Senior Member
Dear friends,

“Bill's backside must look like a damn gridiron,' Control muttered next day. 'The years he's spent sitting on the fence.' For a moment he stared at Smiley in an unfocused way, as if looking through him to some different, less fleshly prospect;”

Chapter 18
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
John Le Carre

What the meaning for "look like a gridiron"?

Thank you
  • The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    There's an example of one here: Gridiron - Seven Pines Forge

    The idea is an iron frame in the shape of a grid. If you sat on it for a long time you'd have impressions on your buttocks in the shape of a grid. The implication here is that Bill's "sitting on the fence" (which is meant metaphorically) would leave similar marks.


    Senior Member
    American English
    It means having multiple parallel straight lines. The idea is that having something pressed against your skin for a long time would create an impression of that thing on your skin.

    This comparison was originally based on a metal device for holding food a short distance above a fire, but most of us now would call that a "grill" or "grille" and wouldn't recognize it by its old name. In fact, the most common usage of the word "gridiron" is now another comparison based on the idea of multiple straight lines: an American football field, in which the lines are "yard-lines" drawn at 5-yard (15-foot) intervals to make distances along the field easy to estimate at a glance... so anyone saying something looks like a "gridiron" today would probably mean it looks like an American football field... which means the same thing in effect, just indirectly, making a comparison to what was originally also a comparison.

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    It is very difficult to imagine how sitting on a fence could leave an impression of a gridiron on your backside, but Control does tend to struggle with popular idioms. He might have had in mind Lloyd George’s comment on Sir John Simon: "The Right Honourable gentleman has sat so long on the fence that the iron has entered his soul."

    [David Lloyd George was British Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922 and remained an MP until 1945. Sir John Simon was Home Secretary in 1915-1916, serving alongside Lloyd George in the cabinet, but resigned before Lloyd George became Prime Minister. Simon returned to government in 1931, serving successively as Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Chancellor until 1945.]
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