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Trial by fire

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  • Trial by fire is an idiom that goes back to a practice common during the Middle Ages. An idiom is a figure of speech that is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the meaning of the phrase trial by fire, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

    A trial by fire is a situation in which the participant’s abilities and determination are tested. A trial by fire is a test of one’s ability to function under pressure, and the implication is that once one successfully survives a trial by fire, he has proved his mastery. The term trial by fire, like many idioms, has its origins in a literal application. In the Middle Ages, when the judicial process failed to decide the guilt or innocence of person accused of a crime either due to conflicting witnesses, lack of evidence or some other reason that the jury failed to come to a verdict, he was subjected to a trial by ordeal. In the trial by ordeal, the accused was put to an uncomfortable and dangerous test. The idea was that God would intervene to save the person in question during the proceeding if he were innocent. One ordeal was trial by hot water. The accused was forced to pick up an object from the bottom of a cauldron of boiling water. If within a few days the subject did not show signs of being burned, then he was innocent. Other ordeals include trial by hot iron, trial by water, trial by host and trial by fire. In the trial by fire, the accused was either forced to snatch an object out of a fire or forced to walk over hot coals. Again, if the person showed no sign of burns after a few days, he was innocent. Pope Innocent III outlawed trial by ordeal in the early 1200s, but the practice endured for several more centuries.

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    Examples

    And if I have learned anything from my study of our great national “trial by fire” it is that absolutely nothing can now be gained by this major, orchestrated effort to demonize and vilify the Confederacy 150 years later. (The Rappahannock News)

    I think they would rather have a quarterback who is having to go through a trial by fire in every single game to get his timing back than a quarterback who can’t throw at all. (The Durham Herald Sun)

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