Mind your language

What’s good for the goose is bad for the proverb

A sauce check on a traditional saying

18 October 2014

9:00 AM

18 October 2014

9:00 AM

‘Goosey, goosey gander,’ my husband shouted at the television, like someone from Gogglebox. It’s not so much that he thinks the television real as that he thinks himself an unreal part of the television.

The cause of his outburst was something that had caught my attention, too. Someone had said: ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.’ We both thought this a mere garbling of the proverb: ‘What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.’ It is not the benefit of either the goose or the gander that is under consideration but the delectation of their flesh. Certainly, the oldest books of proverbs mention sauce.


Chief among these is John Ray’s collection from 1670. What a labour it must have been to compile. But Ray was fearless, taking a mere three weeks to categorise all the animals and plants of the world, as a contribution to John Wilkins’s universal language. Wilkins’s idea was to represent everything by symbols — not just porcupines and pineapples, but qualities and relations too. Not such a bad idea, though in practice it proved less useful than everyone learning Latin.

Anyway, it seems that since Ray’s times the new and (to my ears) debased version has crept in. As proof, is Norman Wisdom’s film from 1969 What’s Good for the Goose. There’s also a half-hearted suggestion of goosing in the sexual sense, for this dire film has Norman rubbing up against the sexy Sixties.

Yet garbling of proverbs is always at work. One that trips up chatterers is the shutting of the stable door after the horse has bolted. The bolt attracts them too soon, so that they begin ‘Bolt the stable door…’ then realise another bolt is looming in a different sense. This proverb has survived even longer than the goose and gander, being incorporated by John Gower in his endless poem Confessio Amantis. Writing of a character called Negligence (a clue in the name) he says: ‘Whan the grete Stiede / Is stole, thanne he taketh hiede, / And maketh the stable dore fast.’ Even when it is garbled, I still prefer this proverb to the dull cliché ‘too little, too late’.

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  • Al Bowlly

    “The proof is in the pudding”.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Kill one, terrify 10,000.
    Alternatively, after the first the rest come free.

  • Plain old bitterness or jealousy being referred to as ‘sour grapes’ really, really drives me up the wall.

    • Fenton!

      That’s probably just your sour grapes talking :^0

  • Geronimo von Huxley

    Geronimo like getting things wrong. It upset the whigs.
    Then Geronimo take two scalps.

    • Damaris Tighe

      White squaw take Geronimo foreskin. Make into thimble.

      • Fenton!

        [Grin] Brilliant!

        • Damaris Tighe

          😉

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    The early bird catches the worm, but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.

  • Fenton!

    All’s well that end’s well is a fatuous piece of Shakespearean nonsense I could have done without, and people tend to agree, since they don’t quote it. My neighbours this past week have been giving me a lesson in the profound a) selfishness, b) stupidity, c) unattractiveness of the human being.

    My least favourite ape is the chimpanzee. In fact, I am hostile to them and would not say ‘how are you?’ to any chimp within my vicinity. Apart from humans they are the most horrid of creatures: cunning without either charm or looks. No wonder Jane Goodall’s son could never stand them: shows he was normal and what’s more good material for friendship, marriage, and hiring for a job. (Has anyone wondered whether Jane the Chimp-champ is entirely all there? I don’t think she is.)

    Chimps have the worst of everything hominoid: all the keen nastiness of the hyena and none of the grace of the great cats. I hate them. Full stop. Those claiming that they share 98% of our genes are gulled: so do ALL the great apes, give or take a percentage or two. We share 50% of our genes with fruit flies. Only morons like chimpanzees wouldn’t see the import of that. (Did I mention that they’re dreadful creatures best ignored by beauty-lovers?) Chimps have under-arm hair all over their bodies and rip-your-limb-off teeth and no listenable voice and they are poor, nasty, brutish, and short. They have the worst of everything, which is no mean feat (the hagfish won’t win any prizes, either). Still, no one compares us with the hagfish. That’s why the Chimps would be on my dartboard if I didn’t find them too sodding ugly to put there.

    I say all this because my neighbours are essentially… chimpanzees, the Hated Ape.

    • miranda

      Wow babes, that is some tirade.
      My neighbour’s called Margaret, and she’s very sweet – bit forgetful these days, but that’s probably to her advantage.

      PS: Offer them a banana – works with Margaret.

      • Fenton!

        I’m particularly fond of bananas myself, but they must have a smidge of green on the skins.

        It WAS quite a tirade, wasn’t it? Did you get the impression that I don’t like chimps? :^0
        Or people? %^)
        No, I really do like people. They just have to be the right ones.
        Un-apelike.

        • miranda

          You know, later, I had one of those slightly guilt-pangy things when I thought “My gosh -am I laughing whilst Fenton is engaged in some truly fearsome dispute?” I trust all is well.

          • Fenton!

            Oh yes thank you, it’s nothing I can’t handle — though the past week up till Wednesday was easily the worst week of the year. If that’s as bad as it gets this year though, it will have been an exceptionally good one. Not so much because of all the great things that happened but because of all the bad things that didn’t.

          • miranda

            Good!

          • Fenton!

            Thanks. Have a great weekend. I feel as though I’ve just said that to you, very recently. Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not!

          • miranda

            You did!
            Last week.
            Have a good weekend yourself.

          • Fenton!

            I made that ‘time flies’ comment recently, too. Need to be careful that life doesn’t turn into Groundhog Day and endless clichés!

          • miranda

            It’s OK
            A sincerely expressed comment bears repetition.
            I’ve just got up and you’re just going to bed (I think)
            So sleep tight.

        • miranda

          Vis-a-vis another post.
          I know I am going to regret asking this, I just know I have misunderstood, but what is erotic about ears? In particular, your ears?

          • Fenton!

            Oh it’s just a silly reference to my avatar. Mind you, in the first book in the series by Patrick O’Brian, he introduces one of the hotties of the saga in part by referring to the cold red of her exposed ear during a foxhunt. From this and a few other details we gather that she is beautiful and bewitching.

          • miranda

            Oh I see, I didn’t think big floppy ears and I never really got into Patrick O’Brian, though I tried. I can honestly say that I have never looked at a woman and thought “My God look at the ears on her” Legs and smiles work for me, though I shouldn’t admit to such weakness.

          • Fenton!

            Well we certainly know who you are now! : )

          • miranda

            How so?

          • Fenton!

            The legs and the smile comment. But I should correct the ‘we’ to ‘I’.

          • miranda

            Oh.
            You make me feel like a man with an unusual interest.

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