Writer’s Quote Wednesday: 4th January


This quote is part of Silver Threading’s author’s quote series.  Authors who have helped inspire my writing. To write one must engage with the world around. Imagination is not the everything, imagination needs feeding with experience and observation Life is what feeds writers.

This is a little like one of my favourite sayings from childhood – every cloud has a silver lining. The teaching me of hopeful endings and taking a longer view of disaster small and large. Silver linings and sunny side of doubt are part of my baggage. They were not taught by rote, nothing was insisted on, this was one of life’s lessons I learnt from growing up around positive people.

My grandmother was always showing me the silver linings and I can run through so many of my own. She was a great one for spine strength and gut health – one of the get on with life brigade:)

I slowly learnt that folk around one, responded well to smiles but not to frowns.  I also discovered that although the smiles might be’ put on’ at first, they did in fact help to cheer. That ‘pretend’ positive thoughts led to real positive thought.

Quite an eye opener!

Maybe, just maybe, I began to think, there was something in these homilies the old folk were so keen on:)

The sunny side of doubt has helped me remain optimistic throughout my years of travel, my studies and my writing. I wasn’t born sunny like my sister, I imbibed it cautiously because there was no other alternative offered when I was young, that side of my character was strengthened and the gloomy side diminished.

I discovered this quote very much later in life, when I already did view the sunny side- more often than not, I have darker periods however,and eventually when I crawl and heave myself out of those potholes it is in large part due to this side of my nature

sunnier side quote

Rolling Stone? good or bad



I was being lazy this morning and relaxing with coffee with Desert Island Discs, where Kirsty’s guest was a very interesting gentleman, microbiologist Professor Peter Piot. One of his choices was Bob Dylan’s Like Rolling Stone. Now I am a huge fan of Dylan always have been and suspect after all these decades always will be:) so another reason to enjoy my coffee. Anyway, it got me thinking of the meaning of A rolling stone gathers no moss, decided I would look it up and see what the books have to say.

I have known this proverb since I was a mere stripling nearly 7 decades ago. My grandmothers in particular were very fond of quoting it as short hand for those wastrel and ne’do wells, who impinged on their ordered lives.

A rolling stone gathers no moss is quite an interesting example of the changes in meanings and cultural norms.

It is a very old proverb dating back at least the first century BC Latin and Greek writers were well aware of the differences between those who settled and those who wandered, I suspect it was in use way before.

The surface meaning is that moss is a slow growing organism which thrives with little or no interference. Grows in the quiet places, gets on with being moss.

Move this to people we have those who settle, who develop complex cultures, acquire possessions, riches maybe, they work hard at one thing, develop carers, families. Life becomes more predictable and ordered. All admirable qualities:)

If you disturb moss, say by rolling stones and pebbles around, up and down dale, rolling, moving, churning all the time, moss will not grow. People who constantly move around tend to gather few possessions, work, at not, at various occupations, are loners, no time for children (who thrive best on order) do not belong to the complex life of stability. Or at least that was the thought when I was the child.

Erasmus in 1508 used it in that meaning, also John Heyward in his Collection of Proverbs 1546.

In the 17th century in a French/ English dictionary when defining the French word Rodeur we read

Rodeur: Vagabond, roamer, wanderer, street walker, highway beater, a rolling stone. One that does naught but runne here and there, trot up and downe, rougue all the country over.

My grannies born in the 1800s were certainly worried, when I told them I wanted to travel the world, that I would turn out bad – a rolling stone.

Somewhere around my coming of age the meaning was changing, probably had been for many decades, changes take time. I was a child of the 50s and 60s. I was listening to to the Blues. to Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, indeed of the Rolling Stone s themselves.

I knew that being a rolling stone equaled freedom from the stagnation I sensed around me.
Did I want – a career? nope
A family?  nope (women were still meant to be married by their early twenties.
I did like possession s but the postal service was pretty good,
I had always been a bit of a loner so that was a positive.
In fact wandering up and down dale meant I met so many folk and made more friends than ever I would have done at home

I have in my possession, belonging to my father, a Common English Proverb by A. Johnson published in 1958 which says

A person who frequently changes his occupation does not become rich; just as a stone that never stays long in one place gives no chance for moss to grow on it.

