Saturday, March 1, 2008

How 'Bout Those Lions and Lambs?

According to the USA Today Weather Guys, the phrase “in like a lion and out like a lamb” apparently has its origins with the constellations Leo, the Lion, and Aries, the ram or lamb. It has to do with the relative positions of these constellations in the sky at the beginning and end of the month. At least two other websites, however, (“The Naturalist’s Almanac” and “The Phrase Finder”), express puzzlement at this phrase’s origin.

“No one seems to know,” they both state.

The Oxford English Dictionary website doesn’t even address the question head-on. Instead, a staff member who posts an answer to this question obfuscates the issue by addressing other “proverbial associations”, including Shakespeare’s “Beware the Ides of March”.

Right now when I look out the window, March has the appearance of a lamb. The sky is a hazy blue, and the tree branches are still. When I went outside to retrieve the newspapers earlier this morning, though, my bare legs immediately formed goosebumps. The temperature had dipped into the single digits overnight. The forecast calls for continued lamblike conditions: sunny and pleasant with a high temperature in the mid-30s. Maybe Eddie and I will be able to remove the rest of the ice from the driveway.

The above picture has more of a biblical and meteorological connotation: And the lion shall lie down with the lamb. In an effort to find the book in the Bible where this verse is found, I learned it’s a misquotation, if not a complete fabrication.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
And the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
And a little child shall lead them.
--Isaiah 11:6

I suppose if you put all of these animals together, the lion and the lamb may just end up lying down together every once in awhile. But I would bet a week’s paycheck that, when asked, a majority of Americans would agree that the verse, “And the lion shall like down with the lamb” is an exact quote from the Bible. I think it’s an indication that a large number of people don’t know, and certainly don’t understand, this anthology of stories and poems and history nearly as well as they profess to. According to a recent Gallup poll, one-third of American believe that every word in the Bible is true. (One-third!! No wonder scammers have such a large and willing audience to fleece.) My dad, a ELCA Lutheran minister, never was part of this literalist group, yet it never caused his strong faith in God to waver.

(Mom will be pleased to know that I used my 44-year-old confirmation Bible to verify the information I found on the Web. It still has some post-it notes peeking out from the pages of Genesis from the last time I used it – when I led a book discussion for The Red Tent by Anita Diamant seven or eight years ago.)