a brand plucked from the burning

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Senior Member
I doubt that a brand plucked from the burning is a fix expression but cannot figure out its meaning yet. Could anybody help me with some explanations about its meaning and, if possible, its origin?

The context in which I found it is Changing Place by David Lodge. Professor Morris Zapp is on a plane full of women who are flying from the US to England to get abortion legally and he is worried that he'll be punished by the Providence, suffering from airplane crash, for example. Then he decides to talk one of the girls out of her wicked intent, thinking "One brand plucked from the burning should be enough to assure him of a happy landing."

Thank you in advance!
  • languageGuy

    Senior Member
    USA and English
    Branding irons are long iron rods with designs on one end. They are first heated in a burning fire. When hot, they are touched to the skin of a cow to burn and mark the cow.

    Here he is comparing all the women to branding irons, the fire being the fire's of hell for all who get abortions. If he can convince one girl (brand) out from getting an abortion (the burning), he will be safe.

    Edit: Brands as pieces of wood, not iron, would be a better choice.
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It's a funny idea. Lodge was brought up a Roman Catholic and Zapp likens the women going for their abortions to brands (pieces of wood) in a fire: take out one brand and he will have done a good deed, earned enough moral points to save him in the eyes of Providence from death in an air crash.


    Senior Member
    English (British)
    John Wesley (founder of Methodism) referred to himself as "a brand plucked from the burning" with reference to Zechariah 3:2.

    The image is of a partly burned piece of wood being pulled from the fire - of a soul saved from hell.

    Zapp is hoping that if he "rescues" one of these "fallen women" by talking her out of the sin of abortion, the Lord will look after the aeroplane.

    The phrase is not a common idiom.

    "The burning" uses a gerund in place of a verb phrase.
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    Senior Member
    English UK
    I agree it's not a common idiom, but it is, I'd say, a fairly familiar Biblical phrase...

    Or perhaps that's my Methodist Sunday School days showing through?
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