July 22, 2015

“Half the world…” (vs. the other half)


“Half the world doesn’t know how the other half lives.”
(“La moitié du monde ne sait comment l’autre vit.”) 
François Rabelais (c. 1494-c. 1553)
       French satirist
       Many sources attribute the origin of this saying to its use by Rabelais in his novel Pantagruel (the first of his five Gargantua and Pantagruel novels). In the novel it is cited by the character Alcofribas as something that “is said,” clearly indicating it was already proverbial in French.
       It was also a proverbial in English by the mid-1600s. In 1640, it was recorded by the Anglican priest, poet and collector of proverbs George Herbert in his book Outlandish Proverbs (later reprinted as Jacula Prudentum) in the form: “Half the world knows not how the other half lives.”
       Initially, and throughout the centuries, the saying has generally been used to mean that people who were rich or financially secure could not understand the how hard life was for people who were poor. Photographer and journalist Jacob Riis helped embed that meaning into American culture with the publication of his classic “muckraking” book How the Other Half Lives (1890), which helped raise awareness of the deplorable living and working conditions of poor people in the slums of New York City.


“One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.” 
Jane Austen (1775-1817)
       British novelist 
       A famous line from Austen’s novel Emma (1815)
       It is often assumed and even asserted that Austen intended this quote to mean that men can’t understand how women feel or how they think about matters related to sex, love, relationships and other things that make women different from men. But in the context of its use in the novel, it seems to be a much broader generalization that is not about (or at least not just about) sexism or the differences between the sexes.
       In Volume 1, Chapter 9, Emma’s father remarks that he can’t understand why some young children enjoy having an adult toss them “up to the ceiling in a very frightful way!”
       Emma responds: “That is the case with us all, papa. One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”


“Half the world doesn’t care how the other half lives.”
Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829)
       British chemist and inventor
       A pithy quote by Davy included in The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy (1839)


“Half the world hates
What half the world does every day”
       Lyrics from the song “Half the World” by the rock band Rush
       (Band member and drummer Neil Peart wrote the lyrics.)
       On the band’s Test For Echo album (1996)


“Half the world does not know how the other half lives, but is trying to find out.”
Edgar Watson Howe (1853-1937)
       American journalist and novelist
       A quote cited in his book Country Town Sayings (1911)


“Half the world spends its time laughing at the other half, and both are fools.” 
Mr. Moto (played by a
ctor Peter Lorre)
       In the 1937 film Think Fast, Mr. Moto. (Based on the novel of the same name by Mr. Moto’s creator John P. Marquand.)

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