Ask Kat: a foil to sb

(Ask Kat any English learning questions here)
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註冊時間: 週三 4月 11, 2007 11:40 pm

Ask Kat: a foil to sb

文章 Kooper »

Hi Kat,

How is your trip going so far? I have a question about the phrase "be a foil to or for somebody."
Does the following CNN news title use it wrong? Every dictionary I looked up says that if A is a foil to B, A is the opposite of B and makes B look better because of the contrast. But from the news contents, it looks to me that the newly-elected Mexican president is just like another Trump, not the opposite of Trump. ... index.html

Kat C
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註冊時間: 週三 9月 08, 2010 10:31 am

Re: Ask Kat: a foil to sb

文章 Kat C »

Hi Kooper,

Helsinki is super fun! Thanks for asking. And you’ve got a great question there.

“A (perfect) foil to/for” is an idiom that has evolved quite a bit over time. It came from the practice of backing a gem with metal foil to make it shine more brilliantly, with the sense of "one who enhances another by contrast." (1580s)

Typically A serves as a foil to B when showing B to be better by contrast. It’s particularly common in literature and theater:

“The older, cynical character in the play is the perfect foil for the innocent William.” (Cambridge English Dictionary)

It has gradually been broadened to also mean one complementing another, enhancing both in some way as a result:

“Alcohol gives wine more body, a perfect foil to smoked food.” (Capital Gazette)

Now, even more liberally defined, you can find it used to make another look not good but bad:

“Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, is gearing up for a very Europe-centric future. Bannon told the Daily Beast that his plan is to offer a foil to George Soros’ Open Society Foundation with his own populist organization that he says will be called The Movement. ‘Soros is brilliant,’ Bannon said. ‘He’s evil but he’s brilliant.’” (

Bannon is setting out to best Soros’ effort. Here A is aiming to make B look bad.

So back to the article in question. It’s an interesting scenario: Lopez Obrador has a style and rhetoric very similar to that of Trump’s, but is in an adversarial political position against Trump by being Mexican’s president. He “vowed to fight fire with fire when it comes to Trump.”

A character on the opposite side that mirrors the other – and exposes, ironically, the flaws of both. The author is using the idiom in a rather clever way to make her point. :mrgreen:

Kat :D

(Fun character foils to each other!)
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註冊時間: 週五 4月 24, 2009 6:09 pm

Re: Ask Kat: a foil to sb

文章 Michael-liu »


In Wikipedia of "foil", it says " A foil usually either differs dramatically or is extremely similar but with a key difference setting them apart. "

So, I think this CNN news title is trying to say the Mexican president and Trump are "extremely similar". Just my two cents.