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Vintage English
It is foretold! The torrential flow of inexorable destiny!


There are an immensity of proverbs and usages that one does use in everyday life. Many of them are vanishing from popular use due to the increasing effect of technical writings and the seepage of these terminologies into literary writings. Many persons from the non-English background get impressed by the shallow usages in modern technical writing.

Look at these proverbs/usages:

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

I heard it when I was a small boy. It was more or less used in a slight mood of jest. Whether an apple everyday was a sort of panacea for the ailments, is not known to me.

I will give a few others, with a slight annotation on each.

A bad workman blames his tools.

Well, this was said when persons excused themselves from their lack of capacity by casting blame on the infrastructure available. However, in modern times, it is true that good tools are a requisite for good results. For technology has greatly overridden human skills in producing exquisite quality. Man technically cannot compete with machines in terms of precision and meticulousness. However, bad workmen may still use this plausible excuse.

A night with Venus and a life with mercury.

Well, this is not a common usage. Actually, it is not part of English literary heritage, but a usage used in an old advertisement. It is about sex life. A careless night spent in sensual happiness, can send a person rushing to the drugs (mercury) for curing Syphilis.

Jack of all trades; master of none.

This is an oft-heard usage. In modern times, it is said that it aptly describes a Gemini personality. It describes a person who has knowledge in many trades, but has no profound knowledge in any of them. More or less, a generalist. However, generalists are also required, for the specialists are all standing neck-deep deep inside their solitary subjects that they fail to see how they link with others.

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Well, a very sweet saying. It is the final test of friendship. And also a sieve. Moreover, it is friendship that goes beyond the parameters of ordinary definitions. For a man in desperate circumstances, the man who comes with the remedies or at least with a helping hand is the best friend available. This man is thousand times better than friends who shies off in times of trouble.

Desperate situations demand drastic remedies!

When the situation is very critical, then there is no time to waste on frills. The problem or the danger has to be faced head on. The measures taken have to be very effective. It may seem that the solutions or the measures are too severe, but then, the situation is also very brutal.

Barking dogs seldom bite.

It is the well-known fact that persons who brag about capacities, never match up to their words, when the realities of the situation dawns on them. They are brave with their words, but do not have stamina for a bite.

A miss by an inch is a miss by a mile.

A grave saying, no doubt. Both a close shave and a narrow escape are simple grand escapes. They have the same affect as of escaping by huge distances or by great probability. Along with that, you miss your fortune by a second, a single number, a solitary word, or a solo line; well, it is all equivalent to missing to missing by an immensity of seconds, numbers, words and lines.

It says the affect is same. Well, is it? Always?

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

This has been mentioned in both a positive sense as well as a negative one. Social and familial strings do not burden a person, who is agile and always moving. That could be the positive sense. At the same time, this man is never able to grow any roots and is always without a real home or native place or even social or familial strings.

April showers bring May flowers.

This is the same sense that was in Shelley’s line,

The triumph of prophesy,

Oh, Wind!

If winter comes, Can spring be far behind?

That is, bad times or sufferings are followed by good times.

A watched pot never boils.

It is about the ceaseless waiting for something to get over, commence or something like that. Time seems to stop moving or at least, it moves very tardily. What should be done is to busy your mind with something else. Leave the pot to boil, and put your mind into something else. Very fast, you hear the boiling of the pot.

Discretion is the better part of valour.

It is the time-honoured principle that bravery does not consist in simply taking to arms and going for a fight. There is the need for contemplation on what is the best method to be adopted to face the onslaught. A retreat is not always defeat. It could just be a consolidation of energy for a concerted attack with meticulous planning. At times, resort to arms might be counterproductive. What is required is discretion, not bravado. In addition, the mood to contemplate and balance the choices. Then act with quiet intelligence.

Before criticising a man, walk a mile in his shoes.

It is about the need to stand in another man’s shoes before judging him. It is easy to criticise and to evaluate from a safe distance. Persons who really face the flank are in a different situation. Before making sweeping statements on their capability or their actions and inactions, there is need to think of how one would react if placed in similar situations.

Give the Devil his due.

It is a statement that says that one should give credit to a deserving person, even if one does not like him or her.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

This is a sentence, which refers to the Trojan horse in the Greek tales. It more or less forewarns us to be wary of unknown persons who come with gifts, sweet-talk and homage. There may be hidden dangers and dangerous strings attached. They enter inside the fortress in the wrappings of a gift. Once inside, they have the power of dynamite!

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

This more or less refers to person/s in a dilemma, as to what course to pursue. Whatever options they choose, they will be blamed for the outcome or for the choice.

Every dog has its day!

In modern lingo, they say that a man had his innings. That is, his innings are over, it is time for the other man to have his innings. Sometimes, a man acts arrogantly standing on his pedestal of power, but then it is his good time, or good day. The moment is soon over, and then it is another man’s time.

Every cloud has a silver lining!

Dark clouds that hover above the skies! Have you not noticed that they all have a thin silvery streak inside them? Like that, in every misfortune or bad time, when everything seems bleak and gloomy, if one observes the events dispassionately, one may find that there is a light of hope at other end of the tunnel. A possibility of hope! A light of success!! A ray of promise!!!

Et tu, Brute!

It is from the story of Julius Caesar. Brutus is Caesar’s most intimate friend. When the conspiring senators stabbed Caesar one by one, he could bear it. Suddenly his friend Brutus also appears among them and stabs him. It is too much to bear. Caesar can’t believe his eyes. He exclaims: Et tu, Brute! (You too, Brutus!)

These words are commonly used to signify treachery, betrayal, backstabbing, and such heinous acts.

Good fences make good neighbours.

This is a most practical advice for town and city dweller in the modern world. A slight detachment in all things can help maintain attachment. Even when close friends have their houses nearby, it is a healthy thing to keep a slight fence in all affairs. Do not allow both houses to act as if they are one.

Taking into the larger context, it means a bit of detachment in attachments lends to persevering friendship.

Give respect! Take respect!!

This sentence basically contains the codes of English social interaction. However, this is not the case with many other languages, especially those with feudal or hierarchical contents. In such languages, lending/giving respect does not bring back respect; rather what is returned as a matter of social convention is disrespect, subjugation or even outright insult.

In English, it is sow respect, and reap respect. In feudal languages, it is: lend respect and reap contempt.

Once bitten, twice shy!!

If one has had a bad or bitter experience with something, then one is very, very wary of doing that thing or approaching it. It is also the other side of bravery. Some persons are very brave in facing dangers about which they have no idea at all. Once they face it and have a bitter/terrifying experience, they go into the exact opposite mode; that of acute cowardice.

Book profile



Author: Somerset Maugham

The Story

Folk songs:

On the banks of Allen Water,

On the banks of Clyde

Excerpt: Magnus in The Apple Cart

English Colonial History:

Emancipation of slaves

Scientist: Sir. Isaac Newton

Geo discoverers: Captain James Cook

Film: The bridge on River Kwai

Actress: Vivien Leigh

Battle: Jameson Raid

Incidence: Nelson’s death



Popular songs: Jingle Bells

Place: Rocks of Gibraltar

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