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Don't Watch that Pot—Unveil the Origin of an Old Phrase

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Hey, Eager Summer Camp Fans!

Eagerly awaiting the transformation of plain white fabric into explosive tie-dye masterpieces, the campers’ were thrilled after stirring their dye and dipping their shirts in color. But after bagging their shirts and placing them out in the warmth of the afternoon sun. The dye requires 24 hours to allow all the colors to truly bond with the fabric. While the kids didn’t want to walk away from their project, their counselor reminded them all, “A watched pot never boils, campers!”

Every hear someone say a watched pot never boils? Ever wonder where this phrase comes from?

This commonly known phrase captures the universal truth that time can really seem to slow down when we're eagerly awaiting for something to happen. But where did this age-old adage originate, and why does it still ring true today?

The origins of ‘a watched pot never boils’ can be traced back to the mid-1700s, attributed to none other than the famed founding father, Benjamin Franklin. While the phrase itself doesn't appear in Franklin's famous Poor Richard's Almanack, he did allude to it in his esoteric writings, stating that "a watched pot is slow to boil." Though Franklin may not have coined the exact phrase, his reference to it solidified its place in our lexicon.

Over the centuries, the saying has become a fixture in everyday conversation, popping up everywhere to remind us that patience is a virtue, and that sometimes, the best course of action is to step back and let things unfold naturally.

So, the next time you find yourself anxiously waiting for that pot to boil, take a cue from the wisdom of one of our founding fathers and embrace the moment. After all, as Franklin himself once said, "He that can have patience can have what he will." Until next time, Camp Folks. Thanks for reading and, as always, Happy Camping!


- John

What 'Spill the Beans' Means

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Hey, Language Lovers!

Have you ever spilled the beans before? It's not something you want to do at summer camp or anywhere really. This seemingly simple phrase, used when someone accidentally blurts out a well-kept secret, easily rolls off the tongue. But have you ever wondered why we say it to mean that somebody let something slip? Let’s delve into the interesting history behind the saying 'Spill the Beans' and figure out why we use this peculiar phrase.

You don't want to spill the beans at summer camp or anywhere.

Ancient Greek Voting Beans

Back in ancient Greece, beans were used as a voting tool so voters could remain anonymous. White beans represented positive votes, while black beans, were negative ones. The votes were all hush-hush--the results locked away in a container. If someone knocked over the container, the votes would be seen early and give away the results. The person responsible was said to have ‘spilled the beans’.

Stevens Point Journal Drop

Now, let's fast-forward to the early 20th century in the United States. We can spot an early example of this phrase being printed in a June 1908 issue of The Stevens Point Journal. In that context, it meant something like "upset the applecart" or "spoil the beans," a nod to ancient Greece's voting system.

Van Wert Daily Bulletin Reinforces

Then, another instance in October 1911, The Van Wert Daily Bulletin provided another instance of this saying being used. Here, the phrase started to imply "upsetting a previously stable situation by talking out of turn,"—that’s pretty much how we use it today.

It was just a few months back that I wrote a Blog post about the origin of the phrase “Let the Cat Out of the Bag”—very similar to today’s “spill the beans” saying. Learn where that phrase came from by clicking here. And next time you find yourself inadvertently sharing a secret or ‘spilling the beans,’ think back to those ancient Greeks and their voting legumes. Thanks for reading, Camp Folks! And, as always, Happy Camping!


- John

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But You Can't Make it Drink

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Hey, Camp Folks!

The camper peered down from the zip line launch platform—the ground appearing impossibly far away. Courage wavered. Despite clear instructions from the cabin leader and reassurance of the safety and exhilaration, the child stepped back down. Understanding of the apprehension, the cabin leader gently told the camper that the choice to jump or not was all theirs.

The camper made the decision not to jump that day, which was fine. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink!

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

This saying is rather old. It was something people said more than 800 years ago! It basically means that you can show someone an opportunity or offer to help, but you can't force anything on anybody.

Now, the credit for this saying often goes to a cool medieval English poet named John Heywood. In 1546, he wrote it down in a book called "A Dialogue Containing the Number in Effect of All the Proverbs in the English Tongue." Catchy title, huh? In his book, it went like this: "Hurt not the horse, the more he is sought, the better he will be."

So what the heck does THAT mean?!

The idea here was simply that the horse's condition would naturally improve with proper care. However, the phrase later on evolved with the addition of the crucial second part: "but you can't make it drink." This second half emphasizes that even if you offer an opportunity, you cannot make a horse take advantage of it. People started using this phrase for matters outside the realm of horse care, applying to other people more than anything else.

Nowadays, this saying is used all the time to remind folks that while you can offer help or choices, you can't make anyone do something they don't want to do. So, when your little one heads off to summer camp, remember this saying and let them make the most of their adventure at their own pace!

Tune in next month when we dissect another famous saying, ‘Spill the Beans’. Thanks for reading, Folks. And, as always, Happy Camping!


- John

The Origins of a Skeptical Saying

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Take everything you hear with a grain of salt.

Trading secrets and stories with your friends around a crackling campfire at summer camp the night before the camp talent show, someone leans in with a mischievous grin and shares a juicy piece of gossip. "I heard they're bringing in a world-famous magician for the show tomorrow night!" Your friends are excited from the news that night as you walk back to your cabin, but you wisely advise everyone to "Take that with a grain of salt."

We've all been in situations where we’re right to be skeptical and the phrase "take it with a grain of salt" comes in handy. It's a signal to approach information with caution, acknowledging that what we hear might not be accurate. It encourages you not to simply accept what you heard and hold back some reservation.

But have you ever wondered where this curious expression comes from?

Unveiling Its Origins

Just a pinch of salt for everything you hear.

Although "take it with a grain of salt" has been a common expression in the English language for centuries, its origins remain somewhat mysterious. Some linguistic historians trace it back to around 77 AD, attributing it to the Italian author and philosopher Pliny the Elder.

According to this theory, Pliny used the phrase while translating an antidote for poison from an ancient text. He mentioned, "be taken fasting, plus a grain of salt." This usage implied a cautionary approach to the antidote, advising not to place full faith in it.

Another theory suggests that the expression is relatively new, emerging in the 20th century. Interestingly, the phrase has undergone a minor variation in some parts of the world, with "take it with a pinch of salt" meaning essentially the same thing.

In either case, the essence of the phrase remains unchanged. "Take it with a grain of salt" is a timeless reminder that not everything we hear should be taken at face value. It encourages a thoughtful and cautious approach to information, reminding us that skepticism can be a valuable tool in navigating the sea of facts, rumors, and gossip that surround us.

So, the next time someone shares an incredible story or a mind-boggling fact, remember to take it with a grain of salt. After all, a little skepticism can go a long way in discerning truth from fiction, both around the campfire and in our everyday lives. Thanks for reading and, as always, Happy Camping!


- John



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Hey, Camp People!

Amidst weeks of prepping and secret planning—your friend's surprise birthday party just around the corner—you can’t believe your own slip of the tongue when they ask you what you’re doing this weekend and you respond without thinking twice, “I’ll be at your party!”

You blurt it out...and then watch as their eyes widen in slow motion as you both come to the realization that this ‘surprise’ is no longer a secret. How did this happen? You just let the cat out of the bag.

But what's the origin of this curious phrase? Why do we use this saying when we accidentally reveal a secret? To find the answer, we journey back to a time when the marketplace was bustling with activity and cunning vendors.

Back in the day, livestock was bought and sold at the marketplace and there were many crafty traders who would trick their customers in order to make a dishonest sale. Someone purchasing a pig, for example, would get home to discover the pig they were supposed to have acquired had been swapped with a less valuable animal—frequently a cat.

As the unsuspecting buyer would open the bag and watch as a feline surprise would reveal itself, they would be—in a rather literal sense—letting the cat out of the bag. Thus, this phrase became synonymous with the act of accidentally revealing a hidden secret or truth.

In essence, whether you're navigating the labyrinth of secrets or sharing stories around the fire at summer camp, the origins of age-old phrases like these add an extra layer of depth and curiosity to our language. So, the next time you find yourself in a situation where you unintentionally reveal sensitive information, remember the story of the sneaky vendor and the bagged cat and let this phrase serve as a whimsical reminder of the consequences that come with revealing a secret out of turn.

Check back in when we return for another Adage Origin Blog post in February when we’ll take a look at our next phrase. Thanks for reading and, as always, Happy Camping!


- John