The quote from "The Sign and The Seal" by Graham Hancock:

"If this had been what had happened then it would undoubtedly go a long way to explain the strangely menacing suggestion to the King of France that it might be a good idea if he were to have the 'treacherous Templars' (still mainly Frenchmen at the time) executed forthwith."

I'd like to ask about the exact meaning of the expression "go a long way to explain". I'll try to ground my question. The text preceding the quoted hints that Harbay (Ethiopian king at the time) might have got the "intelligence" that Lalibela (future king of Ethiopia) in exile is plotting against him being in alliance with the Templars. If it is so then it is understandable that Harbay would defend himself and address the King of France with the above mentioned menacing suggestion (to kill the Templars). That logical chain being straightforward, makes me curious why 'go a long way ' expression is used which in my understanding means 'hard and arduous to explain'.

  • 'Goes a long way towards explaining' just means 'explains most of the reason', there is no implication of difficulty, just incompleteness. google.co.uk/amp/s/www.collinsdictionary.com/amp/english/… I'm not posting this as an answer because the question is based on a misapprehension of english usage, which when corrected presumably leaves no viable literature question. PS I see the wording is 'long way to' rather than the more common 'towards', but the meaning is the same.
    – Spagirl
    Sep 1, 2017 at 9:09
  • “'explains most of the reason' suits the context perfectly. I was confused by a couple of example sentences giving the opposite meaning For a linguist it is easy to distinguish whether it is 'usage' question or 'literature' one. It is quite to the contrary for a learner like me. I was participating in the 'Usage' group and redirected onto here after a couple of questions which I though was about 'usage'. Sep 1, 2017 at 9:55
  • finedictionary.com/go%20a%20long%20way.html Examples 2-4 Sep 1, 2017 at 9:56
  • I can easily see how you got to your understanding and I didn't mean to criticise, but at the end of the day it still makes it a question about usage rather than about literature since the answer does not require any reference to the work in question. Glad to have been able to help with your understanding, sorry if you are finding it frustrating to know where to post questions, believe me I know how frustrating these things can be!
    – Spagirl
    Sep 1, 2017 at 10:10

1 Answer 1


You're misunderstanding the meaning of the phrase "go a long way to(wards)". E.g. see the Collins English Dictionary:

If you say that something goes a long way towards doing a particular thing, you mean that it is an important factor in achieving that thing.

Although by no means a cure, it goes a long way towards making the patient's life more tolerable.

[+ towards/to]

The link you cited in comments gives an alternative meaning of the phrase: it can also be interpreted more literally, as someone or something literally travelling a long (possibly arduous) distance. But given the context, it's clearly the other meaning that's being used here. If Harbay believed that the Templars were plotting against him, it might go a long way towards (be an important factor in) explaining his suggestion to the King of France of having the Templars killed.

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