Proverbially Speaking genre: He Said, She Said

“Proverbially Speaking" is a recurring posting here at Thought Theater. The intention of the category “He Said, She Said" is to present sayings, proverbs, and quotations that provoke thought. From time to time, I will try to relate them to current events. Having grown up in an Italian family with immigrant grandparents, I had the fortune, over the years, to learn numerous sayings that had been translated from Italian into English. I’ve long been fascinated by such sayings and proverbs and particularly the lessons they seek to impart. You’re encouraged to comment on the ones presented as well as add your own sayings, proverbs, and quotations for discussion.

Today's proverb has been used for centuries and many countries claim it to be their own. There are minor derivations that result from the particular language of any given country. According to Professor Mieder, the fish-rot proverb dates back to 1674, when it appeared in a treatise called "An Account of the Voyage to New England." Today the saying exists in an estimated 36 European languages. "The proverb is based on the fact that fish do begin to spoil at the head," explains Mieder. "As a figure of speech, it means that any problem in an organization can be traced back to the boss."

It seemed to be an appropriate proverb given the current record low poll numbers for President Bush as well as the many personnel issues that seem to plague this second term. The wisdom of the proverb would infer that the problems of this administration can be traced back to President Bush, the "head". On a lighter note, I would guess that many feel this is a two headed fish; the second one being Vice President Cheney. Regardless, it seems that much of the problem stems from an arrogance rooted in an ideology of absolute thinking that is not inclined to listen to opposing thoughts and ideas.

The following are two versions of the proverb. The first one is the most quoted and the second one is the way I first heard it in my Italian family.

When a fish rots, it starts from the head.

When a fish goes bad, it starts in the head.

Daniel DiRito | May 15, 2006 | 6:49 AM
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