Remember You Are Half Water. If You Can’t Go Through an Obstacle, Go Around It

Creator: Margaret Atwood, prominent Canadian novelist and essayist

Context: Atwood’s 2005 novella “The Penelopiad” re-envisioned the myth of Odysseus by re-centering the tale on Penelope who was the wife of the ancient hero. Penelope’s father was King Icarius of Sparta, and her mother was a Naiad, i.e., a water nymph. Commenting on her partially divine status, Penelope stated: 1

Water is our element, it is our birthright. Although we are not such good swimmers as our mothers, we do have a way of floating, and we’re well connected among the fish and seabirds.

Penelope’s mother attended her wedding and delivered a short speech which her daughter described as “nothing if not oblique; but then, all Naiads are oblique”. The address included the following. Emphasis added to excerpts: 2

Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.

A substantial fraction of the human body consists of water; estimates vary from 50 to 70 percent depending on age, gender, and measurement technique. Yet, Atwood was probably referring to the parentage of Penelope and not to the scientific evaluation of H2O in body tissue.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Linda Carson who pointed to a sequence of tweets one of which mentioned a water bottle in London displaying the quotation.

Image Notes: John William Waterhouse’s painting of a Naiad and Hylas. Image has been cropped and resized.

Notes:

  1. 2005 Copyright, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood, Chapter 3: My Childhood, Quote Page 9, Canongate, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 2005 Copyright, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood, Chapter 7: The Scar, Quote Page 43, Canongate, New York. (Verified with scans)

Life Is a Sexually Transmitted Terminal Disease

Margaret Atwood? Posy Simmonds? Guy Bellamy? Marilyn Duckworth? R. D. Laing? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following quotation may be morbid, but I still consider it cleverly humorous:

Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease.

Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Tracing this statement is difficult because it emerged from a family of related sayings. Here is a summary snapshot showing quotations with dates:

1656: Life is an Incurable Disease. —Abraham Cowley
1943: Some people think of life as a fatal disease. —Francis T. Cunningham
1968: Life is a hereditary disease. —Anonymous Graffito
1971: Life is a terminal disease. —Anonymous Graffito
1980: Life is a sexually transmitted disease. —Anonymous Graffito
1981: Life is just another sexually transmitted social disease. —Margaret Atwood
1982: Life is a sexually transmitted disease. — attributed to Posy Simmonds
1982: Life is a sexually transmitted disease. —Guy Bellamy
1984: Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease. —Marilyn Duckworth
1985: Life is a sexually transmitted disease & there’s a 100% mortality rate. —R. D. Laing

The prominent New Zealand author Marilyn Duckworth combined expressions about transmission and mortality to yield the target quotation by 1984.

Below are selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading Life Is a Sexually Transmitted Terminal Disease