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All that glitters is not gold.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by jokker, May 18, 2006.

  1. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    All that glitters is not gold.

    The dictionary says that "All that glitters is not gold" means that "Not all the things that glitters are gold", which means that "some of them are gold, and some are not".

    How strange!! I am puzzled.

    You see: All that glitters is not gold. Doesn't it deny all the things tht glitters are(?) gold??

    Could you please show me how to understand it correctly? Thank you in advance.
     
  2. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    This is, in fact, a mis-quote from a Thomas Gray poem. It should read All that glisters is not gold.

    It means that just because something glitters/glisters/looks like gold, it does not mean that it is gold.

    I do agree that it is ambiguous and I'm not surprised you found it confusing!
     
  3. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    It is an unusual (archaic?) syntax, Jokker, but it does mean what Emma has just said.
     
  4. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    This AE speaker has always found "all that glisters is not gold" annoying. Quotes from poems are set phrases of a sort, and this dumbass example has become chiseled in stone.

    In other contexts we'd say "not all women are docile by nature" (to pick an example at random-- wonder why that peculiar one?). "All women are not docile by nature" sounds very much like a...like a...

    Well it sounds kinda true, now that I think about it. In today's postmodern world, I mean.

    Anyway, Outsider has a solid point. I get so annoyed by the original "poetic" expression that I'm tempted to say it's just plain wrong.
    .
     
  5. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Wow, you really HATE this expression, don't you?!

    I agree (if this is what you are saying) that the set phrase is "All that glitters is not gold" because that is what (nearly) everyone says. When they say it. And I hope they don't say it anywhere near you, Fox!
     
  6. maxiogee Banned

    imithe
    I don't see it as ambiguous - it is quite straightforward - all that X is not Y = some X is Y, but some is not.
    All that have red hair are not Irish = some are, some aren't.

    I have it as Morocco in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, act II, scene vii.
    "All that glisters is not gold;
    Often have you heard that told:
    Many a man his life hath sold
    But my outside to behold:"

    Gray's poem Ode on a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes* has the lines

    "Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
    And heedless hearts is lawful prize,
    Nor all that glisters gold!"

    Which, as he lived 1716 - 1771, is surely referential to Shakespeare - who died one hundred years before Gray was born?
     
  7. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Ah yes, the Merchant! Sorry about that - I just really like the Gray poem and always think of that when I hear the phrase.

    I do think it's ambiguous. It could mean everything that glisters is not gold or not everything that glisters is gold, but some glistering things may be gold.
     
  8. maxiogee Banned

    imithe
    But can it really mean that? Surely we 'know' that some glistering stuff 'is' gold, that's why we might be deluded into think that all of it is.
     
  9. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    Thank you, Emma, outsider, foxfirebrand and maxiogee, for your witty explanations and help. I really appreciate it.:) :)
    And I think the formula is very helpful.:)
     
  10. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    I was thinking of the possible ambiguity from the point of view of a non native speaker.
     
  11. nycphotography

    nycphotography Senior Member

    I do be learnin stuff
    John-Paul Miller, NYC
    Like it or not, set phrases and idioms are not ambiguous, they are often grammatically sketchy, and they are defined by usage. Usage (and context) tells us exactly, unequivacally, what they mean. It can't mean anything else, because, well, usage tells us it can't. Until some clever writer makes it mean something else that is.

    You can't argue with usage. Set phrases and idioms just have to be learned for what they are by foreign speakers: Idioms. Set phrases that mean set things, gramamar and dictionary be damned. They wouldn't need to be called set phrases if the meaning were necessarily obvious.

    This particular phrase means: You can't assume something is made of gold just because it glitters/glisters. That's all it means.

    That's the thing about poetic license... it allows a writer to say things in a creative poetic way, perhaps not using the usual, standard, or even correct syntax, and they are still understood perfectly (by native speakers). Well assuming the poem makes any sense in the first place that is.
     
  12. Tabac Senior Member

    Pacific Northwest (USA)
    U. S. - English
    "All" is the subject of the sentence, and the verb that follows must agree, and the complement must be taken to refer to the subject.

    Let me clarify by making "all" an adjective: All people are happy [no confusion: subject = complement]. All people are not happy [nobody is happy: subject = complement]. To imply that some are not and some are happy, we need Not all people are happy.

    I fully understand the confusion of a non-native speaker. Natives, and probably many non-natives make the mistake so often that it sounds "correct". It may be "correct" (by usage), but it certainly doesn't hold up to parsing.
     