This was published just after the end of a five year war of great disruptive horror and a time when success was being given a job for life. This then was the version my parents followed, they didn’t worry about me wandering for a while but, made sure I had a training before I left so that I could follow the right way when my walking boots wore thin.

My latest is a Dictionary of Proverbs and Their Origins by Linda and Roger Flavell reprinted in 2006. I read it now when the increasing norm seems to be short term contracts in employment. When to keep in employment one needs to be willing to move, to be mobile in training and retraining. And I find a new interpretation of this proverb has arisen

Moss = stagnation,slowness in adapting, embracing new thought or advancing knowledge and in contrast a rolling stone

Mobility = keeps the mind sharp, innovative, imagination will run to advancement and innovation

A rolling stone now for many people people means one can achieve success and reward from rolling.

Two completely different interpretations running side by side and only time will tell which will win out. Interesting time ahead for this old adage.

To Curry Favour


My sister is forever asking why we say things the way we do. She is asking about our idioms and expressions. Partly because she misheard them(being very deaf) but also because they do not seem to make any sense to her when she examines them word for word.

I have a fondness for the familiar, I do not mind so very much clichés and proverbs. I confess to a liking for idioms and sayings. They serve a purpose, they are familiar and therefore oddly comforting at times. They serve as shorthand, hash tags, to universal life.

They also appeal to me because many of them break the rules of grammar and of sense. Tiny rebels against organized language. They can be nonsensical and – get away with it – what’s not to like?

What is an idiom?As this is a blog about words I give the Oxford Dictionary meaning of the word that pertains to the subject. There are other meanings.

Idiom: a form of expression, grammatical construction, phrase etc peculiar to a person or language: a phrase etc which is understood by speakers of a particular language despite its meaning not being predictable from that of the separate words.

Origin: Idios;  Greek,  idiousthai    make one’s own ( when applied to  a perculiar to self form of language),

In other words Idioms are not to be taken literally. The whole expression has very little to do with the individual words and we who grow up in the language accept this and just use the shape for the meaning until someone says why do we say that? Idioms though are difficult to understand for those coming to the language as newbies.

I am going in the next few months to explore some of our idioms and sayings. Many make no discernible sense, standing almost as a metaphor now, yet they did make sense once and have traveled along the path of changing vocabulary, spelling, mispronunciation and occupations until we end uttering them and knowing what they mean despite it all.

Or do we?

Some have a simple history and some travel more convoluted routes.

To curry favour:

 To seek to favour or ingratiate oneself (with a person) by flattery etc.

To seek to win (goodwill, friends etc) by flattery etc

We know what it means but how does it mean i.?

Nothing to do with Indian dishes. The horse minded amongst us will maybe consider horses, as grooming a horse is often referred to as‘currying’. So not the kitchen but the stable, but still where does the whole expression comes from.

Way back in 1310, what a long time ago! there was a French poem, satirical and popular for hundreds of years, oh if we could all write something with that longevity! The name of this work of art  Roman de Fauvel’.

Fauvel was a centaur. Centaurs were featured in Greek myths as strange hybrid creatures both man and horse.

Centaur: creature with head arms and torso of a man and the body and legs of a horse.
Origin: Greek,   kentauros referring to a people of Thessaly who were expert horsemen.


This Fauvel was cunning and an extremely dangerous beastie. In the satire he was representing hypocrisy and deceit. If you didn’t want the breathe knocked out of you,

you gentled him,
made nice to him
you curried Favual, so he wouldn’t turn nasty.

Mind, if he was deceitful and hypocritical I wouldn’t place any bets on it working out long term:)

Yeah, well, favour?

Mispronunciation, misspelling, mistranslated, mis whatever.

Origin: Old French:  estriller fauvel, to rub down, groom a chestnut horse

Fauvel:   French,   fallow coloured.

So there it is: a mixture of ancient Greek mythology, Old French vocabulary, a satire penned in 1310, a journey across the sea to these islands to be slightly mangled and changed over time to what we have now. What we understand it to mean is correct. Once long ago it also made sense.