*But the Stormers have a few aces of their own

Ace/a person who is very good at a particular activity/

Trick/ an act or scheme intended to deceive or outwit someone/

This expression caught my attention the other day while reading my favorite daily. I was caught by the richness of its metaphorical construction and its allusion to a well known-used expression. In the article where it makes its appearance it plays an important role in changing the tone of the article to heighten tension and shift balance in the content of the article which concerns itself with a scheduled game of rugby where the Sharks will face the Stormers. Until the appearance of this expression the article is preoccupied, for quite some time, with the description of the Sharks performances and its chances of becoming the victors.  


As I contemplated the expression in the global context of the article I could not help but consider its reading in quarantine whereby the Stormers and Sharks could be read without any association to the rugby teams or the sport itself. In that isolation the name Stormers can easily be associated with the noun storm which refers to violent disturbances of the atmosphere with strong winds, rain, thunder, lightning or snow. Progressively the noun shark refers to a large fish with a triangular fin on its back, many kinds of which preys on other animals. Of course this is no revelation in itself, this lexical drill that is. However, for the fun of it, if we were to push our envelope quite a bit further and go on with the Oxfords we can  also state an unpalatable definition of this noun shark which the dear Oxfords secures as an informal definition by saying ‘Shark’ refers to a person who dishonestly obtains money from others. Anyone who had hit rock bottom can almost see the beckoning grin of loan sharks. But let us return to our expression:

  • But the Stormers have a few aces of their own

Now consider if we were to subject this expression to a schema to break it up into its various constituencies forming its sentence structure, which can be written as:

But (adjective) the Stormers (noun) have (verb) a few aces (noun) of their (possessive) own.

In this schema of ours we see how ‘but’, as an adjective, interacts with ‘stormers’, a noun, in one instant tiny explosion to bring about the pivotal tonal change in the article. It is here that the axis of this change in tone of the article lies. If we were to delete ‘but’. All will seem as if there is no contest that will occur – that is in the global context of the article relating here to the game between the Stormers and the Sharks.

In order to make this expression more familiar the reader can rewrite it as:

  • But the Stormers have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Zeroing in

Here there is a substitution going on that sees ‘aces of their own’ being replaced by ‘tricks up their sleeves’. This way then the reading of the expression is foregrounded/made apparent. Look closely now at the tail of the original expression and the familiar expression that I have hitherto proposed.

Original expression’s tail:

  • A few aces of their own

Proposed familiar expression:

  • A few tricks up their sleeves

Alternatively we can be ultra and rewrite the sentences by omitting the first two words in their sentence structure:

Original expression’s tail:

  • aces of their own

Proposed familiar expression:

  • tricks up their sleeves

It becomes clear, in the light of the two tails written closely to each other in comparison ballet, that what makes the original expression interesting, at least to me, is that it seems to be an alteration, a change, of a familiar expression, it can be thought of as an allusion to the expression ‘a few tricks up their sleeves’.

By changing the syntactic construction of this expression consciously or by coincidence the writer explores a new way of saying that the person or the team that is being spoken about, in the face of adversity, will be able to hold their opponent to a sporting contest. And its locale or positioning of this expression within the article is of noteworthy as it serves to stirs the reader to now consider the opponent’s arsenal, by so doing the tonal structure of the article changes as well to consider the full picture within which the upcoming game will unfold.

*n.b. this expression was isolated from an article written by Craig Gray appearing in The Times on Friday July 27/2012


Late Winter

10 August 2012

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2012