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Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Franklin’

One Bad Apple Spoils The Whole Barrel

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 27, 2013

All it takes is one bad apple to spoil the barrel, and that’s because the one apple that’s gone bad gives off ethylene, speeding the ripening of all the other apples in the same barrel as the bad apple. But what does it mean when you’re talking about something other than a real apple?

If someone in a group is referred to as a bad apple, best be aware that this could be the downfall of the whole group. In other words, the negative influence of one in a group could prove to be the undoing of the entire group that would otherwise — without the negative influence — remain good.

Of course, it’s true that every group of people also has those who are malcontents, troublemakers, or dishonest. Unfortunately, if such people have sway or influence on others in their group, studies have shown that the standards of the group as a whole begin a downward trajectory towards the negative behavior.

The Windsor Daily Star chose to publish a Letter To The Editor written by Mrs. M. Starchuck of Sub P.O. No. 11, in their February 16, 1939 edition. The author of the letter entitled, “World Not So Bad After All” addressed the issue of complaints about how bad things are in the world. A realistic woman, she appears to also have been a woman of considerable optimism and warmth as she wrote in part:

Relief in some cases has been abused, making it harder for the honest persons to get justice. You know that one bad apple spoils the whole barrel. But cheer up. It can’t last forever, and it is always the darkest before the dawn. There are a good many big-hearted people in the old world yet, and willing workers to help the down-trodden.

And in the Chautauqua Farmer of June 20, 1894 printed a lengthy article on the world journey of Reverend Dr. Talmage whose sermon “Another Chance” addressed the matter of what was to happen to people when they passed away and moved on to that other plane when they left this mortal coil. The one chance given in life, according to Dr. Talmage, was the last change given before the verdict would be rendered on each of our earthly lives. There was no reversal of judgment in the next world, according to his sermon, and no hope of an opportunity to correct the mistakes of this life in the afterlife. His sermon stated in part:

The entire kingdom of the morally bankrupt by themselves, where are the salvatory influences to come from? Can one speckled and bad apple in a barrel of disease apples turn the other apples good? Can those who are themselves down help others up? Can those who have themselves failed in the business of soul pay the debts of their spiritual insolvents? Can a million wrongs make one right?

As readers of Idiomation know, the Poor Richard’s Almanack published by Benjamin Franklin oftentimes contained well-established sayings and the 1736 edition was no different where the following was found:

The rotten apple spoils his companion.

The saying hails from John Northebrooke in his book entitled, “A Treatise Wherein Dicing, Dauncing (etc.) Are Reproved” published in 1577. The passage exact passage was:

A penny naughtily gotten, sayth Chysostoms, is like a rotten apple laid among sounde apples, which will rot all the rest.

Long before John Northebrooke, however, there was Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 25 October 1400).  In his “Canterbury Tales” readers come across the following passage in unfinished “The Cook’s Tale.”

Uppon a proverbe that seith this same worde:
“Better ys rotten appulle out of an hurde
Than for to let hem rote alle the remenaunte.”
And ryght so it fareth by a ryotes servaunte.

This passage loosely translates as this:

About an old proverb, the words that say:
“A rotten apple‘s better thrown away
Before it spoils the barrel.” That is true
When dealing with a bad apprentice too.

That Chaucer should refer to this saying as an old proverb indicates that he is not the original author of the expression.  Unfortunately, the proverb to which Chaucer refers has eluded research and as such, Idiomation tacks this expression to at least the 13th Century since it is alleged to be a proverb.  It’s suspected, however, that the saying is far older than this even though it cannot be proven at this point on the Idiomation blog.

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Posted in Idioms from the 13th Century, Idioms from the 14th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Penny Saved Is A Penny Earned

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 13, 2013

If someone tells you that a penny saved is a penny earned, then you’re being encouraged to become thrifty and to watch your budget. In other words, saving a penny is as good as earning a penny … or the dollar you didn’t spend, is the dollar you still have.

Back on July 3, 2006 the San Diego Union Tribune published an article by Jeff Donn of the Associated Press, on Edmond Knowles of Flomaton in Alabama. It would appear that Mr. Knowles had hoarded pennies as a hobby for almost 40 years. When it came time to cash his collection in at the bank, the bank refused to the pennies all at once and so he turned to a coin-counting company looking for publicity. The article stated:

In the biggest known penny cash-in ever, they sent an armored truck last year, loaded his pennies and then watched helplessly as it sank into the mud in his yard.

His years of collecting brought him about $1 a day – $13,084.59 in all.

A penny saved was a penny earned for Knowles, but he took away another lesson from the experience: “I don’t save pennies anymore. It’s too big a problem getting rid of them.”

