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Blood ... turnip

Posted by R. Berg on January 07, 2007

In Reply to: You can't get blood out of a turnip posted by ESC on January 07, 2007

: : Could this phrase come from the story in the Bible about Cain and Abel in Genesis 4? "Abel kept flocks (a shepherd/rancher), and Cain worked the soil (a farmer). In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from from some of the firstborn of his flock (a meat offering requiring bloodshed). The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor." (NIV)
: : In the Old Testament God required a blood offering for sin. Hence, you can't get blood out of a turnip.

: Could be.

: YOU CAN'T GET BLOOD OUT OF A STONE - "The stone here is a metaphor for a person who simply does not have (or would never give up) what is being sought - usually money. Over the centuries, various objects, such as a stone, a turnip, and even a wall, have been used in versions of the saying. The earliest known rendering, which appeared in John Lydgate's 'Minor Poems' (c 1435), mentioned marble - 'Harde to likke hony (honey) out of a marbil stoon.'.Charles Dickens first rendered the saying as 'Blood cannot be obtained from a stone,' in 'David Copperfield' and then recorded the exact wording of the modern version in 'Our Mutual Friend' ." 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).

: Another reference says "blood from a turnip" was used by Frederick Marryat, "apparently borrowing an expression from folklore," in "Japhet in Search of a Father" in 1836: There's no getting blood out of a turnip." The Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985). Page 28.

The use of honey (instead of blood) and stone and marble (instead of a turnip) in earlier versions of this saying makes a biblical origin unlikely. The Bible was known--indeed, widespread--in Europe at those times in history, and the images in the saying didn't match elements in the story of Cain's and Abel's offerings. ~rb