Test your mettle

As many of you may know, we test, show or prove our mettle by demonstrating that we’re capable of withstanding pressure or being resilient. But do you know how the saying originated?

Test your mettle on this. If you think the word should be spelt ‘metal’ then you have some lingering idea of the origins of this phrase.

Usually associated with strength or courage, to test your mettle is to demonstrate resolve and determination; to be tenacious. Hardly surprising then that today, it’s a phrase mostly heard in sporting circles, or read in news headlines to describe athletic grit.

The phrase first appears in 17th century texts. Back in the 13th century, ‘metal’ and ‘mettle’ were used interchangeably. Over the centuries the word ‘mettle’ lost its direct association with the cold, hard, ubiquitous substance, and by the 18th century, had become a figurative term describing one’s personal constitution. The connotation of outer strength derived from the word ‘metal’ had simply been exchanged with the idea of human inner strength. You can show, prove or test your mettle by demonstrating that you’re capable of being resilient and withstanding pressure.

Shakespeare used ‘mettle’ in some of his plays. Macbeth describes the steely, murderous resolve of Lady Macbeth as her ‘undaunted mettle’.

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