Coin That Phrase

"Strike While the Iron is Hot"

To “strike while the iron is hot” is often used in situations where if you do something immediately, you will have a good chance of succeeding—but where did this phrase come from? This phrase alludes to blacksmiths that heated iron in a fire to soften the metal and make it malleable. Once the iron was removed from the fire, blacksmiths had to shape it quickly with their hammers before the iron cooled and became brittle once again. While it is not known exactly when this phrase was coined, one of the first written references comes from Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee in 1386 where he wrote “Whil that iren is hoot, men sholden smyte”.

"Too Many Irons in the Fire"

Is yet another phrase left to us by our blacksmith ancestors. In today’s terms, it refers to having too many objects or tasks that require your attention at once. Our blacksmith brethren had a similar situation in their workshops. When beginning work, blacksmiths would stagger several rods of iron or steel in the fire. In a perfect system, while one rod was going in, another rod was coming out and several rods of iron were at various stages of heating up in between the two.  “Too many irons in the fire” refers to blacksmiths putting too many rods in the fire and they could not keep track of what stage of heating each piece was in. In the confusion, the blacksmith could pull a rod out that hadn’t yet heated to the appropriate temperature which would result in requiring much more physical effort to hammer since it wasn’t yet soft enough. At the other end of the spectrum, rods that were in too long would overheat and melt, thereby wasting precious resources.

Originally published in October 2009

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