In In the Midst of Alarms (1894) by Robert Barr, the author is describing a journalist at the Argus newspaper, who used to read the opposition sheets in a feverish way, saying:

He had feared that he would find life deadly dull so far from New York, without even the consolation of a morning-paper, the feverish reading of which had become a sort of vice with him, like smoking. He had imagined that he could not exist without his morning paper, but he now realized that it was not nearly so important a factor in life as he had supposed; yet he sighed when he thought of it, and wished he had one with him of current date. He could now, for the first time in many years, read a paper without that vague fear which always possessed him when he took up an opposition sheet, still damp from the press. Before he could enjoy it his habit was to scan it over rapidly to see if it contained any item of news which he himself had missed the previous day. The impending “scoop” hangs over the head of the newspaper man like the sword so often quoted. Great as the joy of beating the opposition press is, it never takes the poignancy of the sting away from a beating received. If a terrible disaster took place, and another paper gave fuller particulars than the Argus did, Yates found himself almost wishing the accident had not occurred, although he recognized such a wish as decidedly unprofessional.

What's meant by this bolded phrase, and does "so often quoted" mean "in many of times in which the word "scoop" is mentioned"?!

1 Answer 1


The phrase is ‘the sword so often quoted’ and refers to the Sword of Damocles, which in turn refers to the:

moral parable popularized by the Roman philosopher Cicero in his 45 B.C. book “Tusculan Disputations.” Cicero’s version of the tale centers on Dionysius II, a tyrannical king who once ruled over the Sicilian city of Syracuse during the fourth and fifth centuries B.C. Though rich and powerful, Dionysius was supremely unhappy. His iron-fisted rule had made him many enemies, and he was tormented by fears of assassination—so much so that he slept in a bedchamber surrounded by a moat and only trusted his daughters to shave his beard with a razor.

As Cicero tells it, the king’s dissatisfaction came to a head one day after a court flatterer named Damocles showered him with compliments and remarked how blissful his life must be. “Since this life delights you,” an annoyed Dionysius replied, “do you wish to taste it yourself and make a trial of my good fortune?” When Damocles agreed, Dionysius seated him on a golden couch and ordered a host of servants wait on him. He was treated to succulent cuts of meat and lavished with scented perfumes and ointments. Damocles couldn’t believe his luck, but just as he was starting to enjoy the life of a king, he noticed that Dionysius had also hung a razor-sharp sword from the ceiling. It was positioned over Damocles’ head, suspended only by a single strand of horsehair. From then on, the courtier’s fear for his life made it impossible for him to savor the opulence of the feast or enjoy the servants. After casting several nervous glances at the blade dangling above him, he asked to be excused, saying he no longer wished to be so fortunate.

The phrase ‘sword of Damocles’ is used in English to refer an ill-fate which could befall a person at any moment. In this instance, the fate is ‘being scooped’.

A ‘Scoop’ in this sense is the act of securing a story for a newspaper ahead of rival titles.

With these in mind

Great as the joy of beating the opposition press is, it never takes the poignancy of the sting away from a beating received.

Means that while it is a joyous thing to beat the other papers to a story, that joy never entirely erases the wounded feelings that arise from being beaten to a story by the other papers.

  • Thank you so much for your comprehensive and sufficient answer. Now I totally understand it. Jan 4, 2021 at 16:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.