Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘butter no parsnips’

Many Words Will Not Fill A Bushel

Posted by Admin 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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