Technology Makes Bridge Simile Obsolete

A week’s holiday in the U.K. drew my attention to a recent news story over there: how a much-loved simile featuring a much-loved engineering marvel, is about to become obsolete.

Scotland’s Forth Railway Bridge, a 2.5 kilometer steel bridge, was completed in 1890. Because it is so big and so complicated to paint, it was said (not entirely accurately) that as soon as it was painted, painting needed to start all over again. This gave rise to the expression “like painting the Forth Bridge,” meaning a never-ending task.

But Network Rail announced last week that a new paint job may render that expression obsolete. A new paint job using glass flake epoxy paint is nearing completion. That type of paint is used in the offshore oil industry and is intended to last 25 years or more. Network Rail says, “After 10 years and an investment of over £130m, the bridge will finally be free of scaffolding, with a full paint job unlikely to be required again for over twenty years.”

This is good news for the many admirers of this early engineering marvel. But a conundrum for lovers of the “Forth Bridge” simile.


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