  13. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Perhaps if we spoke fluent Elizabethan(I) English there would be no ambiguity.

    By now, in Elizabethan(II) English, we are likely to think of <not gold> as an attribute of everything that glitters - or glisters.

    All the cows are lying down.
    Some of the cows stand up.

    Now:
    All the cows are not lying down.
    - and -
    All the cows are not standing up.
     
  14. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    How can "all that glisters" mean the same as "some portion of what glisters?" You seem to be saying that both phrases, added to "is not gold" are unambiguously identical in meaning.

    "All" strongly implies a totality, and what is attributed to that "all" is distributed uniformly and without exception. Otherwise "some" or "not all" is called for, at least to my ear. I know that the ungrammatical expression has become understandable, by dint of repetition. That's what causes that vein to bulge, and the steam to come out of my ears.

    I would still say that if all the cows were lying and some of them stood up-- not all the cows would be standing. I would not say "all the cows are not standing."

    "All the kings horses and all the kings men couldn't..." doesn't mean that some of them could.
    .
     
  15. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I'm pretty sure I'm not saying anything is unambiguous.

    But I am toying with the strangeness of the language.

    <All the cows> are <lying down>. TRUE

    Some cows stand up.

    <All the cows> are <lying down>. FALSE

    <All the cows> are <not lying down>. FALSE

    Now if only we get all those cows to behave like sheep and do the same things at the same time, there would be no dilemma at all.
     
  16. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    Although I am not a native speaker, but I did know that you were trying to understand what puzzled me from the point of view of a non native speaker. Thank you for your thoughtful of my question and for your help.:)
    What you wrote is exactly what I thought when I saw the sentence! As if you are reading my mind.:)
     
  17. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    But if you wanted to say that no cow is lying down, you would be more likely to use the phrase "standing":

    <All the cows> are <standing>,

    or perhaps simply

    <No cow> is <lying down>.

    Using "<All the cows> are <not lying down>" in this context would seem artificial, at least to me.

    I don't think that "All that glitters is not gold" is ambiguous or incorrect at all. It's just an unusual, but legitimate, turn of phrase. Using the same sentence to mean "Nothing that glitters is gold" would seem weirder to me.
     
  18. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    But, to me, if the sentence were in this way:
    Not all that glitters is gold.

    The sentence would look more simple and be more easier to understand.:D Don't you think so?
     
  19. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    On the other hand, it would not be as expressive. :)

    The author wants to trick us into uncritically accepting the foregone conclusion...

    All that glitters... all that glitters... all that glitters is...

    ...but then slap our wrists for fallling for it:

    NOT gold!
     
  20. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    :rolleyes: .............:D ..........That's a good explanation!;)
     
  21. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    Hmm...:) I use your explanation to think about Chinese and I can't agree with you more. It truly makes sense.:)

    Thank you.:)

    Agreed.:)

    I like this paragraphy, especially the last sentence. :) The thing truly goes this way.

    Thank you very much.
     
  22. french4beth

    french4beth Senior Member

    Connecticut
    US-English
    Bottom line: don't be deceived by outward appearances.



    P.S. Another thought came to mind - seeing small children pick up shiny rocks with gold flecks and yelling, "Look! I found some gold! I'm rich!"


    i like shiny things!
     
  23. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    Yes!
    The sentence "All that glitters is not gold." use singular verb, which means that it takes "All" as a unit, therefore the "not" should deny the "All" is not gold.


    Yes! I agree with you.
    "Not all that glitters is gold" would be clear and wouldn't be ambiguous.


    It truly doesn't hold up to parsing!! -- especially from the point of a non-native speaker.

    However, as others said in previous posts, this kind of sentence structure is a set phrase/ idiom, and has its own reason of being in this way. So I guess the only way for me is to learn it.;)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 19, 2011
  24. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    Somehow, this comforts me.:D
    :D Then, this sentence is a classic.

    Like what?? You can't just say things in half! It's not complete.:)


    You think so? As Tabac said (if I understood correctly) that the phrase might have been used wrongly, but people just continued to use it?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 19, 2011
  25. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    Hmm...I guess I have to stop thinking this phrase.

    First, it was confusing.
    Then, your help made me understand it.
    Later, more thoughts confused my mind.
    Now, I have to stop to clear up my mind.

    All that X is not Y.
    And set phrases and idioms are just need to be learned.
    Hmm, yes, that's it. Done.:)
     
  26. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I don't believe this was originally poetic licence.
    It sounds to me like Shakespearean English - and as I said before, it carried no ambiguity at the time.

