Thursday, February 10, 2011

There's none so blind...

"There's none so blind as they that won't see."
-Jonathan Swift
Speaking of things that I don't know, for yesterday's post on the Dunning-Kruger effect I wanted to use the quote above about "none so blind...", but who said it? I thought it was biblical and it is, sort of.
Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not. - Jeremiah 5:21
Close but no cigar. This could be interpreted as "those who fail to see" whereas the quote at top has more punch by stressing the refusal to see. Google pointed me to that credited "Englishman, John Heywood, in 1546" who was paraphrasing Jeremiah 5:21.

Who the heck is John Heywood???  So I googled him and discovered he was a  playwright born 70 years before Shakespeare. Heywood is credited with creating (or popularizing) many famous English Proverbs.

*Would ye both eat your cake and have your cake? (which became having your cake and eating it too)

*Better one byrde in hand than ten in the wood.

*When all candles be out, all cats be gray.

*I pray thee let me and my fellow have A hair of the dog that bit us last night.

*Went in at the one eare and out at the other.

*By hooke or crooke.

And so on. See  and  for more of Heywood's proverbs.  Amazing that one man could have so many famous quotes! This was a knowledge gap I was completely unaware of.

Now back to my quest for THE source of the quote. Neither of the quote lists above included "none so blind." Was wrong? No, a different site on,, gives a history of the quote and how it changed over the centuries.
Who is so deafe, or so blynde, as is hee, That wilfully will nother here nor see.
[1546 J. Heywood Dialogue of Proverbs ii. ix. K4]
This is Heywood and captures the idea I wanted but still sounds a bit odd to my ears. So I picked a version from two centuries later:
You know, there's none so blind as they that won't see.
[1738 Swift Polite Conversation iii. 191]
Bottom Line

While investigating a single quote I learned:
1. The wording of "well-known" proverbs changes over time
2. The author of a proverb can be hard to pin down - who get's the credit when there are many versions of the proverb?
3. Few today read the plays of John Heywood but his lines have become part of our language.

I love the Internet; instant facts at one's finger tips. Just be careful about the quality of the "facts".



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