Did You Know? A solution is a homogeneous mixture of two substances—that is, it has the same distribution of particles throughout. Technically speaking, a solution consists of a mixture of one or more solutes dissolved in a solvent. The particles of solute and solvent are molecules or ions, with one or more solvent molecules bound to each solute particle. Both the solvent and the solute can be solid, liquid, or gas, but the solvent is usually liquid. We use solutions every day without realizing it. The ammonia with which we clean windows and floors is a solution of ammonia gas in water. The vinegar we sometimes put on salads is a solution of acetic acid (a liquid) and water. And seawater is a solution of sodium chloride (a solid) and water. Other common solutions are gasoline and metal alloys, including the solution of copper and nickel that gets minted as dimes, nickels, and quarters.
cut the Gordian knot To resolve a situation or solve a problem by force or evasive action; to take action quickly, decisively, and boldly.
Turn him to any cause of policy, The Gordian knot of it he will unloose.
(Shakespeare, Henry V. I, i)
According to Greek legend, Phrygia (now part of Turkey) was in need of a leader to end its political and economic woes. The local oracle foretold that a man fit to be king would enter the city in a cart. Shortly thereafter, Gordius, a peasant, rode into town in an ox-cart which was connected to the yoke by an intricate knot made of bark. After being proclaimed king, Gordius dedicated the cart to Zeus, whereupon the oracle predicted that whoever was able to undo the knot would rule over all of Asia. In 333 B.C. Alexander the Great reputedly entered the temple and cut the knot with his sword, thus fulfilling the prophecy. The expression cut the knot is a variation.
hammer out To work out laboriously or with much intellectual effort; to figure out, to settle, to resolve. This verb phrase usually appears in a context implying that opposing and conflicting forces have resolved differences or tensions. The term was clearly coined as the figurative extension
of the literal pounding and hammering of a blacksmith as he shapes metal objects.
just what the doctor ordered Something desirable or restorative. A product of our health- and medicine-conscious culture, this expression is said of anything—a person, a substance, an idea—which has a soothing, palliative, make-it-all-better effect.
The waiter brought her a drink. “Just what the doctor ordered,” she said, smiling at him. (Gore Vidal, City and Pillar. 1948)
open sesame Any agency through which a desired result is realized; the key to a mystery or other perplexing situation; any real or magic act that brings about wanted fame, acceptance, etc. This saying comes from The Arabian Nights (1785) where it was used by Ali Baba as the password to open up the door of a robber’s hideaway.
Ali Baba … perceiving the door, … said—“Open, sesame.”
The expression was perhaps derived homonymously from open-says-me .
Thy name shall be a Sesame, at which the doors of the great shall fly open. (Charles Calverley, Verses and Translations. 1862)
pull out of a hat To come up unexpectedly with a response or solution, often in the nick of time, when all else has failed. This expression appeared in print during the mid-1900s. It alludes to the magician’s trick of pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
I must say you’ve really pulled one out of the hat this time. (J. McClune, Steam Pig. 1971)
Rosetta stone The agency through which a puzzle is solved; something that provides the initial step in the understanding of a previously incomprehensible design or situation. The Rosetta stone, discovered in 1799 by the French engineer M. Boussard, is an ancient basalt table which bears inscriptions in two languages—Egyptian and Greek—and three alphabets—hieroglyphic, demotic (a cursive type of Egyptian hieroglyphics), and Greek. This archaeological windfall furnished the key to translating the hitherto indecipherable Egyptian hieroglyphics. The expression’s current figurative use as a reference to the first clue in unraveling a mystery was illustrated by Ellsworth Ferris, as cited in Webster’s Third:
This book can be its own Rosetta stone and it is an interesting game to try to ferret out meanings by comparing passages till the puzzle is solved.