822 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 77 PART 6 NOVEMBER 2019
story which leads to Scrooge’s redemption. It is a wonderful story of a sinner
finding salvation,20 but “Scrooge” remains a negative epithet. Why is this? It
should be a positive expression celebrating the redemption of a sinner. Alas,
Scrooge’s legacy will likely always be his unredeemed character.
Language evolves as part of its natural course. Expressions and words
enter the language when they become useful. Many expressions and words
that are coined never survive their birth, but somehow a few, some unfortunate,
slip through and achieve, for a time, currency.21 It is regrettable that
the elegance and clarity of an expression can be mangled and that the
expression can survive in its mangled form to grate on the ear for a long
time. It seems to be a tide that cannot be stemmed.
Speaking of tides, during the early tenth century, King Canute22 assembled
a small empire around the North Sea in the areas of what is now Denmark,
Norway and England. He is famously, but erroneously, known for his
attempt to stop the tide from rising.23 The story goes that his throne (which
in those days was likely a chair that could be taken apart and moved from
place to place) was taken to the edge of the ocean and that he, unsuccessfully,
commanded the tide not to come in. This is taken as a sign of both his
hubris and his madness. In fact, in the original account, he made the demonstration
to show that he did not have god-like powers and the incident was
properly cited as an example of Cnut’s piety, humility and wisdom.24
And so, in language, as in much else, the tide will continue to ebb and
1. I am grateful for the comments and suggestions of
Cam McKechnie on a draft of this article.
2. More than one wag has suggested that Shakespeare
used too many clichés.
3. The episode was titled “Darmok” and originally
aired on September 30, 1991, according to
4. See I Timothy 6:10 (KJV): “For the love of money is
the root of all evil: which while some coveted after,
they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves
through with many sorrows.”
5. A long time ago, Murray Blok, as he then was,
recounted an episode he observed in BC Supreme
Court in which counsel used the phrase before
Mr. Justice Murray. Counsel received an education
to improve his obviously deficient knowledge of
6. See “The Gilded Lily”, Grammarist, online: <grammarist.
com/usage/gild-the-lily>; Gary Martin, “Gild the
Lily”, Phrasefinder, online: <www.phrases.org.uk/
7. Act IV Scene 2, in a speech by Salisbury.
8. So named because of his loss of most of the English
possessions south of the Channel to the French.
9. Of Robin Hood fame. Whether Robin Hood actually
existed is another endless debate along with King
Arthur and the Sasquatch. Incidentally there still is a
Sheriff of Nottingham: see Nottingham City Council,
“The Sheriff of Nottingham”, online: <www.notting
the-sheriff-of-nottingham>. This is currently
Councillor Catharine Arnold. This said, the
Sheriff’s role is now largely related to tourism rather
than chasing outlaws because, of course, “outlawry”
has become an obsolete legal concept (although
now bandits lurk in office towers rather than in
10. It is astonishing how many camera flashes go off
during fireworks displays.
11. Chapter 4.
12. On CanLII, a search of “gild the lily” returns 109 references
in cases. “Paint the lily” returns only three
cases, one of which quotes an unreported decision of
the BC Court of Appeal in which Madam Justice
Southin, not surprisingly, uses the correct quotation.
13. Hamlet Act V Scene 1.
14. Macbeth Act IV Scene 1.
15. Macbeth Act V Scene 8.