Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Do As I Say And Not As I Do

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 12, 2010

This is an admonitory phrase that has been used by parents the world over for generations and yet, very few people seem to know its origins.  In the Spectator on June 24, 1911, this advice was published:  “It has always been considered allowable to say to children, ‘Do as I say, rather than as I do.'”

This phrase, however, harkens back to several generations before 1911.  In John Selden’s book Table Talk which was published posthumously in 1689 (and written in 1654 just prior to his death), he wrote:  “”Preachers say, “Do as I say, not as I do.‘”  And while the advice is sound, he was not the first author to offer it.  In 1546, John Heywood’s “A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue“ the following can be found:  “It is as folke dooe, and not as folke say.”

However, the Anglo-Saxons in the 12th Century were known to say:  “Ac theah ic wyrs do thonne ic the lære ne do thu na swa swa ic do, ac do swa ic the lære gyf ic the wel lære” which translates into:   “Although I do worse than I teach you, do not do as I do, but do as I teach you if I teach you well.”

However, when all is said and done, this saying can be traced all the way back to the Bible in the Book of St. Matthew (verses 1-3) where the King James Version states:  “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples saying  “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:  All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”

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One Response to “Do As I Say And Not As I Do”

  1. […] by since becoming a parent that you were advised by well-meaning relatives, never tell your kids “Do as I say, not as I do!” Unfortunately, although we may not actually use that phrase, many of us parent that way without […]

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