Don’t misquote me

YOU’LL OFTEN HEAR PEOPLE talking about Shooting themselves in the foot, or Gilding the lily, or proclaiming that Money is the root of all evil. These quotes are either wrong, or used incorrectly.

Shooting oneself in the foot

The phrase is most often used to suggest that someone has inadvertently committed a blunder. But that’s not at all what it means. It comes from the military, and refers to the practice of deliberately causing a wound that will get you discharged from active service. Nothing to do with making a mistake.

Gilding the lily

Why, in fact, wouldn’t you gild a lily? It’s a perfectly reasonable pastime. But it’s not what Shakespeare had in mind. This is the full quotation, from King John:

To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

What the Earl of Salisbury is saying is that it would be absurd to gild refined gold, since you wouldn’t gild something that was already golden; or to paint the lily, as there would be no point painting something that’s already beautiful.

Money is the root of all evil

Not according to the bible, it isn’t. The true quotation comes from the first book of Timothy, and reads:

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with.

It’s OK to have money, as long as you don’t make it your main preoccupation.

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