Date: Sat, 9 Sep 1995 23:52:43 EDT


Subject: Re: contempt vs. content

Sylvia Swift writes:

i've heard only the contempt version in my WY RI OR CA life, and assumed

(before i read about the helsinki paper) that it was a joking version

along the lines of "abcess makes the heart grow fonder." out of

curiousity, i checked _bartlett's familiar quotations_, where most of the

stuff i used to think my mom made up turns out to be. there are no

content cites, four for contempt:

publius syrius, maxim 640

aesop, "the fox and the lion"

shakespeare, _the merry wives of windsor_, act i, scene i, line 258

cervantes, _don quixote_

Now wait just a minute, here. Shakespeare, OK. But I'm prepared to wager

that not a single one of his mates--Publius Syrius, Aesop, Cervantes--wrote or

said "Familiarity breeds contempt". Since we're talking about the sentence

and not the proposition--I take it that both sides of the coin are sentiments

widely attested and indeed registered elsewhere in adages, as I mentioned in

my earlier note ("Absence makes the heart grow fonder" vs. "Out of sight, out

of mind")--the fact that Publius Syrius, Aesop or Cervantes might have written

something in Latin, Greek, or Spanish that translates as "Familiarity breeds

contempt" doesn't strike me as compelling evidence. I'm willing to grant that

when people mention familiarity breeding something, it's usually contempt

(or, as Mark Twain noted, children), but I'm still not sure whether the

occurrence of 'content' (and that's conTENT, not CONtent, except to make a

point) in this frame is an instance of a "pullet surprise" or simply a

variant. It doesn't appear to be a geographical variant, in any case; nor is

it (necessarily) a joke.