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Those Who Go A-borrowing, Go A-sorrowing

Posted by Admin on January 23, 2021

It’s not unusual for people to borrow items and money, intending to return it, but somehow failing to do so in a timely fashion, if at all. In fact, since 1932, Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons has been promising people, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

The expression “those who go a-borrowing, go a-sorrowing” means that borrowing always ends in regrets because at some point, whether in the near future or the eventual future, that debt is going to have to be repaid … usually with interest.  Another example of the expression are those who have maxed out their credit cards or found themselves in an upside-down mortgage. They definitely went a-borrowing and they definitely wound up a-sorrowing.

It’s an idiom that hasn’t been used very often, and few people seem to have used it over the years. But when it is used, it packs a punch!

When Royal Navy officer and novelist Frederick Marryat (10 July 1792 – 9 August 1848) wrote “Mr. Midshipman Easy” in 1836, one of his characters makes use of the expression in Chapter Eight which is titled, “In Which Mr Easy Has His First Lesson As To Zeal In His Majesty’s Service.”

“Suppose that you were a commander like myself, with a wife and seven children, and that, struggling for many years to support them, you found yourself, notwithstanding the utmost parsimony, gradually running into debt. That, after many long applications, you had at last succeeded in obtaining employment by an appointment to a fine sloop, and there was every prospect, by prize-money and increased pay, of recovering yourself from your difficulties, if not realising a sufficient provision for your family. Then suppose that all this prospect and all these hopes were likely to be dashed to the ground by the fact of having no means of fitting yourself out, no credit, no means of paying debts you have contracted, for which you would have been arrested, or anything sufficient to leave for the support of your family during your absence, your agent only consenting to advance one-half of what you require. Now, suppose, in this awkward dilemma, without any one in this world upon whom you have any legitimate claim, as a last resource you were to apply to one with whom you have but a distant connection, and but an occasional acquaintance—and that when you had made your request for the loan of two or three hundred pounds, fully anticipating a refusal (from the feeling that he who goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing)—I say, suppose, to your astonishment, that this generous person was to present you with a cheque on his banker for one thousand pounds, demanding no interest, no legal security, and requests you only to pay it at your convenience—I ask you, Sawbridge, what would be your feelings towards such a man?”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: He is also the author of the children’s novel “The Children of the New Forest” published in 1847.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The maritime flag signaling system known as Marryat’s Code was devised by Frederick Marryat.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Frederick Marryat was also an acquaintance of English writer and social critic, Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870).

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: The novel “Mr. Midshipman Easy” was released by Associated Talking Pictures (ATP) Studios in London, England in 1935 and retitled, “Midshipman Easy” starring Hughie Green (3 February 1920 – 3 May 1997) as Midshipman Easy.

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: Hughie Green was a British actor who was raised in Canada as a child which resulted in the drawling transatlantic accent for which he was known.

It appears in “The Private Life of the late Benjamin Franklin: Originally Written by Himself and Now Translated From The French” published in 1793. Originally written in four parts, beginning in 1771 (and referencing his life decades earlier, and ending with his death in 1790, with the first book-length edition in French produced in 1791, it was translated and retranslated.

Benjamin Franklin also used this expression in his “Preface to Poor Richard Improved” published in 1758, speaking on the varieties of early modern credit.

The artificial wants of mankind thus become more numerous than the natural; and, as Poor Dick says, for one poor person, there are an hundred indigent. By these, and other extravagancies, the genteel are reduced to poverty, and forced to borrow of those whom they formerly despised, but who through industry and Frugality have maintained their standing; in which case it appears plainly, that a ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees, as Poor Richard says. Perhaps they have had a small estate left them, which they knew not the getting of; they think ’tis day, and will never be night; that a little to be spent out of so much, is not worth minding; (a child and a fool, as Poor Richard says, imagine twenty shillings and twenty years can never be spent) but, always taking out of the meal-tub, and never putting in, soon comes to the bottom; then, as Poor Dick says, when the well’s dry, they know the worth of water. But this they might have known before, if they had taken his advice; if you would know the value of money, go and try to borrow some for, he that goes a borrowing goes a sorrowing, and indeed so does he that lends to such people, when he goes to get it in again.

This passage was reworked from the 1743 edition of the book, but omitted “and scarce in that” before the expression.

Dutch humanist, philosopher, and Christian scholar, Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (28 October 1469 – 12 July 1536) grew up during the European religious Reformation. He was known simply as Erasmus, and one of the many things he is noted for is the writing and publishing of his annotated collection of Greek and Latin proverbs. The first edition was titled “Collectanea Adagiorum” and was published in 1500. In 1508, he updated the collection and renamed it “Adagiorum chiliades tres.” The book grew from its original 800 entries to 3,000 entries. This entry appeared in both editions.

He that goeth a borrowynge goeth a sorowynge.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: By the 1530s, historians believe the writings of Erasmus accounted for nearly 20 percent of all book sales.

Reliquiæ Antiquæ” tracked the expression back to 1470 by way of the Bibliotheca Harleiana of the British Library (formerly the library of the British Museum) which is a historic collection to which new materials are no longer added, and which is one of the main “closed” collections.

He that fast spendyth must nede borowe;
But whan he schal paye ayen, then ys al the sorowe.
Kype and save, and thou schalle have;
Frest and leve, and thou schalle crave;
Walow and wast, and thou schalle want.
I made of my frend my foo,
I will beware I do no more soo.

While this is the earliest published version that reflects the spirit of the expression, Erasmus identified the saying as part of his annotated collection of Greek and Latin proverbs puts it back to Ancient times.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece, Idioms from the 15th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Freeze The Balls Off A Brass Monkey

Posted by Admin on January 9, 2021

Most people are under the impression that this expression is rife with sexual innuendo. The fact of the matter is, there’s a mariner history to that expression, even if the current nudge-nudge-wink-wink-know-what-I-mean commentary and looks are associated with it these days.

To understand the expression, it’s important to go back to the Golden Age of Sail. This was a period from 1571 through to 1862 that corresponds with the early modern period when international trade and naval warfare was the main staple of sailing ships. Of course, sailing ships included frigates, brigs, sloops, and schooners. All of this continued until steamboats started to take trade away from sailboats.

