August 24, 2013

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”


THE FAMOUS POETRY QUOTE:

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” 
      
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
       English poet 
       The popular saying created by line 525 of Pope’s poem An Essay on Criticism, Part II (1711) 
      
In the original poem, as published in 1711, the line is given as “To err is humane; to forgive, divine.” This is not because Pope erred in his spelling or believed that making a mistake was a compassionate thing to do. At the time, humane was the common spelling used for the word human. 
      
An Essay on Criticism was Pope’s first major work. Although the title calls it an “essay” it’s actually written as a poem, in the rhyming heroic couplet format. “To err is human; to forgive, divine” is one of three well-known quotes from the poem. The others are “a little learning is a dangerous thing” and “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
       Pope didn’t create the phrase “to err is human.” That’s the traditional English translation of the ancient Latin proverb
“Errare humanum est.” However, by adding “to forgive, divine” he did create the longer saying that is still commonly used and adapted for both serious and humorous purposes.
       The usual meaning ascribed to Pope’s version is that every human can make a mistake, so we should forgive those that do, just as God is said to show his divine mercy in forgiving sinners. The line comes at the end of
a stanza in the poem that discusses (in an amazingly obtuse and flowery way) how writers sometimes overly praise or harshly criticize other writers.         


THE ETHICALLY-CHALLENGED POLITICIAN VARIATION:

“To err is human. To forgive is divine, but to repeat is stupid.”
       Jaime Cardinal Sin (1928-2005)
       Catholic Archbishop of Manila
       When Sin made this comment in 2002 he was referring to certain politicians in the Philippines. But it reminds me of a certain American politician sometimes known as “Carlos Danger.”


THE ETHICALLY-CHALLENGED LAWYER’S VARIATION:

“To err is human, but to get even? THAT is divine.” 
      
Alan Shore (played by actor James Spader) 
       Shore, one of the lawyer characters in the TV series
 The Practice, makes this quip in the episode “Equal Justice” (first aired December 7, 2003)


THE ETHICALLY-CHALLENGED CORPORATIONS VARIATION:

“When it comes to the scope of environmental threat, to err may be human, but to repeat the error is criminal, and to make a profit out of it is obscene.”
       Fred H. Knelman 
       British Physicist, author and founder of Scientists For Social Responsibility 
       In his book Every Life Is A Story: The Social Relations of Science, Ecology and Peace (1998)


THE COMPUTER PRINCIPLE:

“To err is human; to really foul things up requires a computer.” 
       This modern witticism is widely attributed to American biologist and author
Paul R. Ehrlich, though it doesn’t appear in his books and I could find no record of him using it in a speech or interview. 
       A
post on the authoritative Quote Investigator site notes that the earliest documented use of the saying was by Virginia newspaper columnist Bill Vaughan in 1969.


THE PETER PRINCIPLE VERSION:

“To err is human. To blame it on someone else shows management potential.”
       Sign sold by specialty retail site warkswings.com


THE BERKELEY CITY COUNCIL PRINCIPLE:

“To err is human but to really screw up it takes the Berkeley City Council.”
       Gordon Wozniak
       Berkeley, California City Council member
       Comment on the controversy over a resolution calling for the Berkeley City Council to send a letter to the U.S. Marines saying that Marine recruiters were “unwelcome intruders” in the city. Quoted
in the San Francisco Chronicle, February 14, 2008.


PROCHNOW’S PRINCIPLE:

“To err may be human, but to admit it isn’t.”
       Herbert V. Prochnow (1897-1998)
       U.S. bank executive, toastmaster and author
       In his book
1001 Ways to Improve Your Conversation & Speeches (1952)


THE CANOPHILISTS’ VIEW:

“To err is human; to forgive, canine.” 
       This saying, which dog lovers know is poignantly true, dates back to at least the mid-1800s.

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