A hundred or so years before that, pennies were making the news as evidenced by the April 9, 1900 edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle. On page five, a number of items were published under the heading, “City In Brief” including the following:

Ben Franklin, the philosopher, said: “A penny saved is a penny earned.” One dollar deposited each week in the savings department of the Spokane & Eastern Trust Co. will in one year amount to $52.78; in five $286.11; in ten $634.88; in twenty, $1678.33; in thirty, $2980.21; in forty, $5063.34.

But did Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790) really coin the expression? Or was it around long before he published his Poor Richard’s Almanack?

The fact of the matter is that the concept existed long before Ben Franklin published his version. One of the most popular versions was this one:

A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a-year. Save and have.

Another version of the idiom is found in English dramatist, Edward Ravenscroft’s “Canterbury Guests, Or, a Bargain Broken: A Comedy” published in 1695. This comedy, written in five acts and in prose, had a variation on the theme in Act II, scene iv.

This I did to prevent expences, for a penny sav’d, is a penny got.

In 1661, Thomas Fuller wrote and published, “The History of the Worthies of England: Volume 2.”  In that book, the following passage is found:

John Yong was a monk in Ramsey Abbey at the dissolution thereof. Now, by the same proportion that a penny saved is a penny gained, the preserver of books is a mate for the compiled of them. Learned Leland looks on this Yong as a benefactor to posterity, in that he saved many Hebrew books of the noble library of Ramsey.

And an even earlier version is found in “Outlandish Proverbs” published in 1633 and compiled by George Hebert. In this instance, it read:

A penny spar’d is twice got.

In the end, if you wander all the way back to around 1535, to John Heywood’s book, “Of Gentleness And Nobility” you’ll find the spirit of the idiom there.

Posted in Idioms from the 16th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

All Cats Are Gray In The Dark

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 6, 2011

When in the dark, appearances are meaningless, since everything is hard to see or is unseen. It also means that all persons are undistinguished until they have made a name for themselves.

Back in 1953, writing as Andrew North, Andre Norton (1912 – 2005) — whose real name was Alice Mary Norton — wrote “All  Cats Are Gray.”  The book appeared to be a basic, straight-forward science fiction story with heroes riding about  in a derelict spaceship with a menacing space alien in the mix and a little love and good fortune thrown into the mix.  But it was different in that it was the heroine and not the hero who was very much the protagonist.

On January 13, 1896 the New York Times ran an editorial with a hodge podge of smaller articles, one of which addressed the concept that all cats are gray in the dark.  The tidbit relating to the phrase read in part:

Without pretending to know just what objection the Colonial Dames have to Ben Franklin, we are inclined to ascribe their hostility to his assertion that “all cats are gray in the dark.”  The aphorism — like most of those on which the old Philistine’s fame is based — has no foundation whatsoever in fact.  Black cats, for instance, are not gray in the dark, but blacker than ever, even to the point of disappearing entirely.  Not only is the expression false from the standpoint of observation and natural history, but it was not original with Franklin. He stole it in France and then passed it off for his own.  Now he’s getting punished for the crime.

In Miguel de Cervantes‘ book, “Don Quixote” a version of the phrase “all cats are grey in the dark” is found in Part ii, Book iii, Chapter xxxiii.

And if your highness does not like to give me the government you promised, God made me without it, and maybe you’re not giving it to me will be all the better for my conscience, for fool as I am I know the proverb ‘to her hurt the ant got wings,’ and it may be that Sancho the squire will get to heaven sooner than Sancho the governor. ‘They make as good bread here as in France,’ and ‘by night all cats are grey,’ and ‘a hard case enough his, who hasn’t broken his fast at two in the afternoon,’ and ‘there’s no stomach a hand’s breadth bigger than another,’ and the same can he filled ‘with straw or hay,’ as the saying is, and ‘the little birds of the field have God for their purveyor and caterer,’ and ‘four yards of Cuenca frieze keep one warmer than four of Segovia broad-cloth,’ and ‘when we quit this world and are put underground the prince travels by as narrow a path as the journeyman,’ and ‘the Pope’s body does not take up more feet of earth than the sacristan’s,’ for all that the one is higher than the other; for when we go to our graves we all pack ourselves up and make ourselves small, or rather they pack us up and make us small in spite of us, and then — good night to us.

The phrase appeared as “when all candles be out, all cats be gray” in John Heywood‘s “Book Of Proverbs” published in 1547 that version is essentially the same as the more modern version.  And, of course, the John Heywood version was pre-dated by that of Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) as it appears in his book of proverbs and adages, and is considered by Erasmus to be a Gallic proverb rather than a French proverb.