Ships during this time period carried their guns in two large batteries, one on each broadside. A few were mounted to fire directly ahead which left sailing warships weak, especially on the bow and most especially the stern of the ship, both of which were vulnerable to raking fire.

Ships at the mercy of raking fire had no guns with which to defend themselves, and with the rudder at the stern, the ability to maneuver the ship rendered the ship literally dead in the water even with intact masts and sails.

Rumor has it that the brass monkey was the dimpled plate that sat beside ship guns, stacked in a pyramid, and when the weather or cold, they would freeze and slip off the plate.

Unfortunately that is not true!

As reasonable as that may sound, it’s an sailor’s tale according to the official U.S. Navy website, Naval History and Heritage Command.

That being said, there were a lot of monkeys on sailing ships according to the website. In 1650, a monkey was a specific kind of cannon, and the lever used to fire it was known as the monkey’s tail. By 1682, a powder monkey was responsible for carrying gun powder to cannons. Monkey spars were small masts and yards on vessels, and monkey blocks were used in rigging.

What’s more, warships didn’t store round shot on deck around the clock on the off chance they might go into battle. One thing that was definitely a commodity on ships at sea was space, and decks were kept as clear as possible to allow room for hundreds of sailors to go about their day completing their assigned tasks. If a ship hit rough seas, the captain and crew couldn’t — and wouldn’t — risk the danger of round shots breaking free on deck and rolling around loose. Round shots were only brought on deck when the decks were cleared for action, and action was about to take place!

Besides, leaving round shots exposed to the elements was only going to worsen their condition over time, long before they saw action in battle … which leads to another reason to disbelieve the mythos of the dimpled plate. You see, if round shots were placed on a brass plate so they wouldn’t rust to an iron plate, they would still be in danger of rusting to each other. But generally speaking, metals — including brass — don’t shrink because of cold weather.

So where did this idiom come from?

In “An Incident of the Canadian Rebellion” published in The Worcester Magazine of June, 1843, something closely related to the expression was used in this way:

Old Knites was as cool as a cucumber, and would have been so independent of the weather, which was cold enough to freeze the nose off a brass monkey.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1:  The Canadian Rebellion was actually two rebellions in Upper Canada as well as in Lower Canada in 1837 and 1838.

The rebellion in Lower Canada was led by Louis-Joseph Papineau and his Patriotes [sic] was the more serious and violent rebellions (in November of 1837 and the following year in November of 1838).

The rebellion in Upper Canada was led by William Lyon Mackenzie in December of 1837. In 1838, Mackenzie fled to the U.S. where he lived until he was pardoned in 1948 which allowed him to return to Canada.

The end result was the union of the two colonies in 1841, which was subsequently referred to as the Province of Canada.

American author Herman Melville mentioned brass monkeys in his 1847 novel “Ormoo.” Thing is, the way the author mentioned them had nothing to do with balls or how cold it was.

It was so excessively hot in this still, brooding valley, shut out from the Trades, and only open toward the leeward side of the island, that labor in the sun was out of the question. To use a hyperbolical phrase of Shorty’s, ‘It was ’ot enough to melt the nose h’off a brass monkey.’”

A decade later, C.A. Abbey wrote in his book, “Before the Mast in the Clippers: The Diaries of Charles A. Abbey” about brass monkeys as well and his expression had nothing to do with noses or how hot it was.

It would freeze the tail off a brass monkey.”

So what should we believe about all this nonsense having to do with brass monkeys?

Perhaps this is the answer to that question. During the 19th and 20th centuries, small monkey figures were cast in brass by artisans in China and Japan, which were sold in souvenir shops. Usually they came in a sett of three to represent “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” but most people are unaware of the fact that some sets included a fourth monkey with its hand covering its genitals.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 2: Should someone have all four monkeys, they are actually a valuable collector’s item these days.

So perhaps the expression has far more to do with the fourth monkey in a set of Wise Monkeys, and brasses historical and enduring importance due to its hardness and workability that dates back to ancient Roman times.  As to who first coined the expression and exactly when this expression came into being, one can only peg it to somewhere in the late 19th century or early 20th century — most likely the early 20th century — based on the vague history of the expression.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century, Maritime, Rome, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Word To The Wise

Posted by Admin on October 15, 2019

The entire expression is “a word to the wise is sufficient” and means that a smart person can figure out what’s implied without the need for a lot of discussion. All it takes is one word to put the person in the wrong straight again, with no repeat warnings and no need for lengthy explanations.  Generally speaking, the expression is used to alert the listener to the fact that advice or a warning is about to be shared with them, and it is strongly hinted at that the advice or warning should be heeded.

It’s interesting to note that variations of the expression also exist in other languages.

In French, you will hear people say, “A bon entendeur demi-mot” which, simply put, is “a half word to the wise.” In Italian, you will hear people say, “A buon intenditor poche parole” which means “a word to the wise is enough.”

In Portuguese, it becomes, “Acenai ao discreto, dai-o por feito” which translates into “give a hint to the man of sense, and consider the thing done.” The Dutch expression similarly expects as much as the French when it states, “Een half woord is bij hem genoeg” as this translates into “half a word to the wise is enough.”

The expression has been used in countless conversations over the generations, including this one, and it retains the meaning it has had for centuries.

In Volume 36 of Scribner’s Magazine published in 1904, in an article titled, “The Point of View: The Art of Marking Tags” the abbreviated version was used. The article addressed the issue of writing from an honest reaction from the author’s individual thoughts instead of relying heavily on maxims from familiar sources such as sayings that are understood by readers but stale from repetition. To illustrate the author’s point, he wrote:

Instead of illuminating his text with the wise sayings of his predecessors, he adopts them only after fortifying them with his mother wit, as the prudent physician fortifies his anaesthetic remedies. For ‘A word to the wise is sufficient’ he gives ‘A word to the wise is superfluous,’ or for ‘Procrastination is the thief of time’ he sagaciously substitutes ‘Punctuality is the thief of time’ altering, with consummate impudence, dignified gray sentiments that have walked with Shakespeare and Milton.

In 1852, Grant and Griffith (the successors to Newbery and Harris) in London, England, published a book by Parry Gwynne titled, “A Word To The Wise, or Hints on the Current Improprieties of Expression in Writing and Speaking.” As a warning — since the book is slender — the author ensured readers knew that he did not presume to understand the task of teaching grammar to those who were ignorant of it, but to correct the errors caused by faded recollections and careless use of language.

