★ (achacunsagloire) wrote in fandom_grammar,


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Say What?: "You've made your bed, so you must lie in it" and "In for a penny, in for a pound."

Greetings and salutations, my fellow guilty parties. Today, we’re going to look at two proverbs that advise their readers and listeners to take responsibility for the unfortunate circumstances into which they’ve gotten themselves: “you’ve made your bed, so you must lie in it” and “in for a penny, in for a pound.”

“You’ve made your bed, so you must lie in it”

Beds are usually nice, comfy pieces of furniture on which one might take a restful afternoon nap, but apparently not in sixteenth-century France. “You’ve made your bed…” first appeared around 1590 as the Middle French proverb “comme on faist son lict, on le treuve” (“As one makes his/her bed, one finds it.”)

Sometime in the fifty years that followed, the proverb found its way over the English Channel to the United Kingdom. In 1640, it appeared in English poet and clergyman George Herbert’s collection of proverbs, Outlandish Proverbs (republished eleven years later under the title Jacula Prudentum). It also found its way into Scotsman James Kelly’s own collection of proverbs, 1721’s A Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs.

The next time the proverb appeared was in American writer Joseph Crosby Lincoln’s 1908 novel, Cy Whittaker’s Place, which marked its debut in American texts. Since then, "You've made your bed..." has become a widely-used phrase around the world and now appears in a variety of different forms, such as “you’ve made your bed, now sleep in it” and “you’ve buttered your bread, now eat it.”

But regardless of the form, the meaning of the original proverb still applies: you must accept responsibility for the misfortunes you bring upon yourself.

An example from Silent Hill:

James watched as Angela picked the bloody knife up off the floor. “Your father did awful things to you, but did you really have to kill him?” he asked.

“My mama always told me I deserved the things he did to me; 'you made your bed, so now you have to lie in it,' is what she’d say,” Angela replied, staring down at the knife in her hands. “Well, he made his bed—now he’s lying in it.”

“In for a penny, in for a pound”

This English proverb dates back to the 1600s, nearly two and a half centuries before the decimalization of the pound in 1971. Prior to the decimalization, there were three basic units of currency in Great Britain: the pound, the shilling, and the penny. Twenty shillings made one pound, and twelve pennies made one shilling—meaning that one would need 240 pennies (“pence”) to make one pound. Given the large amount of pence required to make one pound and the poverty that ran rampant during the 1600s, you can imagine how valuable a pound—or any piece of money—was back then, especially to a poor person.  If someone wanted to invest any amount of money in a particular project or activity, he or she needed to make sure that that project or activity was worth the money required to partake in it or else he or she would be wasting precious resources.  The person investing in the project or activity also had a responsibility to see it through to the end even if it ended up costing him or her more than he or she anticipated, because pulling out of a project or activity in which he or she has already invested money would still mean wasting precious resources.

The first textual instance of the proverb came in 1895, when the Savoy opera team Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert published the political satire Iolanthe, in which one character, the Lord Chancellor, attempts to woo his ward, a girl named Phyllis.  In one scene, a chorus of sympathizers advise the Lord Chancellor to pursue Phyllis, telling him:

Never, never, never, Faint heart never won fair lady!
Nothing venture, nothing win--
Blood is thick, but water's thin--
In for a penny, in for a pound--
It's Love that makes the world go round!

The use of the proverb in this context implies that, by that point, the meaning of "In for a penny..." had expanded to include all sorts of projects and activities, not just financial ones.

Today, there are only two basic units of currency in Britain, the pound and the penny (although some still use older terms such as “shilling” as slang names for certain amounts of pounds and pence), and only 100 pence are required to make one pound. "In for a penny..." has become a widely-used phrase around the world and has inspired a few variations of itself, the most notable of which is the American "In for a dime, in for a dollar."

Although a pound is now made of fewer pence and the meaning of the proverb has expanded beyond a financial context, it still retains its original warning to anyone interested in investing his or her time, money, and energy in something: you have a responsibility to finish that which you start, even if it demands more from you than you were willing to invest in it.

Another example from Silent Hill:

"It wasn't supposed to be this way, you know," said Dr. Kaufmann as he stared down at the floor.  "All I wanted to do was practice medicine in a quiet setting.  Then Norman approached me with this proposition of us peddling his 'wonder drug' on the sly. 'Those crazy cult people are into it,' he said. 'We'll make a killing, Mike!' he said.  And before I knew it, I was harboring the girl that those people impregnated with their god in the basement of my hospital and bribing my staff into silence by getting 'em hooked on the dope and threatening to withhold it--all because I decided to take Norman up on his offer."  He looked up at Harry and gave a humorless laugh.  "In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess."

I hope this tough-love session wasn't too tough on you, fellow guilty parties, and that you leave this entry with a clearer understanding of how you can lighten the heavy guilt on your backs.  If not, you might have to content yourselves with lying on the living room couch with a considerably smaller amount of pence in your pocket.

- Cambridge Dictionaries Online
- George Herbert and Bemerton
- The Phrase Finder
- Project Britain
- A Way With Words

Tags: !say what, author:achacunsagloire, language:colloquial, language:word origins

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