    It still carries no ambiguity for me, no more than "Everyone can't go to the lunch," (someone has to be at the reception desk).
     
  27. lizzeymac

    lizzeymac Senior Member

    New York City
    English - USA
    In Cambridge Shakespeare they "translate" this phrase to

    Not all things that glister are gold
    OR
    Not everything that glisters is gold.

    If you want to see how convoluted yet beautiful English can be, start plowing through Shakespeare. ;-)
     
  28. AWhiteFlame Senior Member

    American English; United States of America
    All the cows are standing. = 100% of cows are now standing.
    All the cows are not standing. = 100% cows are doing anything but standing.
    Not all the cows are standing. = Some cows are standing, some are doing elsewise.

    The difference is simply what the adverb 'not' is modifying. In "All the cows are not standing", "not" is modifying "is", which means that they are to be not described by the given predicate -- "standing". In "Not all the cows are standing", we have "not" modifying "all", which means the word "all" no longer means "all-encompassingly", which then gives us the "some are, some aren't" ambiguation.
    That's my interpretation, anyway.
     
  29. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Again I have to disagree with you, panj. Elizabethan English was ambiguous, as inchoate in form as its spelling was chaotic.

    Middle English had reached a certain comfort level, but something happened after the "Great Vowel Shift" of the 14th century, and the language became catch-as-catch-can-- a vehicle for improvisation and coinage. Most of the great artists of the day exploited the ambiguities inherent in a language in upheaval, a language being born, you might say.

    Do I have to stoop to referring to "But me no buts" to make my point? The idiomatic level of English was up for grabs, and people were making shit up left and right.

    I still contend that if you strip away the patina of familiarity that causes a phrase to "make sense" to the well-inculcated native, "all that glisters is not gold" is counterintuitively constructed. It takes an act of wilful imagination to do so, and I can well understand the reluctance to tamper with patina-- it's one of my favorite things in this world.

    That's why I only talk about my own subjective response to the phrase, and say I'm only tempted to call it "just plain wrong."
    .
     
  30. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    Shakespeare did use ambiguous phrases all the time.
     
  31. lizzeymac

    lizzeymac Senior Member

    New York City
    English - USA
    Excellent!
     
  32. Hi Jokker,

    By writing the sentence this way you have shown that you clearly understand the meaning of "All that glitters is not gold". :thumbsup: But be sure to keep the original. ;)



    LRV
     
  33. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    Oh! panjandrum, that's the advantage of being a native English speaker!! (Enigma: Then why outsider can understand? He is a non-native speaker, and so I am. Oh, oh, envy!!) Just kidding!;) Too bad that my English is not good enough to tell a good joke.:D

    Study time:

    I agree on the point, so I will just learn it, though I still can't understand how come such sentence means such meaning. I totally can't parse it.


    I will remember it in this way.:)
    All that X is not Y. = Some X is Y, but some is not.
    Everyone can't go to the lunch. = Not everyone can go to the lunch, because some have to be at the receeption desk.

    Honestly, I will understand "Everyone can't go to the lunch." to be "All of you can't go to the lunch." if panjandrum didn't give the example and added the explanation.:eek:
     
  34. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    Thank you for offering this!:)

    Oh, no, this one is convoluted enough! And...expressive...very much!;)

    Thank you for the suggestion about reading Shakespeare.:) But I guess the level of my English would block me form reading it. (I would like to know him, but he wouldn't let me to know him.) One whose English is good is able to read Shakespeare. I hope I can one day.:)
     
  35. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    You just have to learn these things as you go along. The sentence wouldn't work in my native language, either (with this meaning).

    I notice that your native language is Chinese. Perhaps this is part of the difficulty. From what I know, word order is very important in languages such as Chinese. If you take a word away from its "place", you can get a completely different meaning.

    But in European languages you often have some freedom to move words around without changing the meaning of a sentence. Modern English is normally an exception to that, but the construction we've been discussing is a little archaic.

    Just be thankful that you're not learning Latin, or Greek. ;)
     
  36. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    No, dear la reine victoria, it's because all of your help have shown me that what the phrase really means.:) Not beacuse I myself really understand it.:eek: (Actually, I still don't understand how come such sentence patter would mean such meaing. :eek: It can't be parsed.)
     
  37. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    O.K. That's a relief.;)
     
  38. Everything which is gold-coloured and shiny looks as if it is made with real gold.

    But only a special test will show which items are real gold and which are imitation gold.


    Everything which is (gold-coloured and) shiny is not necessarily gold.


