I recently learned a new figure of speech – “like painting the Forth Bridge,” which refers to a job which is never completed. Or at least it used to mean that. The Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge over the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland. It is is a marvel of British engineering, so large that for the last 121 years, teams of painters have been continuously painting the bridge. The job took so long that by the time the painters were finished, they needed to start again. Now however, the bridge will be coated with glass flake epoxy paint, which is similar to that used in the offshore oil industry. This improved paint technology will mean that the bridge will not require painting for 25 years. A good figure of speech bites the dust, to coin a phrase.
Is there a suitable replacement phrase? “Shoveling sand against the tide” or its less polite variant, “Shoveling shit against the tide” are similar, but with a slightly different twist, implying complete hopelessness rather than simply a vast scope.
Having nothing whatsoever to do with paint or bridges, there has been an image floating around the internet of late which solves the old problem addressed in the American phrase to be “up shit creek without a paddle.” Never forget to bring your paddle.
Thanks to Alaric Bond for passing along the news of the bridge’s new paint job.