Posted by: Dutch | November 29, 2009

A friend in need

Meaning

It is sometimes suggested that this phrase means ‘someone who needs your help becomes friendly in order to obtain it’. That isn’t supported by the derivation (below). Most people understand it to mean, ‘someone who helps you when you are in need is a true friend’.

Origin

A version of this proverb was known by the 3rd century BC. Quintus Ennius wrote: ‘Amicu certus in re incerta cernitur’. This translates from the Latin as ‘a sure friend is known when in difficulty’.

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations lists it as existing in English from the 11th century. The earliest version I can find is from Caxton’s Sonnes of Aymon, 1489:

It is sayd, that at the nede the frende is knowen.”

The morality play Everyman also contains similar lines. The play’s date is uncertain and scholars place it as ‘late 15th century’, which could be before Caxton’s work:

Fellowship: Sir, I say as I will do in deed.

Everyman: Then be you a good friend at need;

– Our special thanks to Gary Martin of The Phrase Finder

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: