Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Throw Caution To The Wind

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 23, 2013

If you think it’s a good idea to throw caution to the wind, don’t be surprised if your friends think you’re taking an unnecessary risk.

The Birmingham Mail newspaper published a Letter to the Editor written by D. Newton of Kingswinford on February 23, 2009 that had to do with a Championship game played by the beloved Blues soccer team.   Along with some personal insights, the letter included this bit of advice:

Also, Larsson should be returned to midfield with Fahey replacing Carsley in centre midfield. Attack is the best form of defence, throw caution to the wind and go for it.

On March 18, 1995 journalist Nigel Clarke of The Mirror newspaper in England covered the Mike Tyson v Frank Bruno heavyweight champion of the world boxing event. It didn’t take long for Mike Tyson to win the match, and the article entitled, “I Punched like a Mule: Bruno Knew He Was DOOMED!” read in part:

Tyson, who wiped out Bruno’s challenge in 410 seconds of mayhem, re-lived his chilling battle plan, bragging: “I punched like a mule – he knew he was doomed. He knew I was going to knock him out.”

His Las Vegas demolition scheme was based on a savage non-stop onslaught.

He said: “I just threw caution to the wind, I just wanted to throw punches, to knock him out.”

It appears that the expression was a favorite in the boxing field. On March 1, 1961 Deseret News Sports Editor, Hack Miller, wrote about the title fight between 4-time winner Gene Fullmer and “Sugar” Ray Robinson. The article was entitled, “Fourth Go With Sugar Ray: Gene Will Be The Favorite.” Hack Miller’s take on the upcoming fight included this excerpt:

This doesn’t mean that Fullmer will try to box with Robinson. Few have ever done that and lived to wear the title. Nor does it mean that Fullmer will not use a little of the cover tactics which protected him until he could work within shooting range the last time they fought.

It does mean, however, that Fullmer will throw a little of the caution to the wind and get along with a two-fisted fight.

And 30 years before that, in the Pittsburg Press of July 1, 1931 United Press staff writer, George Kirksey wrote a piece about Georgia boxer, W.L. “Young” Stribling, in an article entitled, “Stribling Flies Over Schmeling Camp.” Boxing fans were eager to learn more about this pugilist, and George Kirksey began his article with this:

Young Stribling’s airplane ride to Max Schmeling’s training camp in defiance of Madison Square Garden officials and his father-manager had many persons wondering today if the Georgian doesn’t plan to throw caution to the wind in Friday night’s bout in the new Cleveland stadium.

“I feel better now than any time since I started training,” Stribling remarked. “That ride was just what I needed.”

Those close to Stribling know that the Georgia boy has his heart set on trying to knock out Schmeling. “Pa,” however, favors a safer source.

And 30 years before that, when cars were the latest rage and motorcar racing was in its infancy, the Baltimore American newspaper had a very detailed article in the August 24, 1901 edition of their newspaper. Entitled, “Another Race For Motors: Four Noted Crews And Motors To Be Again Tested Around The Bowl Track” readers learned the following:

There is great rivalry between the Nelson brothers as to the speeds of the motors, while the “Blues” are a distinct camp full of all that professional jealousy that animates actors and motor riders. The outlook is that there will be more races of throwing caution to the wind after the crack of the pistol and of thrilling rides with death for the satisfaction of victory and the purses.

At the Colosseum tomorrow afternoon at 4 o’clock the two “Blue” machines will be sent out to see just how fast they can go. The motors are working well and the training of them tomorrow afternoon is apt to be watched by a huge crowd.

Prior to the use of throw caution to the wind, the expression was actually throw discretion to the wind.

The New York Times published a story on June 19, 1887 entitled, “Sharp Sleeps In A Jail: Sheriff Grant Had Begun To Get Nervous.” Jacob Sharp, a famous millionaire of that era, was placed by order of the court into the custody of Sheriff Grant and an uproar started over the condition of the jail and concerns about the cuisine, service, ventilation, and high moral atmosphere of the Ludlow Street Jail. The jury was also a source of considerable official anxiety as well. Mr. Rickets and his six assistants were charged with ensuring that the jury members did not speak to anyone other than other jury members, and the problem of what to do with the jury members on a Sunday was brought to the Judge’s attention. The article read in part:

Yesterday Mr. Ricketts asked judge Barrett what the jury would do over Sunday. This puzzled the court not a little. Sending the jury to church was questionable, because two of them were known to have free-thinking, baseball proclivities, and might create a disturbance. Coney Island was equally inadvisable, since there were church members of long repression on the jury, who, brought face to face with those follies and vices of the world which they usually took pains to avoid, might impulsively throw discretion to the winds and be detected in the act of buying popcorn and lemonade from some of those snub-nosed Circes from the factories who go to Coney Island on Sunday prepared to “mash” anything and everything that is mashable in all the width of the world.

The expression was used with ease in the article with the expectation that readers would understand what it meant, and so it is reasonable to believe it had been in use at least the generation prior to its publication in the New York Times article cited.

That being said, both expressions are related to one used by English poet and polemicist, John Milton (9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) in his poem, “Paradise Lost: A Poem In Ten Books”  published in 1667. The poem addressed the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan that led to being ousted from the Garden of Eden.  This passage is found in the poem:

Taste so divine, that what of sweet before
Hath touched my sense, flat seems to this, and harsh.
On my experience, Adam, freely taste,
And fear of death deliver to the winds.
So saying, she embraced him, and for joy
Tenderly wept; much won, that he his love
Had so ennobled, as of choice to incur
Divine displeasure for her sake, or death.

The use of deliver to the winds implies that the action is undertaken with such abandon that fear isn’t considered at the time of the action.

However, more than three hundred years before John Milton published “Paradise Lost” when it came to legal matters, the word caution was used to describe a guarantee or pledge. It was from the Old French caution which meant security or surety. The Old French word was from the Latin word cautionem (or cautio) meaning caution, foresight or precaution, and this was from the word cavere which meant “to be on one’s guard.”

The term cautio was traced back to Roman times in the reference book, “A Summary of the Roman Civil Law, Illustrated By Commentaries On and Parallels from the Mosaic, Canon, Mohammedan, English and Foreign Law” by Patrick Colquhoun. The book references a number of cautio.

In the case of a cautio de rato, an agent or attorney appears on behalf of a third-party without a formal power of attorney contract between them. It is understood, however, that the third-party agrees to abide by whatever decisions are arrived at by the third-party’s agent or attorney. This, of course, places the third-party in a somewhat dangerous position if the agent or attorney is unethical in his dealings, and therefore, it can be said that by the cautio de rato, this leaves the third party figuratively throwing caution to the wind when it comes to his legal matters.

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2 Responses to “Throw Caution To The Wind”

  1. Bob Faraway said

    I have found an earlier use of the phrase ‘throws caution to the winds’

    Richard Rolle c 1290-1349 wrote a prayer as follows, that starts

    Come to us ,O Christ, as the wind that blows the autumn leaves, …(It concludes as follows)

    desire for you that is unrestrained and a yearning for you that throws caution to the winds, and this for your own love’s sake. Amen

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