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Doing some translation for my friend, I met the following sentence.

For Foppe Ten Hoor, it presented a foil against Anglo-American — and not coincidentally, Arminian, subbiblical — ways.

It is from a book titled "Reformed Theology in America: A History of Its Modern Development." For its context, see this capture, which I capture from Google Books.

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I couldn't figure out what "presented a foil" means, so checked online dictionary.

Merriam Webster has three entries for foil as a noun;

foil noun (1)

1: very thin sheet metal aluminum foil 2: a thin piece of material (such as metal) put under an inferior or paste stone to add color or brilliance 3: someone or something that serves as a contrast to another acted as a foil for a comedian 4 a: an indentation between cusps in Gothic tracery b: one of several arcs that enclose a complex figure 5: HYDROFOIL sense 1

foil noun (2) 1: a light fencing sword having a usually circular guard and a flexible blade > of rectangular section tapering to a blunted point — compare ÉPÉE, SABER 2: the art or sport of fencing with the foil —often used in plural

foil noun (3) 1 archaic : DEFEAT 2 archaic : the track or trail of an animal

I guess the definition in 1-3 seems fit to this case. Do I understand its meaning right? Or could you propose a rephrase for 'present a foil against'?

Thank you.

  • 1
    Yes, your selected definition from Merriam Webster is the correct one. – KillingTime Oct 19 '19 at 18:05
  • @KillingTime You should expand that into an answer to prevent guesses. – Greybeard Jul 14 at 16:48
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I have always understood a foil to be a noun form of the verb.

foil
VERB
Prevent (something considered wrong or undesirable) from succeeding.

I see it as a metaphorical use of the "light fencing sword" you mention: a strategy to deflect something undesirable.

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  • Yes; Wiktionary is the only dictionary I've found not to label this sense as archaic: << foil Noun (plural foils): Failure when on the point of attainment; defeat; frustration; miscarriage. >> (AHD, a repulse / setback.) – Edwin Ashworth Oct 18 '19 at 11:36
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As in: Vocabulary.com verb: to foil

As a verb, if you foil someone's plans or attempts to do something, you cause them to fail.

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  • Here, a foil is only a counterpart, the way a straight man is a counterpart to a comedian. – Yosef Baskin Mar 16 at 15:06
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The Word Detective has an article on this subject.

http://www.word-detective.com/2011/12/foiled/

“Foil,” closely related to that “full,” also first appeared in English in the 14th century, with the specific sense of “to trample down,” and eventually developed a sense specific to hunting meaning “to trample down and thus obscure a track or scent, thus preventing hounds from tracking the game.” This “foiling” could be done by other animals or even by the hounds themselves. In either case, it marked a defeat for the hunters, and by the 16th century “foil” was being used in its modern sense to mean “to defeat, to block, to baffle a foe.”

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