Politicians around the world are focused on growing their national economies. They need to take everything into account; from the secure supply of the necessary raw materials, through the health of the companies that will transform this material into fabricated goods, to the cost of the energy that will be consumed in the process.
The message that comes to mind is “Lock, stock and barrel,” which is widely used in the U.K. and North America to mean “everything.” The phrase derives from the three constituent parts of a gun, and was first recorded 200 years ago in the letters of the Scottish poet, novelist and historian Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Scott’s phrase would have had immediate impact as his writing was immensely popular throughout Europe and later North America. Scott’s historical fiction created for the first time a sense of the past as a place where people behaved differently, and his novel Ivanhoe (set in 12th century England and published in 1819) was required reading in many North American high schools until the end of the 1950s.
“Lock, stock and barrel” reminds us that English grammar is complicated. The phrase can be described as an idiom or (less obviously) a merism.
An idiom (e.g. “hook, line and sinker,” meaning completely or unquestioningly) is an expression whose meaning differs from what the words denote. Idioms should not be confused with metaphors (which evoke an image by use of implicit comparison; e.g. “heart of stone”) or proverbs (which are sayings that express a truth based on common sense; e.g. “better late than never”).
As you will recall from your school days, a merism is a figure of speech that references something by using various constituents or traits. It is also described as a phrase in which a combination of contrasting parts refer to the whole (e.g. “searched high and low,” meaning to look everywhere).
A merism shouldn’t be mistaken for a metonymy (as if you would), which is a figure of speech where a concept is referred to using an association. Examples include Shakespeare’s “lend me your ears” (meaning pay attention) and “suits” as a figurative reference to businessmen.
Forms of metonymy include metalepsis and polysemy. Metalepsis is the use of a familiar word in a new context (e.g. “lead foot” may describe a fast driver), while polysemy is a word or phrase with multiple meanings (e.g. “crown” can refer to the object or the institution).
Synecdoche is also a type of metonymy, and uses a single part of the object to refer to the whole. For example, “The Pentagon” can be construed as referring to the U.S. Department of Defense and/or the whole military bureaucracy.
Writing in 1941, American literary theorist Kenneth Burke argued that there were four basic rhetorical structures (figures of speech, tropes) by which we make sense of experience. He listed metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony (the surface and underlying meanings are not the same).
All very confusing, and politicians can be forgiven for not worrying about their grammar. Instead, they ought to focus on a version of the famous idiom for everything; let’s coin “Rock, stock and barrel” to mean delivery of the whole economic supply chain.
Rather than invoking the mechanism that initiates the firing of a gun, “rock” will remind decision makers to concentrate on securing the ore reserves of metals and minerals that will be required to drive our economies forward.
As a reference to corporate equity, rather than the back part of a gun, “stock” will help decision makers concentrate on what is required to facilitate the companies that will mine, process and fabricate these raw materials.
As a measure for oil, rather than the shooting tube of a gun, “barrel” will remind decision makers to concentrate on what is required for the delivery of energy supplies in a timely and cost-effective manner.
It is up to us to remind politicians everywhere; it’s the economy, stupid, so remember the miner’s idiom.
Dr. Chris Hinde is a mining engineer and the director of Pick and Pen Ltd., a U.K.-based consulting firm. He previously worked for S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Metals and Mining division.