De kastanjes uit het vuur halen: d.w.z. een gevaarlijken arbeid verrichten voor een ander, die zich zelven buiten schot houdt en er het voordeel van geniet.
To do a dangerous, hard, or unpleasant thing for someone else.
The phrase “pull someone’s chestnuts out of the fire” is indeed derived from a fable involving a monkey using a cat to retrieve roasted chestnuts from a fire.
In the context of the fable, the monkey convinces the cat to do the difficult and dangerous task of retrieving the chestnuts, only to reap the benefits for itself while leaving the cat with nothing.
In a broader sense, the expression can be used metaphorically to describe situations where someone manipulates or takes advantage of another person to accomplish a task or achieve a goal, often leaving the helper with little or no benefit and sometimes harm.
It can imply the exploitation of someone for one’s own gain, and it may involve deceit or manipulation.
So, the understanding that it can be used with potentially bad intentions aligns with the historical context of the fable and the idiomatic use of the expression.
The expression “pull someone’s chestnuts out of the fire” originates from a fable involving a monkey and a cat. Here are the key points associated with this expression:
Fable Origin: The phrase comes from a fable by Jean de La Fontaine in which a monkey convinces a cat to pull chestnuts from a fire. The monkey promises to share the chestnuts but ends up taking them all, leaving the cat with burnt paws.
Metaphorical Use: The expression is used metaphorically to describe situations where someone convinces or manipulates another person to do a difficult or risky task, typically for the manipulator’s benefit.
Deceit and Exploitation: In the metaphorical usage, it often implies deceit or exploitation, where one person takes advantage of another’s efforts, leaving the helper with little or no gain and sometimes harm.
Benefiting from Others’ Efforts: It suggests a scenario where someone avoids the unpleasant aspects of a situation by getting someone else to do the hard work, while they reap the rewards.
Potential Negative Connotations: While the expression itself doesn’t inherently imply malicious intent, it can be used in contexts where there is a sense of manipulation, taking advantage, or benefiting at the expense of others.
Understanding these key points provides insight into the historical context of the phrase and its metaphorical use in describing certain interpersonal dynamics.
The Monkey and the Cat
The fable and its history
In La Fontaine’s telling, Bertrand the monkey persuades Raton the cat to pull chestnuts from the embers amongst which they are roasting, promising him a share. As the cat scoops them from the fire one by one, burning his paw in the process, the monkey gobbles them up. They are disturbed by a maid entering and the cat gets nothing for its pains. It is from this fable that the French get their idiom Tirer les marrons du feu, meaning to act as someone’s dupe or, deriving from that, to benefit from the dirty work of others.
It is also the source of the English idiom ‘a cat’s paw’, defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as ‘one used by another as a tool’.
It can be used with bad intentions.