What Is the Meaning of Picking up the Mantle?

by Dianne Laguerta

In many languages, ideas are shared through metaphorical expressions known as idioms. An idiom is an expression not meant to be taken literally. For example, the phrase "picking up the mantle" does not refer to literally picking up an article of clothing. It instead means "to assume another's role."

Origins and Modern Usage

Picking up or taking up the mantle is an idiom that alludes to the biblical story of Elisha and Elijah. Elijah, a prophet of God, leaves his mantle, or cloak, once he ascends to heaven. Elisha, "picks up the mantle," taking his Elijah's place as a prophet. Today, "picking up the mantle" refers to someone "taking up" another's leadership role, as Elisha did for Elijah. In November 1991, the "New York Times" had an example of the modern usage when discussing baseball labor negotiations: "Will Ravitch, as head of the owner's Player Relations Committee, pick up the mantle of Ray Grebey, the negotiator who became synonymous with all-out war during the 50-day strike in 1981?"

About the Author

Dianne Laguerta is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor's degree in history and Middle Eastern studies. She studied and conducted research in Cairo, Egypt during the 2012 Egyptian elections, and has traveled throughout the Middle East.

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