Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On Well-Known Phrases

Last night, while I was driving home, I was thinking about well-known phrases people use. Too often people have no idea where they come from. The two most common sources are, in order, the Bible and Shakespeare. In fact, if somebody is holding a gun to your head and will kill you unless you identify the source of some quotation, within three guesses, you'll want to start with the the Bible, then Shakespeare, then either Mark Twain, Will Rogers, or Yogi Berra depending on the circumstances.

Anyway, today I came across this post by Claire Berlinski articulating what she believes a college core curriculum ought to be. I disagree with some of it. For example, "English literature from Chaucer to the present" over two terms is a bit much. "Mathematics through a full year of calculus" is a waste of time unless you will be heading into some quantitative field. Although, I might be persuaded that a semester of calc should be required. "One term of physics, one of chemistry, one of biology" is at least one course too many. Overall though, I do generally agree. And, in point of fact, I have completed that entire core curriculum.

Where I do concur wholeheartedly is that "No one should graduate without being able to recognize any obvious reference to the Old and New Testaments." And "No one should graduate without being able to recognize any obvious reference to Shakespeare."


Alpheus said...

Alexander Pope isn't nearly as important as the Bible or Shakespeare, but he's got to be up there with them in the top five sources of common English phrases. I think I've read all his poetry by now, but whenever I look at him I see some expression that I forgot originated with him.

FLG said...

I might put Tennyson or Kipling above Pope.

Andrew Stevens said...

I haven't read anything like all of Pope, so I was intrigued by Alpheus's claim since I wouldn't have thought there were all that many. So here's what I've got on famous phrases that originate in Alexander Pope.

"A little learning is a dangerous thing."

"Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined."

"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast."

"The proper study of mankind is man."

"To err is human, to forgive divine." (Not original with Pope, but always quoted in English using his formulation.)

Just for those, he's probably up there with Mark Twain and Yogi Berra and ahead of Will Rogers.

william randolph brafford said...

I would love it if mathematics through a full semester of calculus were part of a core college curriculum, and I think it could be taught in such a way that it strengthens a liberal education, but the problems run way down to elementary and middle school education, not to mention the travesty of geometry as it's currently taught in high schools. Still, it blows my mind that there are supposedly educated people who don't understand the significance of the achievements of Gauss.

dance said...

I'm educated, took a semester of calculus in college (the last one offered at the 100/200 level), and don't even understand where Gauss comes into the picture.

Am drafting a post re your last paragraph, which perhaps I will finish in a year. :-) It involves things like asking how you imagine these goals would be accomplished. I love Kipling, but I can't conceivably argue all college students need to read him.

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