''The weaker always goes to the wall'' in American English

Xavier da Silva

Senior Member
Hello everyone,


I'd like to know if the saying "the weaker always goes to the wall" is currently used in everyday North American English. My definition: stronger (more powerful) people always prevail, win out over weaker ones.

My example:

"John, If I were you, I'd not mess with these rich people. Remember: the weaker always goes to the wall. They are influential and dangerous in this city.


Thank you in advance!
 
  • Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I don't think it is used currently in any form of English. Where did you find it? I can't find any such saying in the British National Corpus, searching for "{go/V} to the wall"*. The only thing anywhere near this that I found was
    The real war was waged against nettle and bramble — now there you really could persuade yourself that some malign force was at work, set upon reducing the whole place to a rank and thrusting wilderness, in which the weakest went to the wall.
    The phrase "go to the wall" is an idiom, and the implied meaning of it is that it is the weak who go to the wall, but there isn't a saying "the weak/weaker/weakest go to the wall".

    *That search finds all forms of the verb "to go"
     
    APA: Watterson, Henry. (2013). pp. 388-9. The Compromises of Life,

    http://www.forgottenbooks.org/readb...ctures_and_Addresses_Including_1000469740/397

    The open rupture came, whose end was a matter of course, for the weaker always goes to the wall. And now we behold in our public affairs, what we often see in private life, that, because submission and affection have not proved to be convertible terms, despotic power would smirch the character, as well as blight the future, of the victim.
    I don't know if it's common, but perhaps it's a saying. What is the issue here, Xavier?
     

    Xavier da Silva

    Senior Member
    Bennymix,

    I know it's a saying, but I was afraid of sounding old-fashioned. That's why I tried to check here. As my emphasis is on AmE, I posted this question. Oxford says it's ok to use it, but on the other hand, Oxford is British English.

    Thank you for replying.
     

    MarcB

    Senior Member
    US English
    I agree with posters 2 and 3.I would go out on a limb(an existing idiom) that most English speakers would not know nor recognize this phrase as an idiom. Some might be able to guess its meaning but for most it is not well understood. a possible substitution might be "only the strong survive".
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Am I correct that the literal translation of the Spanish idiom is "the string always breaks at the thinnest point"?. That has a completely different meaning from "the weakest always go to the wall". The whole point of the "weakest link of the chain" idiom in English is the interdependence of the links of the chain. One goes and the whole chain fails. When the weak go to the wall, the strong carry on. Nobody gives a damn about the weak - the advance of the strong continues. I am astonished that the Oxford Dictionaries site gave that as a translation.

    PS Xavier. 'Go to the wall' is perfectly ok in BE and is not dated; it's the suggestion that the sentence you gave originally is an idiom that's the problem.
     
    Last edited:

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    There's 29 examples of "go to the wall" in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, but only about half of them use the idiom as used in BE. (ie to be ruined; collapse financially - used in this sense since about the 1840s).

    I've had a dip in the OE, and bo and lehold, it's listed as a saying - but somewhat dated - earliest and latest examples given:
    1549 J. Cheke Hurt of Sedicion sig. F6v, When brethren agree not in a house, goeth not the weakest to the walles.
    1651 N. Culpeper Astrol. Judgm. Dis. (1658) 80 You know the old proverb, The weakest goes to the Walls.
    The derivation is not given, but I suppose it's tricky trying to explain an idiom that's been around for about 450 years.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    There's 29 examples of "go to the wall" in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, but only about half of them use the idiom as used in BE. (ie to be ruined; collapse financially - used in this sense since about the 1840s).
    Looking at those, I'm reminded that there is a different idiom in American English which means to make an all out effort (I think it's a sports idiom - running until you hit the wall). I think most, if not all, of the 29 that are not literal have this meaning not whatever this "weakest go to the wall" thing means.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I recall it from Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliet, act 1, scene 1):

    GREGORY
    That shows thee a weak slave, for the weakest goes to the wall.
    SAMPSON
    'Tis true, and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall. Therefore I will push Montague’s men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall.


    I don't hear this commonly in speech, however. But I'm not one to criticize Bill Shakespeare.
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    Will is being a little racy here, as is his wont. I would be surprised to hear this expression in everyday speech myself.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Looking at those, I'm reminded that there is a different idiom in American English which means to make an all out effort (I think it's a sports idiom - running until you hit the wall). I think most, if not all, of the 29 that are not literal have this meaning not whatever this "weakest go to the wall" thing means.
    Thanks for that, Myridon. I misunderstood some of them as I have never come across that all-out effort meaning. It's interesting that despite modern communications and international media (Time, CNN, BBC World etc) an easily understood idiom in BE is pretty well unintelligible to AE speakers.
     

    MarcB

    Senior Member
    US English
    Hello everyone,


    I'd like to know if the saying "the weaker always goes to the wall" is currently used in everyday North American English. My definition: stronger (more powerful) people always prevail, win out over weaker ones.

    My example:

    "John, If I were you, I'd not mess with these rich people. Remember: the weaker always goes to the wall. They are influential and dangerous in this city.


    Thank you in advance!
    I think we can safely say it is not a common North American idiom. It appears that only a few BE recognize it. So maybe it is BE. As far as the internet goes, one can find some of the most obscure expressions if they look hard enough.
     
    I think one can make too much of precise wording. The expression is understandable to Americans, I think, since it relates to another common expression (also related to the thread topic of sayings about the stronger/weaker).

    The General (2011) by Dan Ryan., p. 197

    http://books.google.ca/books?id=_VgAsqc8RRMC&pg=PA197
    After Action Reports, Jan- May 1862
    "By capturing the cities of Richmond, Charleston, Savannah ... the Confederacy would be driven to the wall and would see the hopelessness of further resistance."
    That it's the stronger driving the weaker to the wall would follow as a matter of course.
     

    applesarecyan

    New Member
    English - American
    I am American and the only time I have heard this was while reading Shakespeare- and it was meant to be an off-color pun. It would confuse most people.
    I agree with the others that 'the string breaks at its weakest point' is similar to the English phrase 'a chain is only as strong as its weakest link'. However, it does not seem like that is what you were going for in your example. If I was going to say something like your example, I would probably just cut it out altogether, or make a reference to them being 'sharks' (suggesting that they are predatory and dangerous).
    Hopefully this is helpful!
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    In churches in earlier centuries, before the use of wooden pews, the only seating was stone benches built into the walls. These were used by the elderly and frail; other people stood up. So: the weakest go to the wall because they need its support, the strongest take central positions and stand up for themselves.

    In the Shakespeare quote (#16), Sampson is hoping to get the Montagues' servant-girls with their backs to the wall (a different metaphor = 'at a disadvantage') and have his wicked way with them.

    Both these metaphors are quite common in British English.
     
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