SIDE NOTE 1 Parry Gwynne also wrote “Mistakes and Improprieties of Reading and Writing Corrected.”

It would appear that a word to the wise enjoyed quite the heyday in the 1850s with all manner of books published with the expression in the titles. Everything from agriculture to zoology seemed to have at least one book titled, “A Word to the Wise.”

The exact phrase was used in the book “Freemasonry: A Word to the Wise” that discussed, among other things, the twelve grades known as the Scotch Masonry.  The book was published in 1796, as was “The Farmer’s Friend, or A Word to the Wise” printed by the loyalist Londonderry Journal to counteract the acts of the ‘enemies of social order.’

Over the decades there was a proliferation of books with the expression in the title, which firmly cements the expression as being one that was used, and easily understood, by those in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Benjamin Franklin included the expression in his essay “The Way To Wealth” which he published in 1758 except he worded it as: A word to the wise is enough, and many words won’t fill a bushel.

But even before then, in 1646 and 1647, four books were published by John Musgrave who had a list of grievances he wanted the public to hear about. He was imprisoned in 1642 for six months for what he claimed was parliamentary protestations and opposition of the arbitrary and tyrannical government of the corrupt magistracy and ministry in Cumberland and Westmorland.

Upon his release, he went to Scotland, and returned two years later. Along with John Osmotherley, he traveled to London to address parliament, making charges against Richard Barwis who was a Member of Parliament. The matter was referred to a committee, however Musgrave refused to answer certain questions, and was found in contempt on 28 October 1645.

Upon his release in 1647, he presented a petition to the House of Lords describing the losses he had endured as a result of addressing parliament with his concerns. The petition did not result in compensation, and it wasn’t much longer before Musgrave found himself back in custody, entering the system again in July of that year.

Again, he attempted to force parliament to deal with his alleged grievances by holding a meeting of the London apprentices at Guildhall. When questioned, he denied having been there at all. Some bloodshed ensued, and as September drew to a close, the House resolved to indict Musgrave at the King’s Bench bar for high treason, and ordered him to be confined to Newgate. Nearly a year later, the charges were dropped and he was released again.

During this period of time, he wrote four pamphlets about his situation, and these were titled:

  1. A Word to the Wise [26 Jan. 1646]
  2. Another Word to the Wise [20 Feb. 1646]
  3. Yet Another Word to the Wise [1 Oct 1646], and
  4. A Fourth Word to the Wise [8 June 1647]

Those are a lot of wise words being shared as advice or counsel.

Musgrave continued to rail against the system, and even took on his two brothers and one sister, describing himself as the victim in a pamphlet he wrote and distributed in 1654 under the title, “A Cry of Blood of an Innocent Abel Against Two Bloody Cains,” he continued to insist he was unfairly mistreated by family, friends, and foes alike.

It is clear that a word to the wise was entrenched in people’s vocabulary in the 1600s for John Musgrave to make such ample use of the expression in his pamphlets.

Idiomation could continue to quote countless instances of the expression, making this entry incredibly long, and possibly exhausting to readers. What we can say is that the expression is found in the Talmud where the maxim is: A word to the wise is sufficient, but for a fool not even a stick helps.  The Talmud was compiled in the 4th century in Galilee, and as old as the Talmud is, the expression is found written in plays from Ancient Rome.

Comic Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC) authored the play “Pseudolus” which was first performed in 191 BC during the Megalesian Festival to celebrate the Greek goddess Cybele. The expression is found in Act IV, scene 7, at line 19 as “Verbum sat sapienti.”

This puts the expression to at least 191 BC, and most likely well before then since it was used in the play by Titus Maccius Plautus. Some idioms have very long legs.  This appears to be one such expression.

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To A T

Posted by Admin on March 13, 2018

The expression to a T or to a tee or to the tee means something has been done completely and perfectly, and is never written as to a tea which means something else entirely.

It’s a popular idiom even today and is often used in news articles such as the one in the New York Daily Times from 22 February 2011 titled, “Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos Are Getting Weaselly About Redistricting.” The issue was one of district lines being partisan, and those politicians not benefiting from the district lines were up in arms. Governor Mario Cuomo suggested an 11-member independent redistricting commission with a codicil that banned anyone involved in government or politics in the four previous years.

Cuomo’s bill is also backed with the threat of a veto if pols try to jam a new map through the bad old way. It fits to a T the reform pledge that former Mayor Ed Koch circulated during the campaign – signed by 138 of the state’s 212 legislators.

According to some, the tee in question refers to a tittle, which is a small mark in printing such as the dot over the lower case i and lower case j. However, that may or may not be the case.

According to dictionaries of the early 1900s, a tee was a mark set up in playing at quoits, pennystone, and other similar games. It was also a mark made in the ice at each end of a curling rink. These dictionaries reference the Harwood Dictionary of Sports first published in 1835. They also gave a passing nod to the nodule of earth that raised a ball in preparation of a drive when playing golf.

But the expression has nothing to do with sports or with T-squares when drafting, or with housings and couplings when dealing with valves or electricity, or with angles and tee sections when dealing with railways. It has nothing to do with the entrance to a beehive.

In 1840, John Dunlop (2 August 1789 – 12 December 1868), President of the General Temperance Union of Scotland and a partner in the legal firm of Stewart & Dunlop in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland,  wrote a play titled, “The Temperance Emigrants: A Drama in Four Acts and in Prose.”

BLACKBIRD:
Now by the Jeremy Jupiter Olympicus, that clever wench will suit me to a tee. I must have her: she’s game to the heels, and will raise my fallen fortunes.

RUGBY:
Out upon you, Rattlesnake, out upon you, seed of the Cockatrice!

BLACKBIRD:
I shall speak to her about it, that’s flat. Thirty pounds, and credit will marry us yet, and bring back the furniture. It’s a sin to keep her any longer an Angelica.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE 1: The term Angelica was another way to say a woman was unmarried.

It was included in the play, “The Clandestine Marriage” written by English dramatist George Colman (April 1732 – 14 August 1794) and English actor, playwright, theater manager, and producer David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779), and published in 1766.  The play was a comedy of manners as well as a comedy of errors, and was inspired by pictures by William Hogarth.

