Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

A Chain Is Only As Strong As Its Weakest Link

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 23, 2010

It’s true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  The phrase is something wrongly attributed to Vladimir Lenin prior to the Revolution of 1917 concerning why the Bolsheviks were agitating the Russian Proletariat.

Cornhill Magazine published an article in 1868 that contained this bit of advice:  “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link; but if you show how admirably the last few are united … half the world will forget to the security of the … parts which are kept out of sight.”

However, the phrase can be traced back to a comment written in a letter from C. Kingley dated December 1, 1856 that states:  “The devil is very busy, and no one knows better than he that nothing is stronger than its weakest part.”

And earlier than that, in 1786, Thomas Reid wrote his “Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man” wherein he stated:  “In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest.”

And so while there are those who believe this phrase is a translation of an older Latin proverb or that it comes from the Bible, the fact is that it appears that the only proverb that is remotely similar to this is a Basque saying;  “Haria meheenean eten ohi da” which translates into “A thread usually breaks from where it is thinnest.”

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