However, the French of the day did say, “at night, all cats are gray” and Yiddish speakers are known to say, “you can throw a cat wherever you want, it always falls on its feet.”  Still the expression was well-entrenched in a number of languages and historically speaking, I can only reach as far back as the generation before Erasmus’ book published in 1500.

Special thanks to Stephen Kruger for providing additional information on this entry.  His input is greatly appreciated.

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In The Dark

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 27, 2011

If you’re in the dark about something, you haven’t any idea what’s going on with regards to that particular matter.  Very recently, the media reported on Operation Osama and how U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept the covert operation to capture Osama bin Laden a secret from everyone including her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.  Many media outlets reported in part:

Recalling how he was kept in the dark by his wife who was privy to the secret moves, Bill Clinton said his calls to the Secretary of State went unreturned that fateful day.  “I placed two calls to my wife on that day, and all I was told is, ‘She’s at the White House and can’t talk to you,'” Clinton said in an interview to CNBC.

In the October 12, 1960 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, a news story entitled, “Whistling In The Dark At The United Nations” reported on comments made by the leader of the U.S.S.R., Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) who stated that some day in the future the U.S. would be a minority in the United Nations.   The news story also had this to say about other countries involved with the U.N.:

The fate of the neutrals’ motion put forward by Mr. Nehru shows that they can at present influence U.N. affairs positively only by obtaining help from East and West, presumably at a price.  For its part, the West is still smarting from the massive vote against our Mr. Menzies’ motion; and it can take small comfort from its temporary victory on the Chinese subject.  Mr. Wadsworth, hailing the victory, is whistling in the dark, too.

On June 18, 1900 the Baltimore Morning Herald published a news article that stated that not one Cabinet in Europe knew what had transpired in Pekin for 5 days and in Tien Tsin for 3 days.  No one knew that Baron Von Ketteler, German Minister at Pekin had been murdered.  There was no knowledge of the 5,000 rioters at Kwei Hsien in the Prefecture of Canton.  No one was aware that the foreign Consuls at Shanghai, the members of the Municipal Council and the officers of the volunteer forces had adopted a plan in the event it was necessary to defend themselves to the death against the local Chinese.  The news story was entitled quite simply:

All In The Dark

Morgan Peter Kavanagh (1800 – 1874) wrote and published a book in 1871 entitled, “Origin of Language And Myths, Volume II” in which he wrote on page 417:

This knowledge would have even prevented him from transmitting to other grammarians and other times his very imperfect view of the nature of adjectives and pronouns.  But in respect to these hitherto inexplicable points in grammar, Professor Latham does not appear to have been more in the dark than any of his predecessors.

Going back to 1848, a book was published that contained details about court cases in 1845 entitled “Reports Of Cases In Chancery, Argued And Determined In The Rolls Court During The Time Of Lord Langdale, Master Of The Rolls: Volume IX” by Charles Beavan, Esq., M.A., Barrister At Law.  The following is found on page 535:

Now, from that time, August 1811, down to 1845, after the Master had issued his warrant on preparing his report, there was not one word about this claim.  Did the solicitor take the advice of counsel or not?  Was that advice adverse to the claim or not? or was it this: “Wait till the Master makes his report, and then except to it.”  All this is left entirely in the dark; but in 1845, after the Master had issued his warrant on preparing his report, and notice had been given to the creditors to attend on settling it, the persons who now represent Young, appear before the Master and state a new case; they request him to take into consideration the interest of this sum, and also the costs, and to come to the conclusion that the principal and interest and costs are the amount of damages sustained.

In a letter dated January 23, 1829 from James Madison  (1751–  1836) to Virgina Senator William C. Rives, the following was written:

I am still in the dark as to the ground of the statement that makes Mr. Jefferson and me parties to the publication in 1801, signed, “The danger not over.”  Have you noticed in Niles’ Register of the 17th instant, page 380, an extract from an address in 1808, signed, among others, by our friend Mr. Ritchie, wishing Congress to encourage our own manufactures by higher duties on foreign, even if the present attack on our commerce should blow over, that we may be the less dependent?

In 1749, Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) wrote in a letter to John Franklin that when it came to considering the nature of light, starting with the assertion by Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727) that light resulted from moving corpuscles, he was “much in the dark about light.”

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression “in the dark” in this context and based on how the expression was used by Benjamin Franklin, Idiomation suspects that this is the first example of using the expression “in the dark” to mean the speaker had no idea what was going on with regards to the matter at hand.