    LRV
     
  39. rsweet

    rsweet Senior Member

    English, North America
    When I was a child, we used to collect "fool's gold," a rock (pyrite) with gold flecks on it. In California during the gold rush, miners used to pan for gold in streams and rivers, hoping to collect gold nuggets that washed downstream. I'm sure quite a few unexperienced miners thought this rock was the real thing.

    In this expression, "gold" is used in a broad sense to mean something of real value.
     
  40. All who smile are not happy. (Some are just pretending.)



    LRV :) (Happy)
     
  41. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Perhaps there's a better way to explain this. The meaning of "All that glitters is not gold" is:

    All that glitters is not necessarily gold.

    Meaning, some of it may be gold, but some of it may not be gold. I understand your confusion at the sentence well, but if you wanted to say that nothing that glitters is gold, I think you would have to use different words, for example:

    Anything that glitters is not gold.

    The natives will correct me, but I think this sentence would be understood as "If something glitters, then it's not gold."
     
  42. jokker Senior Member

    Chinese/Taiwan
    Hey, smart you!:thumbsup: This explanation is as good as maxiogee's formula!

    Everyone can't go to the lunch," (someone has to be at the reception desk). -- Everyone can't necessarily go to the lunch. (How about this? Just adding "necessarily". ;) Another formula to solve this puzzle.)
     

  43. Sorry Outsider,

    This is confusing the issue. By using the sentences which I've underlined you are inferring that gold doesn't glitter. You have to keep the word "necessarily"

    Anything that glitters is not necessarily gold.

    If something glitters, then it's not necessarily gold.



    LRV
     
  44. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    That's the meaning I intended to give to them. I was making a contrast between the sentences you underlined, and the one that Jokker has trouble understanding.
     
  45. boonognog Senior Member

    Charlotte, NC
    English (U.S.)
    Yes, the natives will correct you. ;) But I think what you are saying is correct, if what you mean is that the "obvious" meaning of this statement is not the "real" (somewhat idiomatic) meaning. Any non-native speaker would take that sentence at face value.

    But there is something about the 'not' in the statement that imparts the ambiguity in English.

    All cars left in the parking lot overnight are to be towed away.
    Obvious meaning.

    All cars left in the parking lot overnight are not to be towed away.
    Ambiguous.

    The second sentence could mean one of the following:
    1. All cars are safe overnight in the parking lot and will not be towed away.
    2. Some cars left in the parking lot overnight will or may be towed away.
    The placement of the 'not' also affects the meaning. In its form above, the more likely meaning is #1. If you move the 'not' to the beginning of the sentence ('Not all cars left in the parking lot overnight are to be towed away.'), then the only idiomatic meaning is #2.

    At least that's my own interpretation as a native. ;)

    -Tim
     
  46. MrPedantic Senior Member

    UK, English
    Perhaps:

    1. All is-not gold.
    2. All is not-gold.

    _________

    Johnson says of Gray's Ode that it "ends in a pointed sentence of no relation to the purpose: if what glistered had been gold, the cat would not have gone into the water; and if she had, would not less have been drowned".

    MrP
     
  47. emma42 Senior Member

    North East USA
    British English
    I like your simple and brief solution, MrP.

    Johnson has a very good point. I had never considered it before.
     
  48. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Clear, and elegant.
     
  49. Robbo Senior Member

    Shakespeare wrote poetically:

    All that glisters is not gold

    The idea (that one should not be fooled by superficialities) expressed in modern English unambiguously would most likely be:
    Not all that glitters is gold.
    OR:
    Just because something glitters, it doen't mean that it's gold.


    I agree with the earlier contributor who said Shakespeare's word order leads the listener in a particular direction.

    But we also need to refer to the original context to see why Shakespeare wrote it with that particular word order.

    http://www-tech.mit.edu/Shakespeare/merchant/full.html


    All that glitters is not gold;
    Often have you heard that told:
    Many a man his life hath sold
    But my outside to behold:

    It's clear that the word order used was necessary to maintain the desired poetic rhythmn.

    Nevertheless, by itself, it may not have been structurally "good English" in Elizabethan times and it is not standard English nowadays - it is an example of "poetic licence (license)".

    Robbo

    Moderator Intervention: WR Rules state that quotes shall not exceed four lines. Therefore, some material previously included in this post has been deleted.

    Rejoinder from contributor: (a) The quantity of words quoted was equivalent to less than four full lines; and (b) Shakespeare's writing is so old it is out of copyright.

     
  50. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Bingo!

    Not all that rhymes hath reason.
    .
     

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