Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘French proverb’

If My Grandmother Had Wheels …

Posted by Admin on January 3, 2011

The expression, while humorous, underscores the fact that people will sometimes throw irrelevant questions or comments into a discussion thereby changing the original focus of what was already being discussed (see the video included below).

Back in 1984, while watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, I heard Scotty exclaim, “Aye, and if my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a wagon.”  It was an interesting take — this counterfactual thinking — on what was allegedly an everyday-life situation for Scotty!  But where did this expression come from and where would Idiomation find the earliest published version?

Just 6 years before the movie’s release, the New York Times ran an article on February 27, 1978 entitled “Albany’s patronage Roots Hidden By Change In Law” written by Steven R. Weisman.  He reported:

[Assemblyman Stanley Fink, the majority leader] asked her a question and she replied with a phrase she translated as, “If my grandmother had wheels, I would have been a bus.”

Nearly a decade before that, The Pittsburg Press ran an article on August 26, 1970 written by Wauhillau La Hay entitled “Hormone Theory Drawn Into Women’s Lib Debate.”  Here readers were treated to the following:

Dr. Ramey noted that “Dr. Berman says genetics is destiny.  I think what he’s trying to say is that human beings with ovaries should not enter the White House as president.  That if I did not have a certain XY (chromosomes) in my blood, I’d go th the men’s room, not the ladies’ room.  That’s like saying if my grandmother had wheels, she would be a station wagon,” Dr. Ramey declared. 

She argued against the position that women are inferior because they suffer from discomfort during menstrual periods, saying “Pioneer women crossing the plains didn’t take time out for cramps, did they?”  Her audience cheered.

The English saying is a direct translation of the Spanish:  “Si mi abuela tuviera ruedas seria una bicicleta” (If my grandmother had wheels, she’d be a bicycle.).

However, the sense of the phrase is found in the older French expression:  “Avec des si et des mais, on mettrait Paris en bouteille” (With ifs and buts, we would bottle Paris.)

The earliest published variation of the expression about grandmother having wheels that Idiomation could find is in the book, Jiddische Sprichwörter , written by Ignaz Bernstein and B.W. Segel, published in Frankfurt, Germany in 1908.

This video is a perfect example of the use of the idiom.

Posted in Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

What’s Done Is Done

Posted by Admin on June 29, 2010

It’s true that William Shakespeare used the phrase “what’s done is done” in his play, MacBeth (written some time between 1603 and 1607) in Act 3, Scene 2.

LADY MACBETH
With them they think on! Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done, is done.

However, Shakespeare is not responsible for the phrase.  The phrase uses done in the sense of “ended” or “settled” which is a usage dating back from the first half of the 1400s.   It’s actually a derivative of the early 14th Century French proverb:  “Mez quant ja est la chose fecte, ne peut pas bien estre desfecte.”  Translation: ” But when a thing is already done, it cannot be undone.”

That being said, the spirit of the phrase is even older than the early 14th Century, dating back to the works of the Latin poet from the Republican period, Gaius Valerius Catullus (84 BC – ca. 54 BC).  In his poem Carmen VIII, he wrote:

LATIN:
Miser Catulle, desinas ineptire
Et quod vides perisse, perditum ducas.

TRANSLATION:
Poor old Catullus, stop your whining
What you see is over, accept it’s really over
.”

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