MISS STERL
There I was deceived, Madam. I took all their whisperings and stealing into corners to be the mere attraction of vulgar minds; but, behold! their private meetings were not to contrive their own insipid happiness, but to conspire against mine. But I know whence proceeds Mr. Lovewell’s resentment to me. I could not stoop to be familiar with my father’s clerk, and so I have lost his interest.

MRS. HEIDEL
My spurrit to a T. My dear child! [kissing her] Mr. Heidelberg lost his election for member of parliament, because I would not demean myself to be slobbered about by drunken shoemakers, beastly cheesemongers, and greasy butchers and tallow-chandlers. However, Niece, I can’t help differing a little in opinion from you in this matter. My experience and fagucity makes me still suspect, that there is something more between her and that Lovewell, notwithstanding this affair Sir John.

Irish playwright George Farquhar (1677 – 1707) was a poor student whose clergyman father hoped would make something of himself. At 17, George Farquhar entered Trinity College in Dublin, but by the end of the school year, mostly because he failed to apply himself, he quit school and went out on his own to become a famous playwright.  He wrote many plays (after a spell as an actor) including one titled “Love And A Bottle” which he published in 1699.  He used the expression as we understand it to mean today.

ROEBUCK
Here, you sir, have you a note for one Roebuck?

PORTER
I had, sir; but I gave it him just now.

ROEBUCK
You lie, sirrah! I am the man.

PORTER
I an’t positive I gave it to the right person; but I’m very sure I did; for he answered the description the page gave to a T, sir.

In “The Humours and Conversations of the Town” by English antiquary, barrister at law, and writer James Wright (1643 – 1713) and published in 1693, the play is written in two dialogues. One is from the men’s perspective while the other is from the women’s perspective. author wrote:

All the under Villages and Towns-men come to him for Redress; which does to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: In his “Country Conversations” published 1694, James Wright’s use of the colloquial word “mob” instead of “mobile” was thought to be too recent to be used when rendering a Horatian ode into English. This opinion did not dissuade James Wright from using the word.

In “The Menauchmi” by well-known ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus (254 BC – 184 BC), translated to Elizabethan English (the Elizabethan era ran from 1558 to 1603), and published in 1595.

Now I must post it again to Epidamnum, that I may tell you the whole tale to a T.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy Of Errors” was based on Titus Maccius Plautus’ comedy, “The Menauchmi.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 4: Epidamnum was a place, not a person, and the location is mentioned in William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.” In Shakespeare’s play, Aegeon is a Sicilian merchant in Syracuse who has to go to Epidamnum on the Adriatic after the death of his manager. Except Shakespeare, in true Hollywood tradition (long before Hollywood was a glimmer on the horizon), moved the action to Ephesus, most likely as his audience was more familiar with St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians than with anything that went on in Epidamnum.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 5: Titus Maccius Plautus’ play “The Menauchmi” was the inspiration for “The Boys From Syracuse” by Rodgers and Hart. Several other plays written by him were combined to become “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” by Stephen Sondheim.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 6: Titus Maccius Plautus wrote 130 pieces, 21 of which survived through to modern times.

Idiomation was unable to find a published version of the expression prior to the Elizabethan translation of Titus Maccius Plautus’ play. For it to be used to easily in this translation with the expectation that it would be understood by the play’s audience, Idiomation dates this to at least one generation before the translation was published.

This means to a T is from the 16th century, mostly likely from the 1560s or 1570s, although the sense of the expression obviously is found in the Plautus’ play which dates back to Ancient Rome.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 16th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Naked Truth

Posted by Admin on February 13, 2018

When someone says they want the naked truth, what they are looking for is a complete and unembellished version of the facts.

There’s an old Roman fable that tells the tale of Truth and Falsehood. While Truth was swimming in the river, Falsehood stole his clothes and left behind different clothes for Truth to wear. Rather than put someone else’s clothes on, Truth made the decision to go naked instead. In other words, he would rather be his authentic naked self.

From this fable came the expression nudaque veritas or, in English, the naked truth. The concept of the naked truth is from Ancient Rome, and quite likely much earlier.

The phrase has been used in a great many novels, movies, and television series. There was the 1914 silent Italian film as well as the 1957 British comedy film and the 1992 American comedy film. In the 1915 silent movie “Hypocrites” there was a character known as the Naked Truth.  There were a number of music CDs from such artists as Lil’ Kim in 2005, Sarah Hudson in 2005, Jeanette in 2006, and others. There’s even a quartet in Atlanta (GA) called the Naked Truth!

There was a Russian television program hosted by Svetlana Pesotskaya named The Naked Truth and an American television sitcom starring American actress Téa Leoni from 1995 to 1996 on ABC and from 1996 t0 1998 on NBC.  There’s a Naked Truth statue in St. Louis (MO) that stands as a memorial to three German-American newspaper men: Carl Schurz, Emil Pretorius, and Carl Daenzer.

There’s even a cellphone app by that name!

But when was the exact phrase naked truth first published in English?

Many sources allege the phrase was first published by Scottish Jacobean courtier and poet from the court of King James VI Alexander Montgomerie (1550 – 22 August 1598), and that it was first included in his best known poem “The Cherrie and the Slae” which was written sometime in 1584 although it was completed in 1597. The poem’s existence is based on the fact that a passage was found in James VI’s manifesto “Some Reulis and Cautelis to be Observit and Eschewit in Scottis Poesie” in late 1584. The phrase was used in this section of the poem.

Which thou must (though it grieve thee) grant
I trumped never a man.
But truely told the naked trueth,
To men that meld with mee,
For neither rigour, nor for rueth,
But onely loath to lie.

It also appeared in “Faultes, faults, and nothing else but faultes” by English author and soldier (he fought in Queen Mary’s war with France, 1557 to 1558) Barnabe Rich (1540 – 10 November 1617) and published in 1606. This implies the phrase was already known to the public.

A naked tale doth most truly set forth a naked truth, and verity then shines most brightly, when she is in least bravery.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Barnabe Rich was a distant relative of Lord Chancellor Rich.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Barnabe Rich’s book “Farewell to Militarie Profession” published in 1581 was the source for Wiliam Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night.”

