by Liz Walter
‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.’
‘In the midst of darkness, light persists.’
These quotes, from Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, perfectly demonstrate the way darkness and light are used as metaphors in English (and many other languages), with darkness suggesting ignorance, evil and unhappiness and light signifying knowledge, purity and happiness. There are many common phrases that exemplify this, and this post will look at some of the most common ones.
They were planning to leave, but they kept it dark.
We were completely in the dark about what was happening.
New facts were brought to light by scholars.
This evidence did not come to light until after the trial.
Are you able to shed any light on this subject?
Now we turn to metaphors of evil and goodness or purity. We use the word dark to talk about bad actions or characteristics. Other adjectives connected with darkness, for example shady, shadowy and murky are also used to denote dishonesty:
There’s a dark side to her character.
They’re involved in various murky business deals.
On the other hand, we use terms such as a shining light or a beacon/ray of light to describe people or things that are good or give hope, especially in a generally bad environment. Similarly, we talk about someone or something being a shining example of something good:
He was a beacon of light in an evil world.
The factory was a shining example of good working practice.
I will finish with metaphors of unhappiness and happiness. If we are in a dark place, we are unhappy or having difficult problems. Someone who is in a dark mood is unhappy or angry. We also talk about a dark time or dark period, and if we make dark predictions, we are pessimistic about the future:
I lost my job and my friends and found myself in a very dark place indeed.
He was in a particularly dark mood that day.
This was one of the darkest periods in European history.
Someone who is the light of your life is the person you love most and who makes you feel happy, and if you say there is light at the end of the tunnel, you mean that although things are difficult now, you believe that they will soon get better:
Laura really is the light of my life.
We’ve been struggling to build up the business, but at last we can see light at the end of the tunnel.
I hope you will find these phrases useful. Do you have similar darkness and light metaphors in your language?