Defeat had brought them on its scaly wings...

Kimmi G

Senior Member
Chinese
All Germans had long been brought up under paternal despotism, tempered by far-reaching customs of free speech and Parliamentary opposition. Defeat had brought them on its scaly wings democratic forms and liberties in an extreme degree. (from Winston Churchill's The Gathering Storm)

Guys, how to understand the second sentence?

Is "bring sb on scaly wings" a set phrase?

What does the author try to convey by using the word "scaly"?
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I suppose that the second sentence was Churchill's way of saying that the dragon of defeat* had brought democratic forms and liberties to the Germans.

    *If defeat has scaly wings, I assume that defeat is something like a dragon.
     

    Kimmi G

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I suppose that the second sentence was Churchill's way of saying that the dragon of defeat* had brought democratic forms and liberties to the Germans.

    *If defeat has scaly wings, I assume that defeat is something like a dragon.

    Thanks a lot for the fast reply! ^^

    Haha, that's very interesting!

    Is it common in the English language for "dragon" to be a metaphor for "defeat"?
     
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    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Is it common in the English language for "dragon" to be a metaphor for "defeat"?
    I have certainly never heard it before. Winston Churchill was a rather long-winded fellow who was fond of colorful expressions. I don't know whether his scaly wings metaphor was something that he invented or whether he borrowed it from someone else.
     

    lentulax

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Is it common in the English language for "dragon" to be a metaphor for "defeat"?
    No; it's just a very confusing metaphor here. 'Scaly' unquestionably implies a 'dragon'; and 'scaly dragon' suggests how unpleasant it all was for the Germans.Unfortunately the notion of the dragon bringing with it on its scaly wings thimgs which the defeated force has to accept suggests that the dragon is not defeat, but the agent of defeat (that is the victor); and in legend the dragon is always the bad guy who loses - dragons are fearsome enemies , but ultimately suffer defeat.

    Possibly the metaphor of defeat as a dragon could be justified in itself (defeat is the cause of unwelcome happenings, as is a dragon), but in this context it results in a confusion of ideas; it would in any case be very far from a 'common' metaphor - in fact, it's probably a unique use.

    EDIT We think of dragons when we read 'scaly' because 'scaly' has (from the nineteenth century) become a word which is almost automatically used to describe dragons; however, I can't actually recall any instances of their wings being described as scaly (of course, some creatures, like butterflies, do have scaly wings, but butterflies don't do much harm). Maybe Churchill re-imagined the dragon. In fact, whilst 'scaly' seems to have come into the language about 1300, a brief search doesn't turn up any instances of 'scaly dragons', let alone scaly wings, before about 1800, when 'scaly dragon' becomes the standard translation for the 'squamosus draco' (one of the forms assumed by Proteus) of Virgil's fourth Georgic . I dare say many people are better informed about the history and iconography of the dragon - these are just tentative comments.
     
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    Kimmi G

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    ...suggests that the dragon is not defeat, but the agent of defeat (that is the victor);

    Do you mean the agent of defeat is the vanquished, right?

    Thanks a million for the detailed explanations with bonus addition of information. It seems pretty exhaustive to me.
    Thanks again for your time and effort put into it.😘
     
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