May 3rd, 2007

Adages Old and New

In olden days, you had adages. These adages were said by unknown people, and usually ascribed to as "they". It was enough that knowledge was passed on to the world at large, that people benefited from information and that the faint knowledge that they were based on real instances and experiences was enough to make them think twice before anty action.


In the modern day of patents and copyrights, of science and proofs, it is not enough that someone tell us about an adage and walk away with it. Unwarranted advice with a lack of proofs, it will be called and certainly not heeded.


Hence, we have scientists working on a hypothesis, people who substantiate their thoughts and findings and present them to the public in a palatable manner, with enough number of proofs, case studies and of course, disclaimers. After years of research and hard work they come up with one liners carefully worked upon and previously researched upon by their lawyers (to remove the chance of elimination on ‘prior art’ basis) and then write a paper upon it. This paper, if they are lucky will slowly be lapped up by the media and then into common parlance.

And lo and behold! And new adage is formed.

Only, this time it will be termed a “law” or a “hypothesis”, “principle” or even a “corollary”, as the case may be.

In the few cases that there is some doubt regarding the origin of the adage, a name is promptly assigned to the beautifully worded one-liner by sources quoting it. Sometimes, it may be mentioned that this is the adage, “re-worded by xyz”, or even “probably by abc, though disputable”.


Just as the public appetite for proofs and more proofs and credibility rises, so does the hunger for recognition, immortality through name remembered over the ages, and well, copyright increase with the originator.

After all, it is no small deal to be quoted in various forums. Gone are the days when you would say a line as ‘words of wisdom’ to your fellow and they would be quoted once and again, till your benign spirit would look down with pride when someone would causally say “all that glitters is not gold”.

In today’s world we want all our hard work to be attributed to us. It is necessary that the one line that you casually mentioned someplace is substantiated, and after doing all that hard work of proving that it is true, and not a wild whim of yours, you are remembered for it.


Similarly, till you as a consumer know that a famous person (famous by virtue of you quoting him) proved that ‘if anything has to go wrong, it will’, your sentence bearing this phrase will not be taken with as much empathy and graveness.


Who would Murphy be if he did not prove and give examples for his “law”? Where would the law be were it not substantiated with a name like Major Edward A. Murphy, Jr.?

Peter may be in HR, and Pareto might have done a lot of good work, but they will be remembered by their principles and laws.

As much as we need adages, we need backups for them. Someone to hold responsible for the scenarios and sentences. In this world of pointing fingers, no one wants a finger pointed at them unless in admiration. And that is when you slog away a substantial part of your life in creating an adage, hoping to be popular, and most importantly, innovative.

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