Misc.: Gold terms

December 4, 2008: Issue 267

Use gold to describe something made of at least 14-karat gold. Otherwise say golden.

a gold necklace
a golden damask drapery

To gild something is to cover it with a thin layer of gold or something resembling gold. The preferred past participle is gilded (not gilt).
a gilded picture frame

Gilt is the material laid on an item to gild it.
lettered in 14-karat gilt

Gold leaf is an extremely thin sheet of gold, usually used for gilding.

Literature lesson: To gild the lily means to unnecessarily adorn something that is already beautiful. The metaphor has its roots in William Shakepeare’s King John, but it’s a condensation of the original. Here’s what Shakespeare wrote:

Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

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