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Many Words Will Not Fill A Bushel

Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 15, 2011

In the June 9, 1910 edition of the Indianapolis News, it was reported that Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac” was responsible for the expression, “many words will not fill a bushel.”  The story read in part:

Here are some of the maxims, taken from the Pennsylvania almanac for 1758, of which, Benjamin Franklin, under the pseudonym of Richard Sanders, was editor and publisher.

Many words will not help a bushel.  God helps those who help themselves.  The used key is always bright.  The sleeping fox catches no poultry.

Knowing that it the saying is found in the 1758 edition of the Poor Richard’s Almanac and knowing that Benjamin Franklin included a number of established sayings, it’s no surprise that this saying dates back at least to the previous generation.

In 1721, Nathan Bailey’s book “Divers Proverbs” gives this definition for the saying:

This Proverb is a severe Taunt upon much Talking: Against great Promisers of doing what they never intend to perform; a Reflection upon those persons, who, so they can but be Misers of their own Pockets and Service, will be down-right Prodigals of fair Words; but they, according to another Proverb, butter no Parsnips; and so, Re opitulandum, non verbis, say the Latins.

The expression “many words will not fill a bushel” can be found in the book, “The Adventures of Don Quijote” written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in 1604. The original title printed as “The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha” and has been a literary favourite for centuries now.  In the chapter entitled, “The Adventure With The Sheep Story” the following passage is found:

“Friend Sancho, learn of me,” he said. “All these storms are only the signs of calmer days. Better success will soon follow. Neither good luck nor bad luck will last always.”

“At any rate,” interrupted Sancho, “many words will not fill a bushel. I think you would make a better preacher than knight-errant.”

“Knights-errant,” answered Don Quixote, “ought to know everything. Some of them have been as good preachers as any who preach in the churches.”

“Very well,” said Sancho. “You may have it as you will. But let us leave this unlucky place and seek lodgings where we may rest and have a bite of wholesome food.”

The original expression in Spanish is “Vorba goalã nu umple sacul.”  The French version of this proverb is “Autant en emporte le vent.”

And when all is said and done, it’s in Proverbs 10:19 in the Christian Bible that yields:

In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.

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Early To Bed, Early To Rise

Posted by Elyse Bruce on January 26, 2011

The proverb “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” is commonly misattributed To Benjamin Franklin, who quoted it in his Poor Richard’s Almanack back in 1732.

Back in 1639, John Clarke wrote and published “Parœmiologia Anglo-Latina” or ‘Proverbs English, and Latin’ and it contained the proverb, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Just a shade over a century before that, in 1532, author Anthony Fitzherbert wrote and published “The Book of Husbandry” which states the following:

One thinge I wyl aduise the to remembre, and specially in wynter-tyme, whan thou sytteste by the fyre, and hast supped, to consyder in thy mynde, whether the warkes, that thou, thy wyfe, & thy seruauntes shall do, be more auauntage to the tan the fyre, and candell-lyghte, meate and drynke that they shall spende, and if it be more auantage, than syt styll: and if it be not, than go to thy bedde and slepe, and be vppe betyme, and breake thy faste before day, that thou mayste be all the shorte wynters day about thy busynes. At grammer-scole I lerned a verse, that is this, Sanat, sanctificat, et ditat surgere mane. That is to say, Erly rysyng maketh a man hole in body, holer in soule, and rycher in goodes. And this me semeth shuld be sufficient instruction for the husbande to kepe measure.  

A similar expression dating back to 1496, provides an earlier version of the saying and appeared in “A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle” that provides this:

Also who soo woll vse the game of anglynge: he must ryse erly. Whiche thyng is prouffrable to man in this wyse / That is to wyte: moost to the heele of his soule. For it shall cause hym to be hole. Also to the encrease of his goodys. For it shall make hym ryche. As the olde englysshe prouverbe sayth in this wyse. Who soo woll ryse erly shall be holy, helthy and zely.

For those who don’t know, zely means to be happy and fortunate.  There’s no mention of going to bed early however the sense of the proverb is similar in tone to the later version.  The author introduces the text by stating “as the olde englysshe prouverbe sayth in this wyse” and this is to be noted because it establishes the fact that the proverb is considerably older than 1496.

Also in 1496, in the “Book of Hawking” mention that the proverb is an old saying is referenced thusly:

As the olde englysshe proverbe sayeth in this wise: who soo woll ryse erly shall be holy, helthy, and zely.

So it is reasonable to believe that the proverb goes back considerably farther than 1496. We have the Latin version:  “Sanat, sanctificat, et ditat surgere mane”  which translates to “That he may be healthy, happy, and wise, let him rise early.”

And we also have Aristotle writing, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”

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