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Baby and bath water

Posted by Masakim on July 19, 2003

In Reply to: Baby and bath water posted by Henry on July 19, 2003

: : : Where does the expression "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water" originate?

: : From the archives:

: : A Dictionary of American Proverbs by Wolfgang Mieder, Stewart A. Kingsbury and Kelsie B. Harder (Oxford University Press, New York, 1992, Page 33). "Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Rec. dist: Fla., Miss., N.Y. 1st cit.: 1853 Carlyle, '[word removed in order to comply with Google's Publisher Policy] Question'; US 1925 Neverinson, 'More Changes. 20c. coll.: ODEP 220, CODP 225, Stevenson 112:3, Whiting (MP) 24."

: : : Sorry about the [word removed in order to comply with Google's Publisher Policy] but that's what it says. Some of the abbreviations: Rec. dist. - recorded distribution. 1st. cit. -- 1st citation. ODEP - Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs. CODP - The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs.

: : More information from Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993): "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. (Don't empty out the baby with.) A German proverb of unknown origins, it was current in German at least as early as the seventeenth century, when the astronomer Johannes Kepler included the passage, 'This is a caution.lest you throw out the baby with the bath water,' in Tertius Interveniens' . The saying apparently first appeared in English in the writings of Thomas Carlyle, who reported, 'The Germans say, 'You must empty out the bathing-tub, but not the baby along with it.' George Bernard Shaw used the proverb in the preface to 'Getting Married' , noting, 'We shall in a very literal sense empty the baby out with the bath.'"

: : Neither source has a meaning so I'll give it a go. Don't take a drastic step to solve a small problem. Don't kill a fly with a sledgehammer. If your son has a messy room but is otherwise a good kid, don't harp and carp on the subject until he totally breaks off communications.

: Do not remove a fly from your friend's forehead with a hatchet!

See Wolfgang Mieder's "'(Don't) Throw the Baby out with the Bathwater': The Americanization of a German Proverb and Proverbial Expression" at

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