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. Oct 19, 2019 at 18:05
  • @KillingTime You should expand that into an answer to prevent guesses.
    – Greybeard
    Jul 14, 2020 at 16:48

3 Answers 3


I have always understood a foil to be a noun form of the 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.

  • 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.) Oct 18, 2019 at 11:36

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.

  • Here, a foil is only a counterpart, the way a straight man is a counterpart to a comedian. Mar 16, 2020 at 15:06

The Word Detective has an article on this subject.


“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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