Posted by Bob on January 14, 2005
In Reply to: Buridan's A s s / Hobson's Horse posted by SR on January 13, 2005
: : : : : : : : Please could anyone let me know what the meaning is behind the saying "sitting on the fence".
: : : : : : : Neither in one camp nor the other. Taking the middle position.
: : : : : : : DFG
: : : : : : This is from an archived response by ESC.
: : : : : : ON THE FENCE - "undecided, unwilling to take a position, straddling.The term blossomed in 1828 and was probably in use before that.Carl Schurz, insisting on political independence, described his position (according to James Blaine) 'as that of a man sitting on a fence, with clean boots, watching carefully which way he may leap to keep out of the mud.'." From "Safire's New Political Dictionary" by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993).
: : : : : : SR
: : : : : Such people were playfully called "mugwumps" in 19th C. American politics, because they rode the fence with their mug on one side, and their "wump" on the other.
: : : : Buridan's ass's problem reminds me of fence sitters. Buridan's a s s starved to death since the distance between him and two bales of hay was the same. So he starved to death since he had no good reason to move to one of the bales rather than the other.
: : : Mugwumps are sometimes described as Bob has done, but as birds, which fly backwards to see where they've been. SS
: : When I was 14, a teacher said to our class, "the more difficult a decsion between two choices, the less it matters which you choose." I found that stunning (at 14) and the whole class erupted in a debate that lasted some considerable time. I still think it's a great provocative concept.
: What a wonderful proposal for young minds, or old minds for that matter. A choice more preferable than Hobson's? See archived 'Hobson's Choice.'
Yes, all credit to Miss Tompkins, 8th grade teacher, Minnie S. Graham Elementary School, Mt. Vernon, New York, 1957. Wherever you are, Miss T, I'm still thinking about it.