Today’s “Phrase of the Day” is “hold a mirror up to“ and it is a phrase meaning “to take a look at oneself objectively to examine or reflect on things (issues) stemming from the reality of reflection; to reveal to someone about the way they look (differently) to the rest of the world (so that they can reflect upon themselves); expose, show up, bring to light (some (unpleasant) aspects to oneself)”.
Example Sentence: There’s an eight-year difference in life expectancy between the north and the south of the UK. These differences in life expectancy hold a mirror up to the inequalities across the nation.


What does "the reality of reflection" mean in the context given?

  • 4
    It's a terrible piece of writing, with an inapt metaphor. The example usage which looks at the differences in life expectancy isn't "holding a mirror up to" anything. These differences in life expectancy expose the inequalities across the nation. Sep 8 at 19:30
  • To understand this particular metaphoric usage, you need to think of it from the perspective of a single person / entity which is both "the observer" and "the observed". Without such a metaphoric mirror, society would be unable to reflect upon (and hopefully deal with) the inevitable injustices and other shortcoming that always arise when large numbers of people interact. Regardless of the overall quality of the cited extract, it's a perfectly natural idiomatic usage in context (holds a mirror up to X = exposes X, brings X into sharp focus,...). Sep 8 at 19:43
  • 2
    @WeatherVane The author of the The Guardian article, where the sentence is cited from, is Doctor Horton and editor-in-chief of the Lancet. What's so terrible about the writing?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 8 at 20:08
  • 2
    @MichaelHarvey I asked Weather Vane why it is such “terrible piece of writing”. I didn't think so, and saw the author is an experienced writer, a competent native speaker and, presumably, also a highly educated one. By the by Doctors, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, have also written best selling novels.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 8 at 20:39
  • 1
    @gotube Weather Vane's comment was directed at the example sentence. When I asked, they focused on the sentence not on the English website, Editorial Words, and their “Phrase of the Day”. On the other hand, the metaphorical holding a mirror up to the inequalities of the nation I find reasonable, so does Fumble Fingers, even if the object is not a person or a group but an abstract noun. Perhaps posting on EL&U about this specific sentence will lead to other users agreeing with Weather's and you for the same reasons. Then again, the question risks being closed as being opinion based.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 10 at 7:43


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