Aphorisms Unplugged: Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

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This Book is Banned-Scarlet Sometimes that well-worn adage doesn’t really mean what our literal-minded, text-focused, Google-driven world thinks it means. One reason this happens is that, quite simply, language evolves.

To further complicate matters, as with books, all too often the context of these popular wisdoms has been forgotten. Though these aphorisms may still contain some good advice, their original message is typically richer and more profound than our contemporary interpretation.

This Book is Banned proffers a few proverbs, sayings, and other pearls of wisdom that have been unplugged,” as it were. We’ve rebooted, gone back-to-basics, and re-discovered their intended message. For example:

Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps

We may not be sure what bootstraps actually are, but we know we’re supposed to stop whining, and pull ourselves up by them. These days, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps means to succeed on your own, through sheer will and hard work.

It’s a phrase that’s made the rounds on social media lately, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is an impossible feat. And people really got steamed when she said “the whole thing is a joke.”[1] She took a lot of flak for saying that, but she’s absolutely right. The expression was indeed originally intended as sarcasm to describe an absurd and futile act.

Its earliest written documented use is from a Vermont newspaper in 1834, in response to one Nimrod Murphree’s claim to have discovered perpetual motion. The article bitingly speculated that Murphree could probably raise himself over “a barn yard fence by the straps of his boots” too.[2]

[1] Mohamed, Theron. “‘It’s a physical impossibility to lift yourself up by a bootstrap’: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez argues everyone needs help to succeed.” Feb. 7, 2020. Businessinsider.com; AOC bootstrap meme.
[2] The Vermont Courier. Woodstock, Vermont. Oct. 3, 1834, pg 3.


Check out more unplugged proverbs, sayings, and other pearls of wisdom here.

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