We use them every day, these aphorisms. Old-sayings and collective shorthand keep our conversations moving and meanings clear. Still, we so often forget from where they hail. Who said them first? Who brought meaning to their insight? Who gets the credit? The internet has made it a bit simpler – even if somewhat deceptively so. We can use our favorite search engine to inquire as to the expression’s etymology, yet to rely blindly on a singly entry can be foolish. We are required to surf from site to site seeking some intellectual satisfaction that each appearance is not a simple duplication of another.
The maxims themselves suffer from the same echo. Modern speakers will sample the words and concepts from earlier generations and co-opt them as their own, so the able-word historian will push back ever further looking for an accurate origin point. Many are found rooted in the Bible. Much of our collective literary and oratory memory commences there. But others can be directly or loosely traced to the earliest scrolls, clay tablets or hieroglyphs, leaving one to wonder if much of human thought has been consistent from our genesis. Is it only the sophistication of our delivery mechanisms that has evolved?
It suggests, in part, that our thinking has been conscientiously, and unconscientiously, formed by all that we’ve heard or read – and perhaps by all that’s been heard or read by everyone that we’ve heard or read. Is the collection of human wisdom a thread rather than an evolution? Or, do we legitimately process information and ideas anew with each subsequent presentation to fresh generations?
Among the many adages with foggy attributions is an old favorite: Talk is cheap because supply exceeds demand. Perhaps it doesn’t matter who gets the acclaim as long as the concepts are urged to persist.