver (vs. saying the lining is in metal), or is it a metaphor here? – Exocytosis Jul 29 '19 at 14:26
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    @Exocytosis Edwin Ashworth talks about the real, physical nature of clouds but Milton's metaphor does not. The metaphorical lining does not exist, clouds are not fabric, they are accumulations of water vapour, although we now know that the top surface of the darkest cloud is almost always brightly lit in daylight or when there is a bright moon. In modern times a lining could be of a silver colour without using any metal but in Milton's time it is possible that very expensive garments could have had cloth-of-silver linings. However we are talking about a metaphorical idiom, not meterology. – BoldBen Jul 29 '19 at 16:50
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Actually the lining pertains to the bright border of the clouds on a bright day.

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    Do you have a source for that? – KillingTime Jul 29 '19 at 6:36
  • @KillingTime It's pretty obvious. – Mitch Jul 30 '19 at 15:46
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Readily available online dictionaries are probably defective in listing this sense, only giving the more usual sense and subsenses. In this expression, it's simply the sense of lining corresponding to AHD's sense 4 for the verbal polyseme of line:

line v.tr. ...

  1. To form a bordering line along: Small stalls lined the alley.

RHK Webster's gives overlapping senses:

line vt:

  1. to mark with a line or lines.

  2. to form a line along: Rocks lined the drive.

...

  1. to delineate with or as if with lines; draw: to line a silhouette.

Outline / outlining are reasonably close synonyms of these senses of line / lining.

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  • Oh this is a very useful answer, thank you. It appears I have had too much trust in the dictionaries I used, and there were other literal meanings for the word lining besides the inner wall of objets that they failed to establish. If lining has the meaning of an outline in this context, the expression makes perfect sense, even if it has a poetic tone. – Exocytosis Jul 29 '19 at 14:09
  • I've actually seen the 'halo effect', rather reminiscent of a lunar eclipse. I assume that there must always be this edge-effect somewhere to a cloud (-mass) during daytime, though the silver lining may be some way off. The silver lining heralds an end to the storm. // I'm guessing that OED gives the relevant sense of 'lining'; it's much larger than other dictionaries. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 29 '19 at 16:38
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The phrase derives from an old saying -

John Milton coined the phrase 'silver lining' in Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634.

And then later evolved into what we know today -

The first occurrence that is unequivocally expressing that notion comes in The Dublin Magazine, Volume 1, 1840, in a review of the novel Marian; or, a Young Maid's Fortunes, by Mrs S. Hall, which was published in 1840:

As Katty Macane has it, "there's a silver lining to every cloud that sails about the heavens if we could only see it."

Now, the way i see it- You could easily see that this phrase comes from Great Britain, Ireland specifically. Those countries lean towards rainy weather and as such, it stands to reason that clouds are considered as "sad/bad" things(seeing as they don't want for rain or water), for they hide the much welcomed sun.But if the sun were to shine behind a cloud then that cloud's outlines would look like silver. I believe silver was used there because it used to be Great Britain's currency for a long time not too long before 1634, and thus a thing everyone wants.

source https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining.html

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  • Interesting point you make about silver. That would displace the benefit of the lining from seeing a glimpse of sunshine to a "golden" prospect. Is this your own idea or can you back it up? – Exocytosis Jul 29 '19 at 14:29
  • This is what comes to mind whenever I hear it. – Uhtred Ragnarsson Jul 29 '19 at 15:50
  • Nothing more than my own musings. – Uhtred Ragnarsson Jul 30 '19 at 11:12

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