doing stupid

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jul 1 18:10:27 UTC 2009

At 1:58 PM -0400 7/1/09, Alison Murie wrote:
>On Jul 1, 2009, at 11:08 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>>Subject:      Re: doing stupid
>>At 10:57 AM -0400 7/1/09, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>>>At 7/1/2009 10:40 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>>>>the older
>>>>"Handsome is as handsome does" (somehow that one sounds as though it
>>>>belongs in the mouth of one of Jane Austen's unsympathetic snippy
>>>>minor female characters),
>>>Does Larry know how fortunate he is that he did not address this to
>>>the "Long Eighteenth Century" email list -- where Jane Austen is the
>>>second most popular subject?  (I leave unsaid the first.)
>>Why fortunate?  She specialized in such characters, along with
>>equally unsympathetic and oblivious but usually more overbearing
>>minor male characters, than whom the sympathetic female and male
>>characters are far superior morally, intellectually, and in every
>>other way (except sometimes in the purse).
>I agree about the sympathetic & unsympathetic characters, in JA, but I
>do not associate
>"handsome is as handsome does"  with any of her people.  Is it really
>found that early?
>I think  of it as later  XIX  early XX Cent. Dickens, maybe; Mary
>Poppins probably said it, or at least someone in that
>(It was an expression peculiarly annoying to my kids, even the two who
>went to school in England,
>as utterly incomprehensible; so much so that it became a sort of
>family joke.)  I can remember
>  being puzzled by it as a kid, until the significance of "as" dawned
>on me.
According to yahoo answers:

'Pretty is as pretty does' is the Americanization of the English
proverb "Handsome is as handsome does' taken to mean that "Physical
beauty isn't important; good behavior is." (Personally, I take it to
mean you are only as beautiful/handsome/pretty as your deeds.. Think
Naomi Campbell for instance...)

The proverb was first recorded in Chaucer's 'The Wife of Bath's Tale'
(c. 1387). In 1766, in the preface to 'The Vicar of Wakefield,'
Oliver Goldsmith wrote: 'Handsome is that handsome does.'
First attested in the United States in 'Journal of a Lady of Quality'
(1774). The saying is found in varying forms, including 'Beauty is as
beauty does'."

So in fact predating Austen in one form or another, but perhaps not
uttered by any of her characters (although thought by several).  I'm
sure someone on the list can enlighten us further.


The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list