Throwing in the towel

Article published on Feb. 20, 2013
Article published on Feb. 20, 2013
Was Pope Benedict listening to the German indie-rock band Tocotronic’s latest album, ‘Surrender’, when he decided he was done with same-sex marriage, contraception and abortion, and promptly announced his resignation for 28 February 2013?

The pope is passing on the baton - er hat den Stab abgegeben in German, il a passé le flambeau in French, pasar el testigo in Spanish. Around 120 cardinals from all over the world will choose the next head of the roman catholic church. As the Polish say, Benedict has given up (wymiękać, pronounced 'wehmeyenkach', or the more formal uginać się, pronounced 'uginactchshe'. These two expressions literally mean 'becoming flabby'. A French pope would have put his thumbs up (mettre les pouces) to signal defeat, as in the military sign language of proving that all weapons were indeed on the floor.

The pope decided he wasn't about to kick the bucket in his job...

Boxing is the most common thread in unifying idioms describing the pope’s shocking announcement across Europe. In English and Spanish, he has hung up his gloves (colgar los guantes) and thrown in the towel (tirar la toalla). Towels go flying when someone steps down in sauna-loving countries like Finland (heittää pyyhe kehään) and Sweden (kasta in handduken), as well as in Poland (rzucać ręcznik, pronounced as ‘jhuszatch renchnik’) or Catalan-speaking regions (tirar la tovallola).

In English, French and Italian the saying refers back to when a sponge was actually used instead of a towel, and the manager would finish a fight prematurely by throwing in a sponge (jeter l’éponge, gettare la spugna) if his boxer was doing badly. It’s a shame the Germans don’t have such an expression, but the pope will most probably be throwing in his papal robes.

Images: © Henning Studte;/ video (cc) themikeaquatic/ youtube