chomiji: Tenpou from Saiyuki Gaiden. with the caption Not necessarily by the book (Tenpou - Not by the book)
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Anticipation, sang Carly Simon: It's keeping me waiting.

Today's Say What? features a pair of sayings that go well with Simon's famous song. We'll explore them with the help of Gansey III's crew from Maggie Stiefvater's Young Adult series, the Raven Cycle.

The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs states that the saying All things come to he who waits was recorded with a different wording as early as 1530. (To my frustration, they don't give that other wording.) It's recorded as "All things come to him who will but wait" in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn (1865). The meaning is that if one is patient long enough, an anticipated event is sure to occur:

"But…we can't go back already!" said Blue. "We haven't found anything!"

"I know it's difficult to have the day end fruitlessly, Jane." said Professor Malory, "But we must have patience. After all. 'All things come to he who waits.'"

His tone was probably meant to be soothing, thought Blue, but it came across as incredibly condescending. It didn't help that he kept using Gansey's nickname for her.

Of course, like Blue, many of us don't have much faith in this proverb!

The complete wording of our second saying is Hope springs eternal in the human breast. It is actually a bit of a specific work—Alexander Pope's Essay on Man (1732):

Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never Is, but always To be blest.

If you think about Pope's couplet, it's actually rather chilling: the implication is that although human beings always anticipate that things will turn out well, the good things for which they hope are likely to remain ever in the future: Man never is blessed, but is always to be blessed. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass: jam tomorrow, but never jam today.

Typically, though, the shortened form of the saying just acknowledges the human tendency to desire and anticipate better things:

"Knee pads," said Gansey, pulling them from his backpack. "Gloves, headlamp, rope, protein bars…."

"Anything to eat besides protein bars?" asked Ronan.

"No. Why?"

"Just hope springs eternal and all that," said Ronan. "Chainsaw doesn't like protein bars."

Another thing to note is that both sayings seem a bit old fashioned and stilted nowadays, and you should take that into account if you use them in your writing. In the first example, All things come to he who waits is all too appropriate for an elderly, fussy professor, and it's not surprising that Blue finds its use condescending. In the second example, Ronan's use of hope springs eternal is sardonic and a bit arch: protein bars might be sensible as provisions for a caving expedition, but clearly they are not any more appetizing to Ronan than they are to his raven.

Sources

  • Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs by Martin H. Manser, Facts on File Inc., 2002
  • Pope, Alexander. "An Essay on Man: Epistle I." Poetry Foundation
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