What Is a "Lion's Share"?
A lion’s share is an idiomatic expression that is used to describe an unusually large portion. The term may be applied to just about any situation in which a disproportionate share is allocated to one particular entity or individual. This idiom may be used to describe positive or negative circumstances, depending on how it is used to describe the related situation.
The basic imagery of a lion’s share draws on the characteristics normally associated with the lion. Referred to as the king of the beasts in many cultures, the idea is that as a ruler in the animal kingdom, the lion will always receive rewards that are worthy of royalty, meaning that the quantity and quality of those rewards will exceed those afforded to others. This concept is used in a number of folk tales found in many cultures, some quite ancient, and often involves the telling of a fable or myth that carries some sort of moral lesson.
With a lion’s share, the recipient is able to enjoy the benefits of a larger portion or share than others who partake in the same event. For example, the honoree at a birthday party will receive the lion’s share of attention, since the event is a celebration planned especially for that individual. An investor who holds controlling interest in a firm will tend to receive the lion’s or largest share of the dividends issued during a specific accounting period. Even in terms of being able to receive attention from the media, some politicians and celebrities are able to attract more attention and receive more publicity in print publications, on television and radio, and even online than others, based on their current activities and public statements.
In some instances, the lion’s share is presented as being something positive, indicating the recipient is deserving of the rewards received. When this is the case, there is usually a great deal of celebration surrounding the use of the term, with widespread agreement that the recipient is in fact entitled to all the honors and rewards. At other times, indicating that someone is receiving the lion’s share may be done in the context of implying that the recipient does not have a right to receive such a huge share of rewards, possibly due to feelings that he or she did not earn them, or that they were allocated to the expense of others that are perceived as more deserving.
@pastanaga - It's interesting the way that lions are seen as being a symbol of royalty all over the world. They don't really have any more prominence in the animal kingdom than many other carnivores. They aren't even the biggest cat, as the tiger is.
@MrsPramm - Well, the male lion in a pride does act as a protector, and perform other benefits for the group. So even if he doesn't directly hunt an animal he should still get some of the food.
And I kind of doubt that he does take priority in terms of who gets to eat, although I don't know how that works. I think this idiom is based more on the idea of the lion being the "king of beasts", and therefore able to obtain more food or space in legend if not reality. If another creature was known as the king of beasts then I imagine it would also get its name in this idiom, even if it had a completely different social structure from lions.
I always thought of this as being a bit about gender roles as well. The male lion in a pride doesn't do much hunting and just eats what the females bring back. So I kind of thought of this saying as talking about someone getting a large portion that might not have been directly earned.
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