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Mystery Proverb

Although none of you know where "Time is the best tamer of love" comes from (and I'd still love to know!), perhaps the old proverb "An inch breaketh no square" is more familiar to you? No?

I'm not sure I even understand what this one means.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 6th, 2004 08:26 am (UTC)
Splitting the difference
Time is the best tamer of inches? Of squares?

Never mind.

Oct. 6th, 2004 08:37 am (UTC)
An online search reveals:

From Thomas Miller's "The Complete Modellist", 1667: "Then for the placing of your mast, there is very few but knows the main-mast must stand in the middle, and to that end raise a perpendicular line from the middle of the Keel, making a little step some two foot, or two foot and a half, as in the figure D at K; if your step be not so high as it should be, or if it be a little higher then it should be, so it be not two [sic] much, it breaks no square, so long as you give a handsome allowance for the end of your shrowds to turn up."

So, I'd assume that it comes from nautical terminology, and means something like "an inch or two either way won't hurt".

But then I turned up Thomas Nashe's "Strange News" (1592), where I read: "Whereas thou sayest the ass, in a manner, is the only author I allege, I must know how you define an ass before I can tell how to answer you, for Cornelius Agrippa maketh all the philosophers, orators and poets that ever were, asses. And if so you understand that I allege no author but the ass, for all authors are asses, why I am for you; if otherwise, thou art worse than a Cumane ass, to leap before thou look’st, and condemn a man without cause.

What authors dost thou allege in thy book? Not two but any grammar-scholar might have alleged.

There is not three kernels of more than common learning in all thy Four Letters. Common learning? Not common sense in some places. Of force I must grant that Greene came oftener in print than men of judgement allowed of, but nevertheless he was a dainty slave to content the tail of a term, and stuff serving-men’s pockets. An ass, Gabriel, it is hard thou shouldst name him; for calling me calf, it breaks no square, but if I be a calf, it is in comparison of such an ox as thyself."

..which doesn't illuminate me any further, but there you have it.
Oct. 6th, 2004 09:02 am (UTC)
Thank you! The commonality between them all is that "it doesn't matter much either way". And that works well too for the context, which I failed to give you. I quote myself to give you context:

"As late as 1605, Richard Polter, in his guide to sailing, wrote that sandglasses were made by men 'who indeed careth but little what error more or lesse, is delivered by those glasses in 24 houres, nay in halfe an houre, with whome (as the proverbe is) an inch breaketh no square.'"
Oct. 6th, 2004 09:09 am (UTC)
That makes sense :)
Oct. 6th, 2004 08:59 am (UTC)
i don't know either sayings.
Oct. 6th, 2004 09:04 am (UTC)
I'm not surprised. They aren't modern and aren't in the books of quotations and dictionaries I have handy either. They were both cited as proverbs in different sixteenth or seventeenth century texts I'm working from for my dissertation. I suspect they haven't been in circulation since that time.
Oct. 6th, 2004 09:41 am (UTC)
well i'll be durned, i wonder if they sell books on proverbs. i need to extend my dialogue skills. I have a pocket thesaurus next to my laptop at all times because i don't know a lot of words. well thats not true, i'll read something and i'll know what all the words mean, but i never use them in day to day speech. so beyond trying to put a variance of words into my regular dialogue i wouldn't mind knowing some cool proverbs too.
Oct. 6th, 2004 09:27 am (UTC)
I didn't know those saying, but I'm going to start saying "An inch breaketh no square" every chance I get from now on.
Oct. 6th, 2004 09:56 am (UTC)
a square... perhaps similar to the contemporary tool for framing buildings, using in carpentry, especially roofs, stairs, etc.? Indispensable for angles. One of the first major geometry/ math tools available for craftsmen, I bet - which (and my medieval history is horribly shaky) might have had something to do with changing building constructions/ urbanization in the much later period????

I made that last part up entirely. but it sounds somewhat plausible - ? maybe.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )