As a writer, you know all sorts of nifty saying and you know just what they mean – or do you?
Many of the phrases we use today were coined a long time ago. English is a living language, though, which means it changes over the decades and centuries. In some cases, these changes can mutilate the meanings of words and phrases. One of the most butchered adages is “Curiosity killed the cat” because it chops off the most important part of the dictum that says, “Satisfaction brought it back.”
Chopping up aphorisms in this way does more than just create zombie kitties. In some cases, truncating a maxim can completely change its meaning so that today’s version means the exact opposite of the original. You might think the cliché “Blood is thicker than water” means that family ties are stronger than friendships, for example, but you would be wrong. The original phrase is “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” and it means that the bond of an alliance is stronger than genetics.
You might have used the Latin maxim “carpe diem” when you wanted to remind readers that they should live for today and forget the future, but again, you would have been wrong. The Latin phrase is actually “carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero,” which translates to “seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.” The original intent of the phrase was to encourage people to work hard today to ensure success tomorrow, instead of just hoping something good would happen.
I always found the phrase “The proof is in the pudding” to be a little intimidating because it implied that someone was going to judge my cooking. Fortunately, the real phrase is “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” which means we should try out new foods for ourselves instead of relying on someone else’s opinion about my pudding-making skills.
Did you think “Jack of all trades, master of none” meant that Jack’s inability to focus hurt his ability to succeed? Think again! The whole phrase is “Jack of all trades, master of none, though oftentimes better than master of one,” which means that being mostly good at a bunch of stuff is better than being good at one thing and sucking at the rest.
If you had been using these phrases wrong all these years, don’t feel bad – I have too and you know what they say, “Great minds think alike!” Uh oh, I just found out that the full version is “Great minds think alike, though fools seldom differ.” To avoid looking foolish, consult with the great writing minds at WriterAccess.
Lynn H. writes everything from blogs to white papers; her specialty is putting complex scientific concepts into simple, interesting terms. She specializes in medical writing, creating informative and engaging content for professionals in medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, medical manufacturing, chiropractics, optometry, emergency care, plastic surgery, small businesses, municipalities, music industry, and others.