[Ads-l] Adage: It is the victor who writes the history (and counts the dead) 1889

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Nov 30 00:45:36 UTC 2019

Follow-up: Slate published a piece about “History is written by the
victors”. I am acknowledged, and so is Fred. Kudos to the author for
covering this complex topic.

Date: Nov. 26, 2019
Website; Slate
Article: The History of “History Is Written by the Victors”
Author: Matthew Phelan


On Fri, Nov 8, 2019 at 8:42 PM ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> Fred Shapiro just posted about "Murphy's Law", and his note
> highlighted a difficulty in tracing the origin of adages. When does a
> statement refer to a specific circumstance? When does a statement
> present a general principle?
> A journalist at Slate contacted me recently about the adage: History
> is written by the victors.
> "The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs" has citations beginning in 1903:
> [Begin excerpt]
> 1903 Clement A. Evans, “Introduction,” History of the Doles-Cook
> Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia, C.S.A., by Henry W. Thomas
> (Atlanta: Franklin) ix: “It is an old saying, that the victor writes
> the history of a struggle. . . . Lands overrun by conquerors have been
> blighted, their resistance defamed and their heroes maligned in story.
> . . .”
> [End excerpt]
> Here is an 1889 citation that I think presents the adage in English
> with the implication of general applicability:
> [ref] 1889 (Reprint 1892), Charles George Gordon by Colonel Sir
> William F. Butler, Series: English Men of Action, Chapter 1: The Name
> and the Clan, Quote Page 6, Macmillan and Company, London. (Google
> Books Full View) [/ref]
> https://books.google.com/books?id=i6dCAAAAYAAJ&q=%22victor+who%22#v=snippet&
> [Begin excerpt]
> How many Gordons perished in the butcheries and the burnings that
> followed the defeat of the clans at Culloden will never be known: it
> is the victor who writes the history and counts the dead, and to the
> vanquished in such a struggle there only remains the dull memory of an
> unnumbered and unwritten sorrow.
> [End excerpt]
> There are earlier instances, but it is not clear to me whether they
> are presented as general assertions.There are versions of the saying
> in English, French, Italian, and German.
> Way back in 2009 I initiated a discussion thread with a 1919 citation.
> (The 1889 citation I just gave is superior.)
> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2009-December/thread.html#94767
> There were several valuable replies. Here were two:
> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2009-December/094774.html
> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2009-December/094857.html
> But most of the early instances in these messages do not seem to
> contain the adage in general form.
> Garson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list