It also appeared in a letter to the right Honorable Sir William West, Knight and Lord De la Warre written by English writer, poet, dramatist, and courtier John Lylie (1553 – 27 November 1606) and published as “Eupheus” subtitled “The Anatomy of Wit: Verie pleasaunt for all Gentlemen to Read, and Most Necessarie to Remember” on 5 December 1578 — six years before Alexander Montgomerie included the phrase in his poem.

If thefe thinges be true, which experience trieth, that a naked tale doeth soft truelye fet soorth the naked trueth, that where the countenaunce is faire, there need no colours, that painting is meeter for ragged walls than fine marble, that veritie then shineth most bright when fhe is in leaft brauerie, I fhall fatiffie mine ovvne minde, thought I cannot feed their humors, which breatly feeke after thofe that fift the fineft meale, and beare the whiteft mouthes.

Now both naked and truth date back in English to the 14th century, with the word truth meaning correctness and accuracy from the 1560s, and naked meaning what it means today. This indicates the expression naked truth dates back to the 1560s (making it the 16th century) for it to have been used in 1578 with an expectation readers would understand what the expression meant.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 16th Century, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Posted by Admin on February 1, 2018

You have seen the memes and the posters on social media and heard people insist that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and while Idiomation can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of that statement, Idiomation has tracked down the expression’s history.

It means that hardship or difficult experiences are responsible for building a stronger character, usually with regards to morals and ethics, but also with regards to physical and mental health. It is meant to celebrate the resilience of individuals as well as the ability to cope and adapt where adversity — and in some cases, loss — occurs.

Last year on 15 February 2017, Science Daily shared a research paper that identified cellular recycling processes linked to the beneficial effects on individuals who underwent brief bodily stresses. The data collected by scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and the resulting paper published in Nature Communications was aptly titled, “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger.”

In the article “Hard Winter For The Guerrillas” written by Middle East correspondent David Hirst and published in the 2 January 1971 edition of the Guardian Weekly newspaper in London, a modified version of this expression found its way into the first paragraph in this way.

“The blow which does not kill you makes you stronger than before.” Three months have passed since Jordan’s “10-day war” between army and guerrillas, but it has not been long enough to provide convincing evidence that this Arabic saying, which Yaser Arafat cited after the fighting stopped, applies to the Palestinian resistance movement. In fact, most of the evidence points the other way.

Even in the 50s, this expression was one most people considered a nugget of wisdom. It even found its way into Dissent magazine from the Foundation for the Independent Study of Social Ideas in 1954 (the year this magazine was founded).

A girl tells of an aunt who taught her what Nietzsche taught some of us: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The last pages bleed. But these kids could teach us all grace under pressure. They have grown up too fast for real. Many of the older ones have made it to college, and maybe they will thrive on what they have been through.

It appeared in Volume 76 of “Printers’ Ink” published on 6 July 1911. The article was written by Bert Moses and was a tribute to George P. Rowell ( 4 July 1838 – 28 August 1908) whose influence on advertising had far-reaching effects. He was thought of, according to the writer, as the pioneer of modern advertising.

He delighted as much to tell of his failures as of his successes. Once he took a whole page to advertise Ripans Tabules in a great New York daily at a cost of $800.

The only result he could trace was one mail order for 50 cents.

This was not a serious loss to him — it was experience — and he realized that all experience which does not kill you is good.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: George P. Rowell was the founder of the Advertising Agency of Geo. P. Rowell and Company which he founded on 5 March 1865. He founded Printers’ Ink in 1888 which was the first journal for advertisers established for the serious discussion of advertising as a business force. He was the founder of Rowell’s American Newspaper Directory in 1869 which focused on providing accurate information about the circulations of newspapers competing for advertising patronage.

However, nearly this exact phrase appears in the book by German philosopher and philologist Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) titled “Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer” written in 1888 and published in 1889. He was known for his critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, and in this book, he coined the expression albeit in German, not English.

That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.

Was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: The original title for his book was “A Psychologist’s Idleness” and was written between 26 August and 3 September 1888 when he was vacationing in the small village of Sils Maria which is one of two villages along with Segl Baselgia which make up Sils im Engadin, in the Swiss canton of the Grisons.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  Friedrich Nietzsche was born on King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia’s birthday and his parents decided to christen their newborn son Friedrich Wilhelm in honor of the King’s 49th birthday.

While it’s a fact that the expression was expressed in writing by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche in 1888, the spirit of the expression is found in the King James version of the Bible where in Romans 5, verses 3 through 5, this is written.

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

And so, this expression is stamped on 1888 with a nod to the Christian Bible, and most likely a great many other historical cultures long before the Christian Bible was written, where strength of character was forged through emotional, mental, and physical endurance.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 19th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

An Empty Wagon Makes A Lot Of Noise

Posted by Admin on January 9, 2018

When someone says an empty wagon makes a lot of noise it means people who know very little to nothing on a subject often talk the most on said subject. It also means that people tend to talk a lot about nothing pretending all of that nothing is something. In a nutshell, those who are most ignorant are oftentimes also the most vocal and opinionated.

To be noted, the expression also appears as an empty barrel makes a lot of noise and an empty vessel makes a lot of noise (both of which are facts).

Renbor Sales Solutions Inc., published an article in April 2013 written by Canadian B2B sales veteran Tibor Shanta. The article was titled, “An Empty Wagon – Sales eXchange 194.” The opening paragraph began with this.

We have all heard the expression that an empty wagon makes the most noise, no doubt from an older relative trying to tell us that we were talking a lot, saying very little of substance, worth hearing, or had as near the level of impact as the noise we were making saying it. Well, I can tell you that there are a lot of empty wagons when it comes to sales and sellers, usually in lack of substance or delivering on the hype.

The March 1920 edition of “Etude: The Music Magazine” ran a regular column by W. Francis Gates (18 March 1865 – 22 December 1941) titled, “Pianographs.” The column shared witty bits of wisdom including this one:

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Aside from being an excellent musician and a respected music teacher, he was also a music critic for the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

In last week’s entry about loaded wagons going quietly, the empty wagon was also addressed in the article found in “The Railroad Trainman” magazine.

