cover/cloak of darkness

vkhu

Senior Member
Vietnamese
"He made his escape under the cover of darkness"

I hear people using "cloak of darkness" fairly often so I was wondering if I could replace "cover" with cloak in the above sentence.

If it really is possible then mind telling me which one is more frequently used? My teacher said in a multiple-choice question, if there is more than one correct answer then always go for the most commonly used word/phrase.
 
  • suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I think you could say it.

    I really don't hear either of them often enough to know which is most common, and although your teacher's advice is generally good, faced with this choice I would not know which one to opt for! Cover sounds more literal than cloak, so perhaps that edges it.
     

    DocPenfro

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Hi vkhu

    There are four possibilities here, and writers would use them according to their personal taste. I have done a quick Google search to check their frequency of occurrence:

    "under cover of darkness": 2,050,000
    "under the cover of darkness": 2,890,000
    "under cloak of darkness": 3,350 :thumbsdown:
    "under the cloak of darkness": 731,000

    I would agree with your teacher, and would add that "under (the) cloak of darkness" sounds literary, and is probably not best suited to everyday conversation.
     

    cycloneviv

    Senior Member
    English - Australia
    I would prefer "under cover of darkness" (no "the").

    Of the other two options, I would prefer "under the cover of darkness", but would not find "under the cloak of darkness" terribly unusual or strange.

    As suzi_br has said, there's not a lot in it. I wouldn't find any of the options particularly grating.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I am a little suspicious of google figures, so here are some more numbers.

    BNC (British National Corpus)
    under the cover of darkness (2)
    under cover of darkness (28)
    under cloak of darkness (0)
    under the cloak of darkness (2)

    COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English)
    under the cover of darkness (42)
    under cover of darkness (94)
    under cloak of darkness (0)
    under the cloak of darkness (3)

    The numbers are different also because the COCA is over 4 times the size of the BNC. It seems conclusive to me that the preference is for under cover of darkness​.
     

    DocPenfro

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I am a little suspicious of google figures
    Since "under cover of darkness" is the phrase that instantly springs to mind, can you offer any explanation as to why a world-wide Google search produces contrary results? What are the source materials for BNC & COCA?
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Google produces repetitions; it will discover the original site and then all sites in which that text has been transplanted from the original.
    The Google search engine is designed for commercial use; it is likely that it is picking up phrases linked to an object rather than part of a narrative; there may be many instances of that object. And
    its algorithm is arcane and secret. Therefore, even if the source materials for BNC & COCA were given, no true comparison could be made.
     

    cycloneviv

    Senior Member
    English - Australia
    One reason would be that there is a song by The Strokes called Under the Cover of Darkness. The first several results on the first page for this phrase were related to that song. I would imagine that a large percentage of the rest of the results were also related to the song.

    Edited to add: Actually, I think the song is called Under Cover of Darkness, but it is erroneously referred to as Under the Cover of Darkness very frequently.
     

    pwmeek

    Senior Member
    English - American
    One reason would be that there is a song by The Strokes called Under the Cover of Darkness. The first several results on the first page for this phrase were related to that song. I would imagine that a large percentage of the rest of the results were also related to the song.

    Edited to add: Actually, I think the song is called Under Cover of Darkness, but it is erroneously referred to as Under the Cover of Darkness very frequently.
    I suggest that the frequency of this intrusive "the" may be because this is how people hear the phrase in their minds. It's a very strong indication that this is what people usually use elsewhere than in the song title.
     

    cycloneviv

    Senior Member
    English - Australia
    I suggest that the frequency of this intrusive "the" may be because this is how people hear the phrase in their minds. It's a very strong indication that this is what people usually use elsewhere than in the song title.
    Maybe. There are, however, more references (considerably more) to the song under the actual title. In fact, 100 and something thousand for "under the cover" versus 1.6 million for "under cover". My point was more that a large percentage of the Google results for "under the cover of darkness" are for this (wrong) song title. It's still not that common!
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    'Cover' is better with no article, for reasons similar to those mentioned here and here.
    Omission of 'the' draws attention to the central idea, rather than the elements of it.
    On the other hand, 'cloak' is better with the article, because this is clearly a metaphor referring to an item of clothing. No such garment as the cloak of darkness really exists. Hence the article here serves the function of alerting us to the metaphor. It means 'the cloak ('that cloak', as it were) which we may in imagination consider darkness to be'.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Cloak is available as a verb too, especially with reference to snow, and darkness. It might have started as a metaphor, but has been assimilated now.
     
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