“To cast pearls before swine”
This famous phrase is a quote from Matthew’s Gospel: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs,” writes the Evangelist, “neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” This dramatic image—which of course gains extra power from the fact that pigs are considered unclean animals by orthodox Jews—became a favorite in the Middle Ages, first mentioned in English by William Langland in Piers Plowman in the fourteenth century. Charles Dickens used the phrase in his 1848 novel Dombey and Son, to mean “doing a thankless thing.” But the most famous occurrence, which gives a twist to the ancient meaning, is in a story about Dorothy Parker, the great American humorist of the 1920s. “Age before beauty,” said a cheeky young woman while holding a door open for Parker to pass. Quick as a flash Parker replied: “Pearls before swine.” Here are 10 phrases you have always used that are actually trademarked.
“To every thing a season”
This handy aphorism is another piece of wisdom from the Book of Ecclesiastes, in which the author offers his thoughts on life, death, and what it all means. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” he writes. Warming to his theme, he continues, there is “a time to kill and a time to heal”; “a time to weep and a time to laugh”; there’s even “a time to cast away stones.” The full list has twenty-eight different times, and covers eight biblical verses. With its philosophical and reflective tone, it has become one of the most quoted and most popular passages in the Old Testament, a firm favorite for readings at funerals and other sad occasions. In 1959 the famous words even became a surprise hit when they were set to music by the folk musician Pete Seeger in a song called “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Covered by The Byrds in 1965, the track rocketed to number one on the U.S. singles chart—the iron-age lyrics are by far the oldest words ever to have become a chart-topping hit. These are some “modern” words that are actually much older than you’d think.
“The end of the earth”
Like most other ancient cultures, the ancient Israelites thought it obvious that since the earth was flat it must have limits. “The ends of the earth” therefore appears repeatedly in the Old Testament as a way to describe the furthest reaches of the then-known world. When, in the Book of Job, God is said to “direct his lightning to the ends of the earth,” it’s just a poetic way of saying that God is in charge everywhere. Of course, it wasn’t long before the ancient Greeks discovered that the earth is in fact not flat but spherical. Not everyone, however, is convinced of the earth’s inconvenient roundness. Daniel Shenton, head of the modern Flat Earth Society, gives the Scottish verdict: “Not proven.” According to him and his fellow “flat-earthers,” the world is a flat disc, centered on the North Pole, surrounded at its Antarctic rim by a wall of ice. The moon landings, he says, and photos showing the round earth hanging in space, were faked. If any ship or aircraft really did fly past the ends of the earth, he says, it would simply fall off the edge and into the infinite abyss below. These are common phrases you use that have a much different meaning than what you really think.