6.0623 Proverbia (4/114)

Mon, 29 Mar 1993 14:30:44 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 6, No. 0623. Monday, 29 Mar 1993.

(1) Date: Sat, 27 Mar 93 07:21:20 PST (10 lines)
From: Paul Brians <BRIANS@WSUVM1>
Subject: Proverbs whose meaning has switched

(2) Date: Sat, 27 Mar 93 07:42:05 CST (16 lines)
From: Glenn Everett <IVAA@UTMARTN.BITNET>
Subject: Proverbia Ancipitia

(3) Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1993 15:29:14 -0800 (PST) (24 lines)
From: Paul Pascal <paulpasc@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: Proverbia ancipitia

(4) Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1993 18:11 EDT (64 lines)
From: John Lavagnino <LAV@BRANDEIS.BITNET>
Subject: Proverbia ancipitia

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 93 07:21:20 PST
From: Paul Brians <BRIANS@WSUVM1>
Subject: Proverbs whose meaning has switched

I've read that the original saying was "Feed a cold and starve (i.e.
die) of fever":in other words don't eat a lot when you've got a cold.
When the original meaning of sterven (cf. German sterben) got narrowed
to dying of hunger, then merely to being very hungry, the saying got
reinterpreted as "Feed a cold and starve a fever," resulting in
advice opposite from the original saying. So much for folk wisdom.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------26----
Date: Sat, 27 Mar 93 07:42:05 CST
From: Glenn Everett <IVAA@UTMARTN.BITNET>
Subject: Pro verbia Ancipitia

> Marchand's proverbia ancipitia
Another phrase in common use which seems to me thoroughly ambiguous: "to
my knowledge." I never know whether the speaker means "only as far as I
know--don't look to me to tell you"
or the diametric contrary: "Absolutely--I know everything about
this incident and it cannot be otherwise than as I tell you."

Glenn Everett
English Department
University of Tennessee at Martin
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------36----
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1993 15:29:14 -0800 (PST)
From: Paul Pascal <paulpasc@u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: Proverbia ancipitia

With regard to James Marchand's interesting question about
"proverbia ancipitia," I believe a case could be made for
including under that heading Vergil's famous words in Georgics
I.145: "Labor omnia vicit." This statement has fully acquired the
status of a proverb, and is usually misquoted as "Labor omnia
vincit" (so even in Harper's Latin Dictionary). The statement is
generally taken as a eulogy of hard work. But in its original
context, it refers rather to something like a fall from grace;
Vergil begins the next line, after an ominous pause, with

Paul Pascal
Professor Emeritus, Classics DH-10
University of Washington / Seattle WA 98195

(4) --------------------------------------------------------------74----
Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1993 18:11 EDT
From: John Lavagnino <LAV@BRANDEIS.BITNET>
Subject: Proverbia ancipitia

James Marchand writes:

> I am teaching a class in how to translate, and I noticed to my horror
> that many of our proverbs can be taken to recommend opposite actions.
> For this I coined the term proverbia ancipitia (by which I do not mean
> two proverbs, but only one, a proverbium anceps); I know someone must
> have noticed this before. An example: A rolling stone gathers no moss.
> It is said in the old days that this recommends staying at home, but my
> 20 or so students to a man (and women) felt that it recommended keeping
> on the move. [...]

Robert Graves, *`Lars porsena,' or the future of swearing and
improper language* (1926; revised 1935), in *Occupation: Writer*
(New York: Creative Age Press, 1950), wrote:

`Bloody' has as a matter of fact achieved a peculiar position among
swear words. I have already remarked that it is merely an intensive
of the general type as `awfully'; yet it corresponds more closely
with the Greek *deta* or *de* (translated in the dictionaries as
*verily*, or *forsooth*) and may be used verbally, adjectivally,
adverbially, as an interjection, or as an enclitic, in such
interruptive forms as `of bloody course' and `abso-bloody-lutely.'


Two men discussing plural votes.

`What I says, is: *one man, one vote*.'

`Whadyer mean?'

`Clear, ain't it? *One man, one vote*. Fair's fair, ain't it?'

`Can't make out whadyer mean, I can't, nohow.'

`Seems to me what you want is your bloody ear-'oles syringed out!
What I mean is: ``*one* bloody *man, one* bloody *vote*!'' '

`Aow! Now, why didn't yer say so fust of all?'

The point of this old gag is that an intensive is often needed in
English to clarify the accentual emphasis of certain sentences.
There are, for example, a group of elliptical popular sayings whose
familiarity makes us forget that when we first heard them as
children they had to be explained to us. `Bloody' may well be
legitimized one of these days as the missing intensive which shows
where the accent falls. `Give a dog a bad name and bloody hang him';
`In for a penny, in for a bloody pound'; `Handsome is as handsome
bloody does'; `Needs bloody must when the devil drives.' You don't
agree? Then what about: `Stuff a cold and starve a fever?' Here
popular misunderstanding has had a deleterious effect on the
nation's health. Though usually read as two unrelated injunctions,
it really means: `If you stuff a person who has a cold, he will get
a fever and then you will have to starve him.' But put in a
*bloody*: `Stuff a cold, and bloody starve a fever,' and nobody
could go wrong. *Forsooth* is not bad in the context; but it is
easier to tame a wild word to conventional use than to revive a dead

John Lavagnino, Department of English, Brandeis University