"lose his edge"

JJK

Member
Germany/German
Hi everyone!

What, exactly, does this mean?

An example sentence:

"Once outrageous architect Renzo Piano now shows a quiet elegance. Did he lose his edge—or find his soul?"

Thanks a lot!

Jan

P.S. Yes. This is an another article from the Newsweek about architecture. ;) And maybe this is an another play with words like "de-lovely" in my previous thread?

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/9863792/site/newsweek/
 
  • mjscott

    Senior Member
    American English
    JJK said:
    Hi everyone!

    What, exactly, does this mean?

    An example sentence:

    "Once outrageous architect Renzo Piano now shows a quiet elegance. Did he lose his edge—or find his soul?"

    Thanks a lot!

    Jan

    P.S. Yes. This is an another article from the Newsweek about architecture. ;) And maybe this is an another play with words like "de-lovely" in my previous thread?

    http://msnbc.msn.com/id/9863792/site/newsweek/

    Edge is an interesting word. To live on the edge means to be self-confident enough to believe that you will not fall of the cliff of life! In investments, someone who invests on the edge is the person who is daring enough that they might strike it rich in the stock market, or they might lose all they have!....
    ....In the same vein architects who have an edge in their work are people who do something out of the ordinary--but usually with a likable outcome. However, because their work is not the norm, they risk having great numbers of people dislike their work. Of course, for an architect, you must appeal to a large enough population that you can get your bread and butter.

    An edge of a plow must be sharp in order to break ground that has up until now never been broken.An edge of a knife needs to be sharp in order to cut through life. Most artists in whatever field--even in computer science--have to have an edge. That sharp edge keeps them inches ahead of the competition when cutting through something new. However, if they are too far ahead of the rest of the population, have too much of an edge, they're likely to cut off the hand that feeds them!

    Some people live on the edge because of desperation. They are risk-takers because they figure they have nothing to lose. If they go without bread and butter, they become more practical, step back from the edge, and do things that are more safely accepted from a larger section of society.

    Renzo Piano has changed his style. The writer of this article is commenting on Piano's previous outrageous style--which put him out there on the edge, and comparing it to his apparent new style, which is not quite so outrageous (a quiet elegance ). Did Piano lose his edge, his daring (which put him ahead of other architects--but perhaps so far ahead of the crowd that he wasn't getting much work) or did he find his soul (realize that he desperately didn't need to carve out a niche for himself--he accepts who he is and now can create from the more centered person that he is)?
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I agree with the essay on "lost his edge" in this context, artistic creativity-- and specifically avant-garde, where the nuance of "cutting edge" is blended in.

    In general, or in other contexts, to lose one's edge means to become less effective, or in more literal terms, to get dull. The physical reference, as mjscot said, is to edged tools-- most often a knife, chopping blade or saw is implied. If your "edge" isn't sharp enough, you "can't cut it" any more.

    To digress, I never understood "can't cut the mustard" until it popped into my head that the cutting involved might be with a sickle or scythe. Not the act of using a knife to dig the condiment out of the jar-- but a blade to harvest the plant? I'm sure brassica plants like mustard are harder to reap in wholesale sweeps than, say, wheat or legumes. Maybe-- but I digress.

    "Losing one's edge" has a psychological component too. Sharpness isn't a simple matter of being sharp by nature-- in cutting tools it has to be cultivated and maintained. Not just any metal can "hold an edge," and the metals that can, can't necessarily do so in their natural state. It's a matter of hardness and softness, with the edge being soft enough to sharpen, but the rest of the blade being hard enough to lend heft and support impact.

    For this reason "keeping one's edge" is conceptually tied to "holding one's temper." Temper is a complex thing, in metallurgy as in people-- a google search on the topic would be rewarding, especially if you think "tempered steel" means hardened, an inaccurate or unnuanced use you see the word put to, all the time. Much more of this, and we'll lose the use of it.

    When you think of it, temper is more about control and mitigation than "battle-hardness"-- when you temper your remarks, you soften them, in fact you "take the edge off." Not such a paradox because in tempering a blade you heat it and quench it quickly to anneal it, creating a hardened state of the metal. Not good for putting an edge on, especially a striking edge-- too brittle. So you reheat the cutting edge, then quench that part of the blade slowly, thus tempering it. If the blade has been used before, and won't hold an edge, it's because the tempered (soft) rim of the blade has been worn down to the annealed (hard) bladestock.

    So you soften it, which takes off the edge-- but in its softened state, the metal can be resharpened, given its edge back.

    All this, just to make the point that "you've lost your edge" can definitely imply a temporary, remediable state. So often physical things, especially the raw materials for "simple" human tasks, are imbued with latent complexities known only to people who work with them in complex ways. Knowing the complexities of metal work, people who coin words and use them in new expressions, draw on those subtleties to create nuances of figurative expression. It's there in the original physical stuff-- but we evolve past the technology the words are rooted in, and we lose track of the fine distinctions. I believe the words themselves finally "lose their edge" and go out of use, as a result.

    How many of us cut mustard any more, except to scoop and smear it with a dull butter knife? The expression is moribund because it doesn't make sense any more-- or we've forgotten that it does.

    "You need a vacation, chum-- you're not lasing to the requisite intensity."
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