Recently, I’ve heard the term “Blood is thicker than water” more often than usual. As is always with me, my first thought was not about the conversation, but was, “Why do we say that?” and “Where did that come from?”
So, I looked it UP.
It is a German proverb (originally: Blut ist dicker als Wasser), but, since Americans steal everything from Europe, and so many of us are of German descent, it’s prevalent in English Speaking Countries, like, you know, America used to be.
It generally means that the bonds of family and common ancestry are stronger than the bonds between unrelated people (such as friendship).
The saying made it’s first appearance in a medieval German Epic, called Reinhart Fuchs or ‘Reynard the Fox’ in about 1180BC. We have Heinrich der Glichzezaere to thank for the adage. The direct English translation is actually ‘Kin-blood is not spoilt by water.’ Proving that we not only steal things, we change them just enough to make them our own.
A few centuries later, around 1412, an English priest John Lydgate wrote:”For naturally blood will be of kind / Drawn-to blood, where he may it find.’
Syntactically confusing, and a little off mark, he was trying to say the same thing.
Morphing to 1670, the modern version was included in a collection of Proverbs by John Ray, and later appeared in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Guy Mannering (1815). He of course gave it a Scottish take with “Weel — Blud’s thicker than water — she’s welcome to the cheeses.”
I have no idea what cheeses have to do with it, but…I digress.
It has appeared in many, many other writings as well, including The Family by Mario Puzo of The Godfather fame, where he says, ‘blood is thicker than holy water.”
The Pope was not amused.
Even Aldous Huxley used it.
It didn’t make it to the US until around 1821, where the maxim first appeared in a ‘Journal of Athabasca Department’, what ever that is!!
Generally the phrase means that family ties are stronger than any other type of tie.
But, is that true?
Scientifically, yes, it is. Blood is thicker than water. In pascal-seconds (Pa·s), the viscosity of blood at 37 °C is normally 3 × 10−3 to 4 × 10−3.and the dynamic viscosity of water is 8.90 × 10−4 Pa·s or 8.90 × 10−3 dyn·s/cm2 or 0.890 cP at about 25 °C. (Science not being my strong suit, and my apologies to Duane Burkholder, Gary Hamm, and every other science teacher who tried, really tried to teach me, I’m hoping one of my genius children or nephews will chime in on this and explain it to me!)
Philosophically; probably not so much. We’ve seen a recent example as much of the family of the Boston Marathon Bombers sat idly by and didn’t rat their terrorist brother/son/nephew/cousin out. And of course, that was shameful.
I look at it this way: Blood is physically thicker than water, but right is always right, and wrong is always wrong. Or, more succinctly put, I love all my family members, but I don’t always like them or what they do. I’ve often said, “Me loving you is on me, me liking you is on you.”
And I mean it.