How common sayings may not mean what you think

By Chloe Goode

   Languages change over time and spread in many different ways. Through all the interaction, parts of the stories or other parts of the communication can be lost or misinterpreted creating new versions of what was told. A common example of misinterpretation over time can be found in our everyday “sayings” or phrases, which are used to teach a lesson or describe consequences of people’s actions.

   There is an abundance of common phrases mankind uses every day to convey different meanings. For example, “great minds think alike” is often said between friends when they come up with the same idea, however the full phrase is “great minds think alike, though fools seldom differ.” The full phrase explains that fools are more likely to come up with an idiotic idea rather than coming up with a brilliant idea like the believed they did. “Blood is thicker than water” is another phrase commonly used to say family is more important than any bond you may have with someone outside of the family. However, the full saying is “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” explains that a chosen bond can be stronger than the bond only provided by being related to someone. The famous phrase “curiosity killed the cat” is used all the time to warn people against being curious and wanting to know more. Nevertheless, the full saying is “curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back” which describes curiosity as worth the risk due to the satisfaction rewarded once you find what you were looking for. 

   There is an abundance of common phrases that have been misinterpreted throughout time that are used to show the positive and negative sides of human behavior. One popular phrase used to demoralize someone who is decent at everything but not great at one thing is, “jack of all trades, master of none.” In contrast, the full saying “jack of all trades, master of none, though often times better than a master of one” suggests that being well-rounded is much better off than having a limited skill set at which you are great at. And perhaps one of the most famously used sayings is “money is the root of all evil.” This saying originates from Luke 12:15 in the Bible and its purpose is to warn humanity against greed. Despite that, the full saying doesn’t change much but it shifts people’s perspective of greed. The full phrase is “for the love of money is the root of all evil”, meaning that having money isn’t the issue, it’s the desire to have more and more of it.

   Furthermore, a famous quote from Carl Schurz, an 1872 American Senator, is “my country, right or wrong”. This quote is to inspire a sense of nation pride and support in US citizens. However, the full quote “my country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right, and if wrong, to be set right” explains that the United States is everyone’s country and they all have a duty to steer it in the right direction. In addition, early doctors were misquoted in saying “starve a cold, feed a fever” causing many people to believe fasting was the correct way to treat a cold. But, the real phrase was “if you starve a cold, you’ll have to feed a fever” which actually means if you refuse to eat during a cold, you will stay sick for much longer.

   There are many more sayings out there that are incorrectly used every day, due to the evolutions of languages that cause words to change in meaning all the time. All these phrase’s meanings can change drastically in a blink of an eye just by adding a few extra words to it. So, whether people use the full or half versions of the sayings, there is always a double meaning hidden within the phrase.


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