Rob (chiroho) wrote in fandom_grammar,

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Say What?: Absence makes the heart grow fonder / Out of sight, out of mind

Before I go any further, I’m sure you’ve noticed that this is a completely new type of post for us here at fandom_grammar. This new content is called “Say What?” and will explore the origins and meanings of colloquial expressions and proverbs. In order to make it more interesting for you, our readers, the posts will pair expressions that either have similar or opposite meanings. So now that you understand what the post is about, on with the show.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

The first proverb in our pair is “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. This proverb suggests that the lack of something increases our desire for it. While this could be interpreted to be related to wanting something you can’t have, that isn’t quite the intent suggested. This connection with love can be seen in the earliest form of the proverb, which is found in a piece called Elegies, written by the Roman poet Sextus Propertius (first century BCE):

Always towards absent lovers love’s tide stronger flows.

As is evident from the language, the proverb is more oriented towards love and lovers than a simple desire for something we don’t have. However, while the example from Propertius involves lovers, it’s also possible for the proverb to apply to something inanimate. This love of something other than a person is demonstrated in the nineteenth century song “Isle of Beauty” by Thomas Bayly, which popularised the modern wording of the proverb:

Absence makes the heart grow fonder,
Isle of Beauty, fare thee well!

In this song, Bayly is saying that his absence from the “Isle of Beauty” will increase his fondness for it. This is something many of us have personal experience with, particularly if we live a long way from where we grew up -- our memories of the places and people we visited as children and young adults often becomes more nostalgic over time. So it’s something of a shock to go back and visit our childhood home and discover that the reality of the place doesn’t always match our fond memories. But it is a good example of what this proverb means and how it can potentially be used:

Ziva tried to protect her camera from the pouring rain as she photographed the crime scene. “Sometimes I really miss Israel!”
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder, eh, Ziva?” Tony said, smiling as he walked past.

So your characters should use this proverb when trying to communicate that they miss something more when they are absent, or distant, from it.

Out of sight, out of mind

Our second proverb could be said to "oppose" our first in some ways, and communicates the idea that something is easily forgotten if we can no longer see it. However, this proverb doesn't directly mention any sort of feeling, and can be used in a broader range of situations because of that fact. And because both proverbs refer to things or people that are absent, they are perhaps more similar than they are opposite. That's certainly something worth considering when you take a deeper look at what they represent.

The first known printed reference to "out of sight, out of mind" is from John Heywood’s 1562 Workes: A dialogue containing proverbs and epigrams, though its roots go back to the thirteenth century. As with our first proverb, this proverb can apply to people as well as things. For example, we’re quite likely to forget a deadline unless some sort of reminder is staring us in the face. (Fortunately, I seem to be on time for this one!)

Kate's mouth dropped open in shock as Tony made a beeline to the attractive blonde on the other side of the café. "I thought Tony was dating Tiffany this week."
"Out of sight, out of mind," Tim responded sagely.

We also get the impression that, as long as Gibbs isn't around, the stack of reports waiting to be completed on the filing cabinet behind Tony's desk is similarly "out of mind" because it's literally behind his back. And that's how this proverb should be used -- to describe a situation in which a character forgets something simply because they can no longer see it, just as Tony focuses on the most attractive woman in the room no matter whom he's standing next to.

A Compromise?

Both of these proverbs have an element of truth to them, but perhaps aren't true all the time. Something which seems to find an acceptable compromise between the two is attributed to the Comte de Bussy-Rabutin, who wrote:

Absence is to love what wind is to fire,
It extinguishes the small, it kindles the great.

Which describes much more accurately the fact that if we truly love something, our being absent from it will definitely increase our love for it, but that if what we had was more of a crush, our fondness will fade as distance increases. I realise that's a bit maudlin for an ending, but we're discussing proverbs about love for crying out loud! What exactly did you expect? =D

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first foray into proverbs and sayings, and learned something about the two proverbs in question. You’ll be seeing more “Say What?” posts every other Friday, so there is plenty to look forward to.

Taggert, Caroline (2011), An Apple A Day. Readers Digest.
The Phrase Finder
Tags: author:chiroho, language:colloquial, language:old-fashioned

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