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Archive for the ‘Idioms from the 2nd Century’ Category

Common Sense Is Not So Common

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 1, 2015

It seems that more and more often, people are saying and posting on social media that common sense is not so common.  Although the concept has seen a resurgence in this era, it’s possible that the search for common sense which is not so common has been an ongoing activity among the human race.

In the July 12, 1992 edition of The Telegraph, Weisman & Tesser Associates placed an advertisement that told readers of the expert guidance in financial investment and planning people could expect from their firm.  The ad concluded with the statement that “common sense means getting help from the right source.”  The point put to readers was that Weisman & Tesser Associates was that right source.  The headline that drew readers’ attention to the advertisement was this: “Common sense is not so common.”  The quote was attributed to Voltaire.

There are those who will argue that it was actually American author and humorist Mark Twain (30 November 1835 – 21 April 1910) who uttered those words albeit in a less grammatical form:  “I’ve found that common sense ain’t so common.”

Except that American cowboy, performer, social commentator, actor and humorist Will Rogers (4 November 1879 – 15 August 1935) is also credited for having said the same thing.  But does it matter if it was Mark Twain or Will Rogers who is responsible for that version of the quote?

Indeed, French author, historian, satirist, and philosopher Voltaire (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778) — whose real name was François-Marie Arouet  —   did publish this quote in his book “Dictionnaire philosophique portatif” in 1764.  His book, however, was not without controversy as the Magnificent Council of Geneva ordered all available copies (which had been sold under the counter as opposed as in the traditional way of legitimate book shops) of his book seized on the basis that it directly challenged the authenticity of Revelation.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE #1:  François-Marie Arouet adopted the pseudonym, which is based on the Latinized spelling of his name, in 1718.  The name was derived from the anagram of “Arovet Li.”

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE #2:  It is claimed that Voltaire had a minimum of 178 pen names throughout his lifetime.

So even though Voltaire first wrote this common sense is not so common, he wasn’t the first to express this thought.  English poet and political writer Nicholas Amhurst (16 October 1697 – 27 April 1742) wrote “Terræ-filius or The Secret History of the University of Oxford In Several Essays” published in 1726, in which is found the following:

Common SenseWhat this shows is that even Nicholas Amhurst knew that there was not a more uncommon thing in the world than common sense which, of course, is just another way of saying that common sense is not so common.

But long before Nicholas Amhurst, there was the Roman poet Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (known in English as Juvenal) who wrote this in Book III of his collection of satirical poems, “Satires.”

Rarus enim ferme sensus communis.
Common sense is generally rare.

Juvenal died in 130 A.D. and as Idiomation was unable to find an earlier reference to common sense not being common, Idiomation gives a nod to Voltaire for coming up with the exact wording based on the writings of Juvenal.

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Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 2nd Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tooth And Nail

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 29, 2010

Back in June 1960, Tooth And Nail showed impressive prospects for the $125,000 Belmont Stakes when he scored an eight-length victory in the New Rochelle Purse at Belmont Park.  That’s what the Hartford Courant newspaper reported.

Several years before race horses were named such things as “Tooth and Nail” Longs Peak Valley became home for Enos Abijah Mills who settled there in 1884 and lived there until his death in 1922.  He was the founder of Rocky Mountain National Park and kept year-round vigil on the ponds and beavers nearby.  In a book he wrote in 1913, entitled “Beaver World” Enoch Mills wrote about beavers, stating that:

“He works not only tooth and nail, but tooth and tail.”

However, over a century before that, Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford wrote a letter to Sir Horace Mann, Britannic Majesty’s Resident at the Court of Florence (1760 to 1785) on July 31, 1767 in which he recounted:

“The very day on which I wrote to you last was critical.  A meeting of the two factions was held at Newcastle House, where the Duke of Bedford was agent for the Frenvilles; and the old wretch himself laboured tooth and nail, that is, with the one of each sort that he has left, to cement, or rather, to make over his friends to the same influence.”

Figurative use of the expression in England goes back as early as the beginning of the 16th century, but in the end, the phrase goes back another 15 centuries to modern day Turkey.

There, Assyrian rhetorician and satirist Lucian of Samosata (125 to 180) wrote the “Dialogues of the Dead” and in Chapter XI, readers will find this passage:

Diogenes:
Of course; they had no receptacle for such things as we could give; luxury had made them so leaky–as full of holes as a worn-out purse. Put wisdom, frankness, or truth into them, and it would have dropped out; the bottom of the bag would have let them through, like the perforated cask into which those poor Danaids are always pouring. Gold, on the other hand, they could guard with tooth and nail or any other way.

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