In an article on Dubai's financial crisis in Saturday's Financial Times (I can't find it online, but it's on page 6 of the paper) a hedge fund manager was quoted as saying "This is a case of people realising that the emirate has no clothes".
This phrase is understandable to most people because they are familiar with the fairy-tale The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen, from where it comes. As Wikipedia says:
"Scholars have noted that the phrase 'Emperor's new clothes' has become a standard metaphor for anything that smacks of pretentiousness, pomposity, social hypocrisy, collective denial, or hollow ostentatiousness".
The hedge fund manager was particularly creative, given that the words emperor and emirate are vaguely similar -- they begin with the same two letters, anyway. Emperor and emir both originally meant 'commander', but emperor comes from Latin and emir from Arabic.
I've been trying to think of other phrases from fairy-tales that are common in everyday English. There's "Open Sesame" from
Aladdin, (Ali Baba, sorry) and various permutations of the phrase 'genie in a bottle', which is from Aladdin. Here are some sentences I found on Google's news pages:
"Key to keeping violence genie in the bottle is ..." (Scotsman)
"... two genies in different bottles waiting to be rubbed the right way" (Guardian)
"... the genie was well and truly out of the bottle" (Irish Times)
"Kiss that frog" is another phrase that turns up in unlikely places (like in this article about Michelle Obama). That is from The Frog Prince by the Brothers Grimm. "The big bad wolf" is also common in news reports -- usually with reference to the government. The phrase comes from the story The Three Little Pigs. Again, we are all so familiar with this story from our childhood that we understand a headline like "Who's afraid of the big bad net?" (Scottish Herald).