Well, as a matter of fact, women do accomplish many good works. But they haven’t as yet acquired the art of doing things without bustle and fuss as men do. They spend too much energy in getting ready to do things; they flutter too much. The empty wagon makes a lot of noise; the loaded wagon goes quietly.

Volume 65 of “The Unitarian Register” of January 7, 1886 published in Boston by magazine editor Samuel J. Barrows had a regular feature titled, “Brevities.” In this feature, the expression was found as a shared comment from another publication.

A writer in the Herald of Gospel Liberty thinks that “noise is no sign of spiritual power. Men who make so much noise on their way to the heavenly city should be watched closely, for ‘an empty wagon makes the most noise.'”

Wagon seems to have been substituted for vessel in the early 1800s as found in “A Dictionary of the English and Italian Languages: Volume II” compiled by Italian literary critic, poet, writer, translator, linguist and author Giuseppe Marco Antonio Baretti (24 April 1719 – 5 May 1789) and published in 1797. Under the entry for empty the following is found.

The concept of an empty vessel making the loudest noise was found in the “Dictionaire royal, françois-anglais et anglois-françois: tiré des meilleurs Auteurs qui on écrit dans ces deux Langues” compiled by French-English lexicographer, journalist and writer Abel Boyer (24 June 1667 – 16 November 1729) and published in 1700. Under the entry for empty readers find:

EMPTY Adj.
Ex. An Empty Glass, Un verre vide
An Empty Vessel, Un tonneau vide
P. Empty Vessels make the greatest Noise, Les tonneaux vides font le plus de bruit.

In the preface of his book, B0yer states that when a P is used in the work, it refers to a proverb or a proverbial expression. Dictionaries state that proverbs are short sayings that express a truth based on common sense or cultural experience, and are considered formulaic language.

Indeed, William Baldwin used the expression in his book, “A Treatise of Morall Phylosophie, contaynyng the sayinges of the wyse gathered and Englished by Wylm Baldwin” published in 1547 by Edward Whitchurch. Over time the title has been shortened to “A Treatise of Moral Philosophy” however the original title indicates the expression was not of his own making. In his work, the saying was expressed in this way.

As empty vessels make the loudest sound; so they that have least wit are the greatest babblers.

He may have borrowed the thought from English poet John Lydgate (1370 – 1451) who wrote a similar thought in his 1426 tome titled, “Pilgrimage of Man, Englished by John Lydgage, from the French of Guillaume de Deguilleville 1330.”

A voyde vessel maketh outward a gret sound, mor than what yt was ful.

INTERESTING NOTE 2: The work John Lydgate translated from French into English was “Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine” written and published by French Cistercian and writer Guillaume d’Eguilleville (1295 – 1358) at Chaalis Abbey 40 kilometers north of Paris, at Fontaine-Shaalix, near Ermenonville, now in Oise, in 1330.

INTERESTING NOTE 3: The Chaalis Abbey was founded on 10 January 1137 by Louis VI and in memory of Charles the Good (1084 – 2 March 1127), Count of Flanders, who was assassinated in Bruges thanks to the powerful Erembald family. It was consecrated in 1219 by Brother Guerin, Bishop of Beauvais.

INTERESTING NOTE 4: Charles the Good, also known as Charles I, was the son of King Canute IV (1042 – 10 July 1086) of Denmark and Adela of Flanders (1064 – April 1115). King Canute IV was assassinated in Odense Cathedral in 1086.

INTERESTING NOTE 5: Adela of Flanders was the daughter of Robert I, Count of Flanders, also known as Robert the Frisian (1035–1093) and Gertrude of Saxony (1030 – 4 August 1113). The marriage forged an alliance between Flanders and Denmark against William the Conqueror (1028 – 9 September 1087).

Some attribute the saying to Greek philosopher Plato however no source could be found to prove the claim other than what was written by English preacher and publisher David Thomas  (1813 – 1894) in “The Homilist” published in 1866. David Thomas attributed the quote William Baldwin’s quote to Plato but did not give the source supporting his claim, and it’s the William Baldwin quote that’s bandied about as being written by Plato.

Idiomation, however, did find the Kashmiri proverb which translates to say empty vessels make much noise.

INTERESTING NOTE 6: Kashmir is in northern India, and located mostly in the Himalayan mountains. It shares borders with Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. The Kashmiri are an ethnic group native to the Kashmir Valley.

Contrary to what U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson (Democrat – Florida) claimed in late October 2017, whether it’s an empty wagon, vessel, or barrel, it’s not a racist expression, even if she claims she “looked it up in the dictionary because [she] had never heard of an empty barrel.”

Idiomation tracked the variation of the expression to 1330 with a nod to the Kashmiri proverb for which Idiomation could not find an exact date other than it precedes the 1330 date of Guillaume d’Eguilleville.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Idioms from the 14th Century, Kashmir, Unknown | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mountain Out Of A Molehill

Posted by Admin on October 17, 2017

As Idiomation shared on Thursday of last week, making a mountain out of a moleskin or a molehill is to over-react to a minor issue, or to make something very small into something bigger than what it happens to be. While the moleskin version has a short history, the better-known molehill version stretches much farther back in history.

We all know the expression to make a mountain out of a molehill is in use to this day. Whether it’s Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D. writing an article for Psychology Today (13 December 2013, How To Make A Mountain Out Of A Molehill) or Laura Cano Mora submitting her doctoral thesis titled, “How To Make A Mountain Out Of A Molehill: A Corpus-Based Pragmatic and Conversational Analysis Study of Hyperbole In Interaction” everyone seems to understand the meaning of the phrase.

Even kids watching cartoons like “Phineas and Ferb” have heard the saying used in episodes such as “At The Car Wash” when the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz explains to Perry the Platypus how he came up with the idea for his Mountain-Out-Of-A-Molehill-Inator.  It would seem that after he was told repeatedly by people from all walks of life (from his parents to the firefighters at the local Fire Department) to stop making mountains out of molehills, he decided that if he wasn’t already doing that, maybe it was time he started really doing that.  So he did.

English novelist, playwright, and short story writer Wilkie Collins (8 January 1824 – 23 September 1889) published his 1868 mystery novel “The Moonstone” to great acclaim.  In this novel, at one point Superintendent Seegrave says to Sergeant Cuff:

There is such a thing as making a mountain out of a molehill.

The point of his comment was that the Superintendent was of the opinion the Sergeant was making way too much of something as trivial as a tiny paint smudge on the door. He was wrong, of course, as that tiny paint smudge on the door proved very important after all.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1: Wilkie Collins was the son of English landscape painter William Collins (1788 – 1847) and is considered the pioneer of detective fiction. His talent lay in his ability to create, choreograph, and master intricate plots coupled with a unique narrative technique.

IMPORTANT NOTE 2: Wilkie Collins’ book “The Moonstone” set the standard by which all other detective fiction is measured. In this novel, the story was told from a number of points of view having to do with a stolen diamond taken from an Indian idol.

But the expression dates all the way back to 1548 when English playwright, cleric, and schoolmaster Nicholas Udall (1504 – 23 December 1556) used it in his work titled, “The First Tome or Volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus Upon the New Testament.”  What he wrote was this:

The Sophistes of Grece coulde through their copiousness make an Elephant of a flye, and a mountaine of a mollehill.

The idiom to which Nicholas Udall referred was from Greek satirist Lucian (120 – 200 AC) in his work “Ode To A Fly” in which he compared an elephant to a fly. The Latin version of this was elephantem ex musca facere.  Of course, as was shared in a previous Idiomation entry, the elephant version is still in use in Russia to this day.

IMPORTANT NOTE 3: Lucian, also known as Lucian of Samosata, was a satirist and rhetorician in Greece. He claimed to be an Assyrian however not everyone agreed with his claim. He mocked superstitions, religious practices, and beliefs in the paranormal although he claimed to believe in the existence of the gods.  

So while the moleskin version of this expression only dates back to the early 1900s, the molehill version is solidly nailed to 1548 with a nod to Ancient Greece. Oh, what a difference 350 or so years (plus another 110 or so years to catch up to 2017) can make when it comes to similar, and yet very different, expressions.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Greece, Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dead Men Tell No Tales

Posted by Admin on February 16, 2017

It’s been long said that dead men tell no tales, and if you’ve committed a crime to which there were witnesses, it’s believed that permanently silencing those witnesses prevents them for sharing what they know with the authorities.  The good news is that technology and forensics have advanced to the point where this adage is no longer true.  Advancements in science have made it so that dead men still tell tales.

Now that the macabre has been addressed, Idiomation is free to tell the tale of where dead men tell no tales first began.

For those of you who love movies, you’ll be happy to hear that the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise is titled, “Dead Men Tell No Secrets” and is scheduled for theater release on 26 May 2017.  In this movie, the evil Captain Salazar and his crew escape from the Devil’s Triangle and set their sights on killing every pirate at sea, but most especially, on killing Captain Jack Sparrow played by Johnny Depp.  As you know, whether it’s telling tales or keeping secrets, it’s a fact that pirates believe that dead men neither tell tales nor secrets.

The idiom is most often associated with pirates but it’s not exclusively a pirate expression.

The Star and Sentinel newspaper of January 18, 1882 published the story of Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune who squelched the efforts of certain newspaper pundits interested in reviving the Cokling-Garfield quarrel by “directing their assaults against Mr. Blaise as Mr. Garfield’s evil genius.”  It had to do with the nomination of Judge Robertson by the President.

It follows that this “friend of Garfield” or some accomplice must have stolen the telegram, and then presuming that it had been delivered to the President and that “dead men tell no tales,” undertook to cover up the theft of the deliberate lie that the President showed him the dispatch and allowed him to copy it.

It also appeared in the work of English pamphleteer, farmer, and journalist William Cobbett (9 March 1763 – 18 June 1835) in the September 26, 1797 edition of the Porcupine’s Gazette.  While it wasn’t an exact version of the idiom, it was nonetheless a very close relative.

Not content with deserting my service, he appears desirous to pre­judice the public against me, and my brethren, asserting in strong terms, that we are enemies to the noble science of blood-letting: This is abominable and contrary to the truth. For I am, and shall be no­lens volens, an advocate for the practice, and it is my creed that it will cure all diseases—as our good allies the French have clearly pro­ved in their practice,—I have also another reason for commencing the business of a physician; In fact, the villainous liquors my wine mer­chant obliges me to supply my guests with, has lately caused in the latter severe and harsh expostulations, and, as I am a conscientious man, I wish to follow a quiet business, and I prefer that of the lancet, be­cause you know Mr. P. dead men never tell tales.

SIDE NOTE 1:  William Cobbett’s pseudonym for this work was Peter Porcupine.

The idiom was used more than a century earlier by John Dryden, in Act IV scene i of his play “The Spanish Fryar or The Double Discovery” published in 1681. This work was a comedy in five acts, and was first performed at Duke’s Theater. The idiom appears in the conversation between Lorenzo (who is the son of Alphonso) and Dominic (the Spanish Fryar).

LORENZO
And make what haste you can to bring out the Lady.  What say you, Father? Burglary is but a venial Sin among Souldiers.

DOMINIC
I shall absolve them, because he is an enemy of the Church – there is a Proverb, I confess, which says, That Dead-men tell no Tales; but let your Souldiers apply it to their own Perils.

LORENZO
What, take away a man’s Wife, and kill him too! The Wickedness of this old Villain startles me, and gives me a twinge for my own Sin; though it come far short of his: hark you Souldiers, be sure you use as little Violence to him as is possible.

English cleric and Protestant reformer Thomas Becon (1512 – 1567) wrote about dead men and tales in 1560 when he penned this passage in Chapter 22 of “A Fruitful Treatise of Fasting.”

For he that hath his body loaden with meat and drink, is no more meet to pray unto God than a dead man is to tell a tale; neither can the mind of such one any more fly unto God with heavenly desires, than a ship, too much cumbered with burdens and at the point to sink, can any longer float upon the waters.

SIDE NOTE 2:  Thomas Becon was the chaplain to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 – 21 March 1556), Prebendary of Canterbury, during the reign of King Edward the Sixth.

SIDE NOTE 3:  Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, and when Mary I came to power, he was put on trial for treason and heresy against the Roman Catholic Church.

SIDE NOTE 4:  Thomas Becon married and had three children: two sons (Theodore and Basil) and a daughter (Rachel).  His daughter married William Beswicke of Horsmanden who was the High Sheriff of Kent in 1616.

