Tag Archives: Alexander Pope

Cliche Sunday

I haven’t mentioned my accident much on this blog, although anyone who also reads my RunnerwithaBlog knows I was in a car accident in February. I think the worst part was the broken knee, as that is what I am still fighting with. I am a bit depressed that, even with my PT exercises, the amount I can bend my knee did not change in August 😦 It really hasn’t changed since July.

So I thought today would be a good day to explore proverbs, as they tend to teach us to accept life, as well as encouraging us. My favorite site to find meanings at, phrases.org, has an extensive list of proverbs. The site even went far enough to analyze the phrases, and found that ‘good’ and ‘never’ are the most used words in proverbs. Apparently we prize virtue while being negative?

accidents will happen: even though we try to prevent it, things will go wrong. In this day and age, the phrase “shit happens”  is more common. But the original cliche has its roots in John Muller’s 1755 A treatise containing the practical part of fortification. But it may owe its popularity to Charles Dickens, who used it in 1850:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
  –the personal history of David Copperfield

a little knowledge is a dangerous thing: knowing something about a subject can make one think they know everything about that subject. Used interchangeably with ‘a little learning is a dangerous thing,’ which is actually a misquote of the original by Alexander Pope:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

Except that Pope was simply refining an idea put forth by Francis Bacon in 1601, indicating that this phrase was certainly a joint effort. Particularly since we don’t know where Bacon might have got the idea from.

an Englishman’s home is his castle: also known as ‘a man’s house is his castle’ (particularly in America), this phrase means that his home is a man’s last refuge:

et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium (and each man’s home is his safest refuge)
–Sir Edward Coke, 1628.

What exactly was a ‘castle’ was defined in 1763 by the British Prime Minister, William Pitt:

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.

unfortunately for many an Englishman, this did not mean that acts that would be illegal outside of the home were forgiven in the home.  But it did mean that no one was able to come in the house unless invited, giving rise to search warrants and probable cause for authorities.

And, one I definitely need to keep in mind:

carpe diem: seize the day. Although many Latin scholars may be unhappy with you if you use that meaning, as ‘carpe’ actually means pluck. It is commonly used with fruit, and the phrase more accurately means ‘enjoy the day, pluck the day when it is ripe.’ The phrase has been shortened to the ‘seize the day’ meaning, but originally it was:

Dum loquimur, fugerit invida
Aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero
While we’re talking, envious time is fleeing: pluck the day, put no trust in the future
Odes Book I, Horace


As with many other proverbs, it is a warning to enjoy what we have, as no one knows what tomorrow may bring. Lord Byron made it popular in his 1817 Letters, although that work wasn’t published until 1830.





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Cliche Sunday

This week’s cliche’s are brought to us by Dr. Sheldon Cooper.  Last week I was watching Big Bang (as usual) and Sheldon was rambling on (as usual), and he said “train of thought. I wonder where that came from.” And our weekly cliche subject was born 🙂 Most of the following cliches relate to thought in some form, some are just fun that I thought Sheldon would approve of.

Another think coming: to be greatly mistaken, to be prepared to quickly assume a different viewpoint.  ‘Another think coming’ predates ‘another thing coming’ by at least 20 years; although most people use ‘another thing coming’ more commonly these days. It is a bit part of an old comic phrase, If that’s what you think, you’ve got another think coming. Born in America, it has been around for at least a century.

Gobsmacked: to be surprised or dumbfounded. Definitely British in origin, with gob meaning mouth and smacked meaning exactly that. In effect, to be in shock after being figuratively hit in the mouth.

Thought Terminating Cliche:  a short, definitive-sounding expression thrown into a debate to end all discussion or thought about the topic of that debate. It is used in totalitarian societies to quell dissent and more generally to mask the fact that the person using it cannot mount an effective argument or effectively address the counter-argument.* This one I had to put in, as it seemed like something Sheldon would love to use!
Brain Dump: to tell someone everything one knows on a subject.  This one is rather new, but already old!  Often used in offices around America. It can be considered an effective way to transfer knowledge from a person to another person or a group of people,  especially if the information is not recorded as yet. Anyone who watches the Big Bang knows that Sheldon is particularly fond of ‘brain dumps’, whether his audience wants to hear it or not.
A little knowledge (or learning)  is a dangerous thing: a small amount of knowledge (or learning) can make one feel as if they are far more expert in a subject than they really are. One  of the earliest version found in print is by Alexander Pope in 1709:                                                                                                                 A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.
And finally, one for Leonard      —
Silence is Golden: meaning that saying nothing is perferable to saying anything. A long running proverb, which has had many incarnations, the first reference to it may be in Ancient Eygpt.
And of course–
Train of thought: A succession of connected ideas, a path of reasoning, as in You’veinterrupted my train of thought; now what was I saying? This idiom, which uses train in the sense of “an orderly sequence,” was first recorded in 1651,in philosopher Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan.**





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