March 10, 2016

“One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”

 Trump steaks one man's meat is another's poison


“Quod ali cibus est aliis fuat acre venenum.”
(An early Latin version of the proverb “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”)
       Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus; c. 99 B.C. - c. 55 B.C.)
       Roman poet and philosopher.
       These words from Book IV of Lucretius’ long poem explaining the Epicurean philosophy, De rerum natura (“On the Nature of Things”), are often credited as either the origin or earliest known use of the saying “One man’s meat is another man’s poison,” meaning that something that’s good for one person may be bad for another. It’s likely that Lucretius was repeating or riffing on an existing Latin proverb.
       The meat/poison version is a popularized English translation of what Lucretius wrote. A more literal translation, like that provided by William Ellery Leonard in his classic 1916 translation of De rerum natura is “...what is food to one to some becomes fierce poison.” The Latin word cibus is usually translated as food rather than as meat. The words caro and carnis are the more common Latin words for meat. Acre means sharp, intense or fierce. Venenum can be variously translated as venom, drug, bane, curse or poison.
       Thus, the English proverb could have taken many alternate forms. But it was the meat/poison version that became embedded in our language. The Oxford English Dictionary and Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs note that by 1604 the saying was already referred to as an “ould moth-eaten” English proverb. Over the centuries, the meat vs. poison template inspired countless others, including a few that have become equally proverbial, most notably “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
       Some of my own favorite adaptations are below.

Ralph Waldo Emerson 2


“One man's justice is another's injustice; one man's beauty another's ugliness; one man's wisdom another's folly as one beholds the same objects from a higher point.” 
         Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
       American essayist, poet and lecturer 
       A quote from his essay “Circles,” included in his book Essays, First Series (1841)


“One man’s constant is another man’s variable.”
         Alan J. Perlis (1922-1990)
       American computer programming pioneer and longtime Chair of Computer Science at Yale
       One of the most widely-quoted “Perlisms.” It’s included in his article
“Epigrams in Programming,” which was published in the September 1982 journal of the Association for Computing Machinery's SIGPLAN (“Special Interest Group on Programming Languages”).
       Constant and variable are terms used in computer programming. A constant is a code identifier that cannot be altered by the program during execution. A variable is an identifier for a value that can be changed as the program runs.

BODY DOUBLE Holly Does Hollywood poster


“One woman’s pornographic subjugation to male power is another woman’s erotic enthrallment.”
         Roberta Schreyer (1954-2001)

       Associate Professor of English at Potsdam State College killed in a tragic car accident in 2001
       From her essay about the controversial Brian De Palma film Body Double in the anthology Bodily Discursions: Genders, Representations, Technologies (1997).
       In Body Double, an actor (played by Craig Wasson), becomes involved in a murder mystery and a relationship with a female porn movie actress named “Holly Body” (Melanie Griffith), who stars in pornographic films like Holly Does Hollywood (a faux homage to the porn classic Debby Does Dallas).

9-11 attack story 09-12-01-NYT


“We all know that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist.”
         Stephen Jukes

       Former Global News Editor for the Reuters news agency, now a professor at Bournemouth University in the UK
       An infamous quote from a memo Jukes sent to Reuters journalists shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, telling them not to use terms like terrorist and terrorist attacks to describe what most of us would call terrorists and terrorist attacks. Jukes tried to explain the policy by adding: “We’re trying to treat everyone on a level playing field, however tragic it’s been and however awful and cataclysmic for the American people and people around the world.”
       The Reuters policy on “t” words has been widely criticized by some observers as an absurd example of political correctness and praised by others as an attempt at objective journalism. In reality, it did not turn out to be an actual ban on “t” words in Reuters articles. Many Reuters news stories use terms like terrorists, terrorist attack and acts of terrorism when they are based on things said or written by government officials or other people who are quoted or cited.

Time Enough for Love Robert Heinlein


“One man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh.”
         Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988)
       American writer best known for his science fiction stories and novels
       This is one of the many witty aphorisms of the main character in Heinlein’s novel Time Enough for Love: the Lives of Lazarus Long (1973). It’s included in the chapter titled: “INTERMISSION: Excerpts from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” just before the before the belly laugh-worthy observation: “Sex should be friendly. Otherwise stick to mechanical toys: it’s more sanitary.”

Gwen Davis book ROMANCE


“One woman’s meat is another woman’s poisson.”
         Gwen Davis

       American novelist, playwright, screenwriter, songwriter, journalist and poet
       A quip in her novel Romance (1983), using the French word for word for fish

How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog poster


“One man’s pet is another man’s peeve.”
         Poster tagline for the comedy movie How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog (2000)
       In the movie, an L.A. playwright (played by Kenneth Branagh) is plagued by a series of annoyances, including a senile mother-in-law, a wife whose biological clock is ticking, impotency, writer’s block and a neighborhood dog that barks all night.

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