- For Teachers
Could anyone explain the idiomatic expression I once read in a British newspaper;
It was just a flash in the pan;
Guess it means something like it was just a coincidence, a lucky hit or something likely
It it relevant to be used in;
He published a book which sold 10.000 copies ut it was just a flash in the pan.
The origin of this phrase, from The Phrase Finder site.
"It derives from a real flash in a real pan. Flintlock muskets used to have small pans to hold charges of gunpowder. An attempt to fire the musket in which the gunpowder flared up without a bullet being fired was a 'flash in the pan'. The term has been known since the late 17th century".
*NOT A TEACHER* "Panning" was once a popular way of prospecting for gold. (It involved using a shallow metal pan to collect a sample of the material in a stream bed along with a small quantity of water - and then gently rotating and tipping it so as to spill out the lighter materials along with most of the water. This process would sometimes leave small flakes or nuggets of gold in the pan) When the person panning would see a bright reflection or a "flash in the pan" it raised his hopes that it was gold. Sometimes it was, sometimes not. But in either case, at first sight it was a "flash in the pan." Increasingly, the expression has become a figuarative to indicate something which raises high hopes at first sight but fails to materialize.
The explanation JMurray found in Phrase Finder is the one I have always seen. I don't think panning for gold was widespread in England in 1687, when Mr Settle wrote: "If Cannons were so well bred in his Metaphor as only to flash in the Pan, I dare lay an even wager that Mr. Dryden durst venture to Sea." Muskets (and real-life flashes in the pan) had been around for some three centuries then.
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I'd have to agree that JMurray has got it right - lock, stock and barrel.
Yes, because actually when you pan for gold, it generally looks black and doesn't glitter until after refining.