The power of words

January 27, 2009

I first posted my last entry with the title, “Sink or Swim.”

Then I decided to look up the origin of the expression on

This expression alludes to the former barbaric practice of throwing a suspected witch into deep water, often weighted down. In case of sinking, the victim died; in case of swimming, the victim was considered in league with the devil and therefore was executed. A related idiom, float or sink, was used by Chaucer in the late 1300s; Shakespeare had the current form in 1 Henry IV (1:3): “Or sink or swim.”

As a woman who created a nonprofit with a board of women to help educate and uplift women, I believe the expression is as barbaric as its origins. It conjures a practice and a treatment of women that has no place in a humane world.


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