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Lexical Leavings

by Tom Gally



I thought I knew the literal meaning of the proverb "Every cloud has a silver lining" until I saw this translation in an English-Japanese dictionary:
どんな雲にも銀の裏地がついている; 「苦は楽の種」
The gloss 裏地 matches the main meaning of "lining" given in English-English dictionaries--"material that lines or that is used to line especially the inner surface of something (as a garment)" (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate). But I had always understood "silver lining" to a refer to a silver or white edge around a dark cloud, not to some material lining the cloud's "inner surface," whatever that might be.

At least one other English-Japanese dictionary gives a similar translation:
《諺》苦あれば楽あり《<雲はみな銀の裏地(雲の上に輝く光)がついている》
The explanation 雲の上に輝く光 doesn't match my interpretation, either; a cloud's silver lining could be at the sides or bottom of the cloud as well as above it, couldn't it?

Others refer to the cloud's 裏, 裏側, or 裏づけ, but those also seem wrong:
《諺》 どんな雲にもみな銀の裏がついている 《憂いの反面には喜びがある》.

《諺》 どの雲も裏側は銀白《暗い状況でも希望[よい面]は見いだせる》.

《ことわざ》どんな雲にも銀白の裏づけがある、苦あれば楽あり.
Several English-Japanese dictionaries do agree with my interpretation, but only in their entries for "silver lining," not in their translations of the entire proverb. For example:
silver lining 黒い雲からのぞく銀色のふち; 不幸の中に見える明るい希望. (エクシード英和)

silver lining 雲の明るいへり; 《不幸中などでの》明るい希望, 《前途の》光明.  [諺 Every CLOUD has a 〜. から] (リーダーズ)
English-English dictionaries are not much help in clearing up the confusion, as most define only the extended meaning of "silver lining." The following is typical:
silver lining
NOUN: A hopeful or comforting prospect in the midst of difficulty.
ETYMOLOGY: From the proverb "Every cloud has a silver lining".
(American Heritage)
Only two that I checked also, helpfully, give the literal sense:
silver lining
1: a white edge on a cloud
2 : a consoling or hopeful prospect
(Merriam-Webster's Unabridged)

silver lining
a consoling or hopeful prospect. [from the metaphorical use of the phrase every cloud has a silver lining, i.e. a white edge]
(New Penguin English)
Note the exact repetition of phrasing from Merriam-Webster's Unabridged (both the second and third editions); such apparent copying is generally less common in dictionaries published in English-speaking countries than in those published in Japan. Collins English, for example, uses "comforting" instead of "consoling," and the definition is different in other ways as well:
silver lining
a comforting or hopeful aspect of an otherwise desperate or unhappy situation (esp. in the phrase every cloud has a silver lining)
Webster's New World uses a different paraphrase:
silver lining
some basis of hope or some comforting aspect in the midst of despair, misfortune, etc.
Macquarie is quite different:
silver lining
Colloquial some pleasing or beneficial component of a generally adverse situation: *Then suddenly, within a year, came the silver lining. - FRANK HARDY, 1950
(April 26, 2003)