Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Things I learned from playing Civ4 - part two of an occasional series

"If you speak the truth, have a foot in the stirrup." - Turkish Proverb

This is often misinterpreted as meaning that if you are going to tell someone a home truth, then it is best to be ready for a swift get-away. But I'd like to unpack it a little further and share the fruits of my research...

Ten years before writing the liberal loveliness that is "The West Wing", Aaron Sorkin wrote the play (later made into a film) 'A Few Good Men', including the famous dialogue:
Tom Cruise: I want the truth!
Jack Nicholson: You can't handle the truth!
Nicholson (or his character - I forget which) then shouts a lot, seeming to forget that despite other faults, Tom Cruise isn't actually deaf. As an aside, Cruise said in a recent interview, "When I was about seven, I had been labeled dyslexic", and claimed that Scientology cured him of that. Presumably they replaced the "dyslexic" label with the "gullible" one... Ithankyou.

Anyway, Sorkin is clearly suggesting here that mere hands are incapable of grasping such a fundamental substance as "truth".

An earlier version of the proverb continues: '...and shout!'. The meaning of this becomes clearer when one recalls that the stirrup (or stapes) is a small bone in the middle ear, that connects the chochlea to the eardrum, via the anvil and hammer (or incus and malleus respectively, in posh). Clearly, if you have your foot inside someone's middle ear, then you are going to have to shout in order to make yourself heard when speaking the truth. On reflection, the truth or otherwise of your words are probably not of utmost import if you have your foot inside someone's ear. Moving on...

As is often the case with proverbs, this was handed down orally for many years, like a game of Chinese Whispers. But in Turkish. Further research from Turkey was needed, and it is now generally accepted that Noah's ark landed in what is now modern Turkey. Contemporary documents reveal that Noah and his extended family were big fans of dairy-based puddings, on account of spending a long time at sea with seven cows. Noah also liked a tipple, to put it midly, (Genesis 9:20-21) which combined with never getting his "land legs" back after nigh on 6 months afloat meant that he was a notoriously messy eater. (Though to be fair, he was 600 years old at this point, so probably a bit frail.) "Great walloping scraggles of nurgle!" he would shout (Milligan 6:9) as he smeared custard into his beard. "That's your ear, dad!" his son Japheth would shout. "Left a bit!" Shem would join in. "That's it!" would shout Canaan, his third and least-good son. Thus my research confirms that the original proverb was in fact:
"If the old man has some fool in his stirrup, you'll have to shout very loudly."

I hope this clears up any confusion.