A fun fact about me which many of you might not be aware of:
I love collecting quotes!
I actually keep a notebook with all these great historical quotes I come across on a day-to-day basis. I don't know why exactly, except that the words will usually resonate with me for one reason or another . . . and I guess I just want to keep them around for posterity or something.
Or it could just be that I plan to use these quotes for chapter headings in some future, yet-to-be-written, novel of mine. Although, since I write in the genre of Speculative Fiction, more than likely I'll be making up my own quotes for the make-believe universe I've created.
Anyway, yesterday I posted up on Facebook one of my favorite quotes:
"Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference."
I didn't put any context behind the quote. Nor did I mention who the quote is attributed to. That's because, there doesn't seem to be any clear answer on the matter. At least, not on the interwebs. It's usually listed as "anonymous". Which, in my opionion, usually means that it's a paraphrasing of a much older--likely ancient--saying or parable, and that no one ever bothered doing the research to clarify.
So, of course, I did the research. :)
Turns out that a lot of people mistakenly attribute this to Mark Twain, the granddaddy master of insightful sayings he never actually said. Seriously, for every one true remark uttered by the great Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, there are around 8 or 10 recorded under his name that never came out of his mouth in his lifetime. It's pretty annoying, actually, because some of them are such great quotes that I wish one man had been so euridite and sage as to have thought of them all.
But, alas, this is not so. I mean, Mark Twain was definitely witty enough to come up with these, but I believe in giving credit where credit is really due. Don't you?
So then, where did this quote come from originally? Something you should know first is that there is more than one phrasing of this same quote. The one I initially came across reads like this:
"It isn't smart to argue with a fool. Listener's can't tell which is which."
It's saying the same thing, but utilizes slightly different syntax. And it just doesn't fit the linguistic style of a writer so urbane as Mark Twain.
I thought long and hard on it, and then realized that I had indeed read this quote someplace else. At least, I should say, the basic sentiment of the quote was familiar to me. I couldn't quite place my finger on it, but I knew I'd read it somewhere recently. And that, at the same time, it dated back to long before the days of Mr. Twain.
And then it hit me! Of course -- the Bible!
Now, I should presage what I'm about to say by noting that I am by no means a religious person. I gave up on organized religion when I was very young. You can read all about it here and here, if you'd like. However, I have read the Bible. And, in fact, I'm in the very process of reading it all over again on my phone's "iBook" app currently.
So it's no wonder that, unlike many others, I was in the best place to properly identify where I think this quote originated. If I'm correct, it comes from Proverbs 26:4, which reads:
"Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him."
Oh, it should go without saying that this is the King James version. Like, duh! :) But even despite the archaic wording, I think this is pretty much saying the same thing as the quote attributed to Mark Twain. Don't you? Anyone more familiar with scripture, please feel free to enlighten me if I'm wrong.
What I think this proverb, and the original quote, are both saying is this: Don't waste your time getting caught in the circuitous logic of a fool. Stooping to his level only makes you look even more the fool to those around you.
All I can say is -- amen to that! I see this happen all the time on the subway. Someone will say something foolish to a stranger, the stranger gets mad and starts arguing back at the originator, and then the two get involved in an all-out verbal sparring match that inconveniences all the other tired riders on the train and make us all feel collectively dumber for being forced to listen to that BS.
Have you ever seen this happen around you? I bet you have!
I always loved this quote because it fits my personal attitude perfectly. I very rarely bother having arguments with foolish or stubborn people. In both cases, you're the loser in the end. You're better off just keeping quiet and letting the lesser man feel better about himself for all of 5 seconds before he walks into oncoming traffic, or meets someone even more foolish with whom to get into a fight.
In the meantime, I have my quotes to keep me happy. I have others as well . . . but perhaps that should be a blog entry for another time.