Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘Desiderius Erasmus’

Make No Bones About It

Posted by Admin on March 6, 2012

When someone says they make no bones about what they’re about to say, what they’re trying to convey is that they are going to plainly state how they think or feel on a subject even though it might embarrass or offend others.  In other words, the speaker is about to be forthright and candid while giving his or her opinion to the audience at large.

The Rock Hill Herald ran a story on July 28, 1976 about Lawrence Paros of Providence, Rhode Island and author of the book “The Great American Cliché.”  He had moved to Rhode Island in 1971 to direct a federal learning program for high school students, however, he grew tired of what he referred to as working within the system, quit and began collecting clichés that became the basis of his book filled with 50,000 entries.  The newspaper article was entitled: 

Make No Bones About It, He’s The King Of Clichés

Back on June 16, 1902, the New York Times published an article dealing with the beet sugar Senators, the United States government’s Reciprocity bill and a rebate of between twenty and fifty percent.  In the end, the government would not yield to the Senators’ demands and the newspaper reported that one Senator stated the following:

“It threatens beet sugar men with ostracism if we do not abandon the plan of Cuban relief to which he told us time and time again he would make no objection.  Even now, in spite of his message, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’d sign a rebate bill and make no bones about it.”

In Part II: Chapter VIII of the book “The Idiot” written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (11 November 1821 – 9 February 1881) which was published as a serial in The Russian Messenger in 1868 and 1869 – and translated by Frederick Whishaw for publication in 1887, the author wrote:

“As to the article,” said Hippolyte in his croaking voice, “I have told you already that we none of us approve of it! There is the writer,” he added, pointing to the boxer, who sat beside him. “I quite admit that he has written it in his old regimental manner, with an equal disregard for style and decency. I know he is a cross between a fool and an adventurer; I make no bones about telling him so to his face every day. But after all he is half justified; publicity is the lawful right of every man; consequently, Burdovsky is not excepted. Let him answer for his own blunders. As to the objection which I made just now in the name of all, to the presence of your friends, I think I ought to explain, gentlemen, that I only did so to assert our rights, though we really wished to have witnesses; we had agreed unanimously upon the point before we came in. We do not care who your witnesses may be, or whether they are your friends or not. As they cannot fail to recognize Burdovsky’s right (seeing that it is mathematically demonstrable), it is just as well that the witnesses should be your friends. The truth will only be more plainly evident.”

The expression hasn’t been used as often as one might think, however in the book “Paraphrase Of Luke” by Desiderius Erasmus and translated into English by Nicholas in 1548, the command given to Abraham with regards to sacrificing his son, Isaac, is given as:

He made no bones about it but went to offer up his son.

Going back almost another 100 years, the Paston Letters reveal that a version of the expression was used in a letter written in 1459.   For those who may not know about the Paston Letters, it is a collection of letters and papers, consisting correspondence from members, friends and acquaintances of the Paston family, written between 1422 and 1509.  In 1459, a dispute arose between Paston and Sir John Fastolf’s family.  When the verdict in the case was rendered with no objection from either side, Paston wrote:

And fond that tyme no bonys in the matere.
Translation:  and found that time no bones in the matter

This is a significant passage since the expression during the 1400s was that people were making bones about things which indicated that people were raising a fuss over things.  There’s some discussion that the original expression relates to soups with bones in them, with implication being that soups with bones in them were unpleasant to swallow.

In any case, the fact that the expression was already in common usage, having found a place in Paston’s letter of 1459, indicates that the expression is most likely from at least two generations before it was used. This puts the saying to at least 1400.

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

All Cats Are Gray In The Dark

Posted by Admin 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.

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

The One-Eyed Man Is King

Posted by Admin on July 5, 2011

When you hear the expression, “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” it’s a nice way of saying that even a person with limited abilities and knowledge is at a great advantage in the company of those with lesser abilities and less knowledge than he. 

The Italians have the same saying, “In un mondo di ciechi un orbo è re.”  The German people have their version of the proverb: “Those that rule must hear and be deaf, must see and be blind.”  And the French people also have their own version of the proverb:  “When a blind man bears the standard, pity those who follow.”  Some say it’s a variation of a Bible quote found in Matthew 15:14 that states: 

“If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” 

It’s also found in Luke 6:39 as:

“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” 

On January 22, 2011, journalist Frank Rich wrote an OpEd piece for the New York Times about the original movie, “True Grit” starring John Wayne for which he won the 1969 Oscar for Best Actor and its 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges.  The piece was aptly entitled, “The One-Eyed Man Is King.”

On June 6, 1920 the New York Times published a news story entitled, “Millions Wasted To Elect President!”  It spoke of the enormous campaign finances dribbled away by professional campaigners, running minimally efficient headquarters for candidates all the while presenting with a big business atmosphere.

In the monarchy of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.  In the field of activity of the professional campaigner there may be a Cabinet position in store for the man whose industry nothing can abate and whose political ineptness nobody can deny.

On January 21, 1859 in Volume II, Issue 131 of the Colonist newspaper published in Nelson, New Zealand, the paper reprinted the address of Lord Stanhope to the University of Aberdeen.

A large part of the wisdom, the experience, and the actual power of the country is unrepresented in Parliament, through the taciturnity or defective expression of our public men while, as a natural consequence, many who have little else than a ready command of words obtain an influence beyond their just worth.  “In a people of the blind, the one-eyed man is king;” and in an assembly of bad speakers or mutes a very ordinary orator will get more than his due.  It must be so at the bar, and in the pulpit also.

Episcopalian clergyman, the Reverend Donald MacIntosh published “Collections of Gaelic Proverbs” in 1785 included the proverb, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

A century prior to the publication of the Reverend Donald MacIntosh‘s book, the proverb was cited by John Ray in 1678 and referenced as being an English proverb.  His twist on the Bible passage was, “A man were better be half blind than have both eyes  out.” In other words, not only would a half-blind man be able to avoid the ditch, he might find himself in a position if leadership among those who were completely blind.

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) published a book commonly referred to over the centuries as “Adagia.”  The first edition was actually entitled “Collecteana Adagiorum” and was published in Paris in 1500.  It was a slim book with approximately eight hundred proverbs.  Erasmus rename his book, “Adagiorum Chiliades” when it was republished in 1509 with an impressive 3,000 proverbs and adages this time, many with explanatory notes that read as brief essays themselves.   Over time, subsequent editions of his book saw the addition of more proverbs and adages with the final edition containing 4,658 proverbs and adages.

Most of the proverbs and adages found in the book were accepted by society as a whole as common wisdom of the day.  His reason for amassing so many proverbs and adages in one book had a great deal to do with the fact that Erasmus focused primarily on providing a Latin translation of the New Testament from several Greek texts that provided a more accurate translation of the Scriptures.  Collecting 4,658 entries was merely an extension of his work.  Included in his book was the proverb: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

As it was a commonly used expression at the time Desiderius Erasmus published his book and considering his interest in the Scriptures, it is not unreasonable to believe that the proverb does, indeed, come from the Bible and made it into common language via the Catholic Church.

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, Bible, Christian, Greece, Idioms from the 16th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Pandora’s Box

Posted by Admin on October 7, 2010

When someone opens a “Pandora’s box” it means they have started a series of events that will result in a number of unexpected problems.  The phrase is based on an old Greek story in which a woman named Pandora opened a box containing all the troubles the world has experienced

In the original story, Zeus — the king of the Greek gods — gave Pandora a box as a gift but with strict instructions that she never open the box no matter how tempted she may be to do so.  In time, curiosity got the better of her and she opened the box just a little to sneak a peek inside.  Once opened, however, all of the box’s contents spilled out, these being all of the evils of the world.  According to legend, the only thing remaining in Pandora’s box was Hope.

On April 21, 1803 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Benjamin Rush in which he stated:

It is my opinion that the man in California does not value Liberty, may be lacking in a conscience, and has opened a Pandora’s Box that will eventually bite him in the ass.

During a debate at the Paris School of Medicine in 1699, Louis X!V’s court physician, Fagon delivered an eloquent speech about nicotine addiction, describing tobacco as fatal yet irresistible habit.

Who is the rash man that first tasted a poison that is more dangerous than hemlock, deadlier than opium? When he opened his snuff-box, did he not know that he was opening Pandora’s box, from which would spring a thousand ills, one worse than another? Assuredly, when we try it for the first time, we feel an uneasiness that tells us that we have taken poison.

However, the first use of the phrase goes back more than 500 years.  Dutch Renaissance philosopher and theologian, Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) who wrote on ecclesiastic subjects as well as those of general human interest published a book, “Adagia” in 1500.   The book contained a number of idioms and adages including two of his own: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” and “Pandora’s box.”

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