What is chequered – our lives or the history of our favourite drink?

Here is one of my favourite chapters from my just-published “Not the End of Metaphoric Madness” for you to sample and savour. This chapter chronicles the usage and abusage of the word-metaphor “chequered” over the years.
When you sit at a restaurant table covered with a chequered cloth, the table is covered with a fabric that has patterns of alternating squares of different colours. Likewise, you may wear short chequered breeches like the Gauls and the Britons of the 17-18th century.
So, in its literal sense, chequered means having a pattern consisting of alternating shapes of different colours. The word has been grouped under chess-metaphors because the chessboard is a nice chequered gameboard. The gameboard is said to be chequered because it has a design of 64 alternating dark and light squares (usually black and white) on an eight-by-eight square grid.
There you have a nice metaphor chequered, a vivid metaphor for being marked by alternating fortunes. Now you have the chequered metaphor as an adjective for things marked by alternating ups and downs, gloom and doom, darkness and brightness, excitement and exasperation, peaks and troughs, and zenith and nadir.
Thus, you talk about the chequered career of a local politician or the chequered track record of a national athlete. Don’t you think life would have ceased to be a sport had it not been chequered? Do you think existence in this world would have been so exciting had it not been chequered?
Commenting on how financial-transaction taxes have behaved in European nations, The Economist ran a popular story, datelined Paris:31 January 2015, with the teasing headline “Still kicking: New life for a bad idea”.
The story opens with a flourish: “Europe has a chequered history when it comes to taxing financial transactions. Britain has a centuries-old stamp duty on share purchases but wants to protect the City from further fiscal burdens. Sweden tried a tax in the 1980s and dropped it when share-trading emigrated. France and Italy have recently imposed different sorts of financial-transaction taxes (FTTs).”
The story goes on to explain further how chequered is the history of FTTs in Europe. “But at the year’s first meeting of European finance ministers, France, along with ten other like-minded members of the European Union, dusted off a moribund plan to introduce a harmonised FTT.”
Well, you can now talk or write about the chequered performance of a famous past student of your college. Or, as a business analyst, you can dissect the chequered financial track record of a much-loved popular corporate entity. Or, as a stock-watcher, you can comment about the chequered journey of your fancied stock. Or, as a budding writer and historian, you can chronicle the chequered journey of a coloniser.
Here is an example that should make your spirits soar high. Preparing to cheer the World Gin Day on 13 June 2015 (Saturday), The Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk) hit upon an idea to host a quiz on Britain’s favourite gin. Here is the intro and the invitation (headlined “Which gin are you? Take our quiz and find out”) that was penned by James Rothwell for the paper’s website.
“Born to quaff Bombay Sapphire? Or do you hanker for Hendrick’s? Raise a glass to Britain’s most enduring spirit on World Gin Day and find out which type suits you best. It has emerged from a chequered history of scandal and debauchery to become one of the nation’s favourite spirits. In the 18th century, gin was known as ‘mother’s ruin’ for its propensity to turn respectable Georgian women into impoverished fiends. But now it is the first choice for discerning tipplers, with gin bars springing up across London’s West End.”
“With World Gin Day fast approaching, the Telegraph has put together this handy quiz to help you choose which gin best suits you. After you’ve learnt whether you were born to quaff Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s or something in between, find out where best to drink it with our list of the greatest gin bars in the world.”
Okay, gin might have had a chequered history. But, will there be a game if the 64-squared chessboard is chequered? And where is the charm and challenge in living, if life itself is not chequered?
Harish Kumar


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