Are You Using These Famous Phrases Correctly?

Sayings Cut Too Short

Old sayings steer us through life. But old is a key word here.

With time, adages can become cut short. They can get misquoted. They can also get transformed in other ways, such as with witty additions to the original saying that turn their wisdom on its head.

Let’s look at five expressions whose that have been taken into some interesting—and surprisingly different, even opposite—directions than you’d expect.

"Curiosity killed the cat ... "

Being too inquisitive or nosy can lead to a person’s downfall.

This is quite literally the case for the character Bran, in Game of Thrones, whose curiosity leads to his forcible fall from the tower after peeking in on some family matters … some very in-the-family matters.

So, is being curious a bad thing? “Curiosity killed the cat” can be considered only one piece of this proverb.

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" ... but satisfaction brought it back"

Back to our question: is curiosity bad? Nope! It can be great, which is why satisfaction brought it back emerged as a common answer to the saying curiosity killed the cat.

Why? Because through curiosity, the cat learns what’s going on! Ultimately, the satisfaction of knowing something, or acquiring new knowledge, requires a curious mind. Stay curious!

"Great minds think alike ... "

Speaking of knowledge and learning, great minds can think alike. (But, what about Einstein and Picasso? Two great minds, but two different areas …)

Anyway, people generally use this saying as a snappy way to point out that they share the same good idea or that they both agree on something.

To that point, however, thinking alike may be a symptom of something completely different …

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... and fools seldom differ"

Another variation of this is Great minds think alike, small minds rarely differ. Fools seldom differ/small minds rarely differ is another example of an extension that puts a surprising spin on the original expression.

So really, this saying cautions us that it isn’t necessarily a great thing if two people think alike. In other words, fools can think alike, too.

Small-minded people may close the doors on opinions that differ from theirs. By only listening to people who think like them, they may join an echo chamber. Great minds venture beyond the bubble and become even greater by learning other perspectives.

"Money is the root of all evil"

Money is the root of all evil is a quote from the Bible, but not the full picture. The partial form here leads one to believe that the very existence of money, and all that the noun entails, is evil.

The original saying is slightly different …

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"The love of money is the root of evil"

Ah, so it’s the love of money that’s the pernicious root of evil. In a word, greed.

Once anything becomes an obsession, it’s bad news bears. This fuller version, from 1 Timothy 6:10 in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, of the saying makes much more sense.

Given that money is what enables people to put food on the table, clothing on their backs, kids in schools, etc., it isn’t all bad.

"Jack of all trades ... "

This adage implies that being generally good at a bunch of different things is, in the end, less useful than knowing one thing really well.

But, what about the person who dabbles in woodworking and graphic design and then gets into real estate and teaching French? Are they really that skilled in all of those areas? Yeah, we all know people who actually are (we don’t know how you do it, Molly and Steve), but …

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... master of none"

Master of none is sometimes added as a rejoinder to jack of all trades, and it implies that such a person isn’t really good at any of the many types of work they do.

The idea here is that it’s better to do one thing extremely well than many different things less than adequately.

But hold your horses! Jack of all trades, master of none is sometimes further answered with but oftentimes better than a master of one. This suggests that there is still great value in being a generalist rather than strictly a specialist.

Hey, you know what they say about curiosity and the cat …

"My country, right or wrong ... "

This quote makes it seem like all citizens have to support their nation unconditionally and uncritically, whether or not they agree with its policies or politics.

An early form of this quote, attributed to Commodore Stephen Decatur around 1816, goes: “Our country—In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right, and always successful, right or wrong.”

This sentiment apparently inspired some takes over the years …

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... if right, to be kept right; and if wrong to be set right"

“My country, right or wrong,” as Carl Schurz, a German-born senator and Civil War general, is credited as saying in 1872.

But, he wasn’t finished: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

Now that definitely changes the idea of this famous saying—and offers a different vision of the concept of patriotism.

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Word of the Day

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