SIDE NOTE 5:  Until 1974, the High Sheriff was known simply as the Sheriff.  At the time William Beswicke was the Sheriff, he was the principal law enforcement officer in the county.

Long before Thomas Becon talked of dead men telling no tales, there was a Persian poet named Abū-Muhammad Muslih al-Dīn bin Abdallāh Shīrāzī  (1203 – 9 December 1292) — known as Saadi as well as Sheikh Saadi of Shiraz– who wrote about this in 1250.  This was his advice on how to deal with quacks and charlatans.

So I finished the rogue, notwithstanding his wails,
With stones, for dead men, as you know, tell no tales.

But the sense of the idiom is older than that.  The Latin phrase mortui non morden when translated word-for-word is dead men don’t bite.  However, the phrase is used to underscore the belief that killing one’s enemies or victims is the surest way for them to never speak of what happened, and as such, the phrase mortui non morden really means dead men tell no tales.

This version of the idiom was used by Plutarch (46 AD to 120 AD) in Part III of “The Life Of Pompey” covering Pompey’s return to Rome from 62 to 48 BC, during the reign of Julius Caesar (13 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC).   The chapter included this passage that spoke of Theodotus of Chios who Plutarch identifies as the person who was responsible for Pompey’s death.  This is an English translation of what Plutarch wrote.

It seems they were so far different in their opinions that some were for sending the man away, and others again for inviting and receiving him; but Theodotus, to show his cleverness and the cogency of his rhetoric, undertook to demonstrate, that neither the one nor the other was safe in that juncture of affairs.  For if they entertained him, they would be sure to make Caesar their enemy, and Pompey their master; or if they dismissed him, they might render themselves hereafter obnoxious to Pompey, for that inhospitable expulsion, and to Caesar, for the escape; so that the most expedient course would be to send for him and take away his life, for by that means they would ingratiate themselves with the one, and have no reason to fear the other; adding, it is related, with a smile, that “a dead man cannot bite.”

SIDE NOTE 6:  Yes, this is the Julius Caesar who was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC.

SIDE NOTE 7:  Julius Caesar’s successor was his grand-nephew Augustus (23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD) and is considered the first Roman Emperor.  He controlled the Roman Empire until his death.

Idiomation believes Plutarch to be the originator of this idiom as he clearly demonstrated the veracity of the claim in his writings that dead men tell no tales, with a nod to Saadi of Shiraz for the exact wording.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Politics, Rome | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Fishing For The Moon In The Water

Posted by Admin on July 21, 2016

If someone tells you that your idea is nothing more than fishing for the moon in the water, they mean that you aren’t seeing things as they are, and your idea is a pipe dream.  It may sound nice and it might even look nice, but it’s not realistic in their opinion.

From June 16 to July 29, 2011 the James Cohan Art Gallery in New York City hosted an art show curated by Leo Xu, a curator and writer based in Shanghai, China.  The art show was titled, “Catch The Moon In The Water.”  The show featured artists such as Shanghai-based Zhou Tiehai; Beijing-based Guo Hongwei, Zhao Zhao, Chen Wei, Hu Xiangqian, Sun Xun and Liang Yuanwei; and Hangzhou-based Cheng Ran.

The press release stated that the title of the art show came from a poem by Chinese artist, calligrapher, scholar, government official, and poet Huang Tingjian (1045 – 1105) who lived during the Song Dynasty, and is considered one of the Four Masters of the Song Dynasty.   included this line:

Seize the flower in the mirror,
Catch the moon in the water.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The Song Dynasty began in 960 A.D. through to 1279 A.D.  It was preceded by the Tang Dynasty, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty.

In Oliver Stone’s movie “W” there’s a scene where George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr. discuss what George wants to do with his life.

GEORGE BUSH SR
Who do you think you are?  A Kennedy?  You’re a Bush.  Act like one.  You can’t even hold a job.  We always worked for our living.  It’s damned time you joined the rest of us and decided just what it is you’re gonna do with your life.

GEORGE BUSH JR  
I know, Poppy. I’m — I’m — I’m just having
a devil of a time trying to figure it out.

GEORGE BUSH SR  
Well, then figure it out soon, Junior.  Your brother Jeb graduates Phi Beta Kappa.  What did you get? Cs?  You only get one bite at the apple, you know.

GEORGE BUSH JR  
Jeb’s not me and I don’t wanna be Jeb, Poppy.  Look, what I’d really love —  I mean, what I’d really love to do is to find something in baseball.

GEORGE BUSH SR  
What? You can’t play.  Coach? You’re fishing for the moon in the water.

The movie was released in 2008 and the script was written by Stanley Weiser, but four biographers who have written about the Bush family said that while the screenplay was based in fact, there was more caricature than three-dimensional character in the main roles.  That being said, the movie provided an opportunity to talk about fishing for the moon in the water.

The question, however, is whether this idiom was one that would have been known by George Bush Sr. at the time it was inserted into the movie’s timeline.   According to the United States Foreign Broadcast Information Service, in the February 7, 1987 edition of the “Daily Report: People’s Republic of China,” an article was published with the idiom as its title.  It was listed thusly:

HK090605 Beijing RENMIN RIBAO in Chinese 7 Feb 87 p 6

[“International Jottings” by Yue Lin (2588 7207):  “Fishing For The Moon In The Water“]

While there aren’t many published references to this idiom in English, it’s a very well known saying in China.  Just as the Western world has Aesop’s fables, China has its own fables as well including this one.

One evening, a man went to the well to fetch water.  Looking into the well, he saw the moon shining back at him.

Alarmed, the man said, “I must hurry back home for my fishing rod, and fish the moon out of the well.”

Once he returned to the well, he lowered the hook in and waited for the moon to bite.  He waited and waited and waited until something tugged at the line.

The man pulled hard, but the moon pulled even harder until suddenly the line broke and the man fell flat on his back.

When he sat back up, he saw the moon was back in the sky as it should be and he was proud of his hard work.

The next day when he met his friends in the village, he proudly told them of his achievement the previous night, and not one person in the village dared tell him that the moon had always been in the sky and had never been in the well.

The fable was first recorded by Dao Shi (618 – 683) in his book, “Fa Yuan Zhu Lin (The Dharma Treasure Grove).”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, China, Idioms from the 7th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »