Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘Victor Hugo’

If You’re Not A Socialist At Twenty, You Have No Heart

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 12, 2017

Recently, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) published an article stating no one knows for certain who the first person was who coined the phrase, “If you’re not a socialist at twenty, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.”

In some respects that is true.

The phrase and its many variations have been attributed to a great many men  over the years:

  • British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (21 December 1804 – 19 April 1981) in a book of quotations published in 1997 that was compiled by Canadian educator Laurence J. Peter (16 September 1919 – 12 January 1990)
  • French politician, physician, and journalist Georges Clemenceau (28 September 1841 – 24 November 1929)
  • British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) in a 1986 edition of the Hartford Courant newspaper
  • French poet, novelist, and dramatist Victor Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885) in a book by scientist, journalist, and politician Francisco Bulnes (4 October 1847 – 1924)
  • King Oscar II of Sweden (21 January 1829 – 8 December 1907) in a 1923 edition of the Wall Street Journal
  • Irish playwright, critic and polemicist George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950) in a speech given in 1933 at the University of Hong Kong
  • American poet Robert Frost (26 March 1874 – 29 January 1963)
  • American writer, historian, and philosopher Will Durant (5 November 1885 – 7 November 1981)
  • Prime Minister of France Aristide Briand (29 March 1862 – 7 March 1932)
  • British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic, political activist and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970)
  • American filmmaker George Huang used it in his 1994 movie “Swimming With Sharks“and has been tagged as the originator of the phrase

Even American entrepreneur, business magnate, inventor, and industrial designer Steve Jobs (24 February 1956 – 5 October 2011) was incorrectly identified as the person who first coined the phrase!

However, the spirit of the phrase can be found in a number of variations.  In 1875, French literary figure and theater director Jules Claretie  (3 December 1840 – 23 December 1913) wrote a biography where he attributed a similar sounding quote to French jurist and politician Anselm Batbie (31 May 1828 – 12 June 1887).

« Celui qui n’est pas républicain à vingt ans fait douter de la générosité de son âme; mais celui qui, après trente ans, persévère, fait douter de la rectitude de son esprit. »

TRANSLATION: He who is not a republican at twenty compels one to doubt the generosity of his heart; but he who, after thirty, persists, compels one to doubt the soundness of his mind.

While it might seem reasonable to declare the trail for this expression begins at some point in Anselm Batbie’s life, the fact of the matter is, there’s a quote even older than that one with the spirit of the saying in question.

In 1799, John Adams (30 October 1735 – 4 July 1826) was quoted in a Thomas Jefferson (13 April 1743 – 4 July 1826) journal entry as having said this phrase that has been reworded so often. It was spoken in a conversation between Dr. Ewen and the President, and recorded in Jefferson’s journal.

A boy of fifteen who is not a democrat is good for nothing, and he is no better who is a democrat at twenty.

According to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, John Adams’ reputation was one of a “blunt-speaking man” with an “independent mind.”

So while the CBC is technically correct in its assertion, fact checkers for Paul Kennedy’s radio program “Ideas” at CBC didn’t delve too deeply into the subject otherwise they would have attributed the spirit of the expression to the second President of the United States of America — John Adams.  Idiomation has determined the roots date back to 1799.

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

Loose Cannon

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 12, 2011

As anyone who has ever had to deal with a loose cannon knows, it’s not a pretty sight whether it’s a real cannon or a person, and it can cause a lot of unnecessary damage.

The Hour newspaper in Connecticut — serving Norwalk, Weston, Westport and Wilton — reported on former WWF wrestler, Jesse Ventura in their October 14 edition back in 1999. The article by George F. Will summed up the article in four words in the headline, “Jesse, The Loose Cannon.” He set up the story thusly:

Jesse Ventura, a human Vesuvius who does not believe in hoarding himself, has Minnesota so well in hand he has time to give interviews promiscuously — 25 a week, he says. Nowadays these include interviews to tidy up after interviews, such as the one in Playboy wherein he said organized religion is for the weak-minded and that the military-industrial complex killed Kennedy …

Politicians appear to make use of the phrase most often. On December 27, 1952 the Spokesman Review ran an article entitled, “A Warning From Herbert Hoover.” The gist of the story was that he felt that the United States of America was in need of a political reshuffle and a return to the two-party system.

Now comes the claim that such an interpretation is “reactionary.” In fact, our major parties have become confused ever since the ghosts of Benito Mussolini, Karl Marx, Lord Keynes and our own give-away ideologists began to meddle in our national life. Under their influence, the definition of “Liberalism” is certainly badly befuddled. Today, ideological differences smash around like a loose cannon on the decks of our political parties.

The first published version of “loose cannon” as it refers to a person appears to be from December 1889 in the Galveston Daily News where the following can be found:

The negro vote in the south is a unit now mainly because it is opposed by the combined white vote. It would in no event become, as Mr. Grady once said, ‘a loose cannon in a storm-tossed ship.’

Prior to this, “loose cannon” was a nautical term that referred to a cannon that broke loose during battle or a storm, and caused serious damage to the ship and its crew.

In fact, in Victor Hugo’s novel, Ninety Three — known as Quatrevingt-treize in French — published in 1874 and set in 1793, the Marquis de Lantenac (leading the monarchist insurrection invading England) saves the life of a seaman who stops the destruction of the ship by a loose cannon. It’s a short-lived save as he then executes the seaman for endangering the lives of all aboard with the loose cannon in the first place.

In any case, a “loose cannon” in the nautical sense of the phrase has been around for as long as cannons have been onboard ships, but loose cannons referring to people has only been around since the 1880s.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »