I'm trying to comprehend the actual meaning of this line in context — "She was my only connection, holding the cup at the other end of the string" — from a memoir book I'm reading. I assumed that holding the cup at the other end of the string could possibly be an idiom phrase but I couldn't find so either in my different keyword search in Google. Hope someone can help to clarify the meaning in this context.

Here is the context of the line from the book, I Came Upon a Lighthouse By Shantanu Naidu:

Vivaan would go out on hikes and meets to introduce himself to our new classmates as they arrived in Ithaca. It felt like I was already missing out and school hadn't even started. More and more time was spent with Tuhina on the phone as I recovered as slowly as possible. She was my only connection, holding the cup at the other end of the string.

1 Answer 1


It's not an (established) idiomatic phrase, but a metaphorical one.

[...] holding the cup at the other end of the string.

Literally, it refers to two people talking to each other using only two cups1 and a string. More here.



She was my only connection [...]

Here, the word "connection" could very well mean a "link between two phones", the same way that a piece of string forms a link between two cups. Therefore, figuratively, I believe one string connotes "a single, or the only, connection between two people (i.e., the author and Tuhina)".

1Specifically, paper cups or plastic cups. Tin cans or similarly shaped items can also be used.

  • 4
    This is indeed the only and correct answer. A very taut string carries sound from the cup or tin (acting as a microphone) at one end to the cup or container (acting as loudspeaker) at the other.
    – Anton
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 10:39
  • 14
    For the benefit of the future visitors to this page, it should be emphasised that this is not an established idiom of any kind. It is a one-off metaphor that may, perhaps, be effective if the readers played with such 'phones' as children, but is likely to be utterly confusing to those who never have (i.e. to almost everybody in the younger generations).
    – jsw29
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 16:26
  • 9
    @Davislor But the receiver of a landline phone would not be referred to as a cup, and a landline phone would enable the possibility to talk to numerous other people; whereas the metaphor of two cups connected by a sting could only be used by two people, thus leading to "She was my only connection".
    – Glen Yates
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 19:57
  • 17
    Some further meaning I get from this passage: the cups-and-string toy only works if both participants make it work. Both have to actively hold the string taut and one person has to make an effort to listen when the other is talking. The author here is saying not only is Tuhina the only person she talks to, but she is dependent on Tuhina wanting to be there to listen. It is a very descriptive metaphor for how tenuous the connection is.
    – Seth R
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 20:00
  • 9
    I added a picture, hope you don't mind.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Feb 19, 2022 at 14:10

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