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Where did that phrase come from - Children should be seen, not heard
Stan St. Clair

Mother’s Day helps us to reflect on our childhood and the vital part our mothers played in making us the responsible adults we are today, at least for those of us who were fortunate enough to be reared by good mothers. My dear mother believed in this “old-fashioned” principle and I heard it from her more than once.

A few years back, unbeknownst to me at the time, a doctorate candidate at Vanderbilt University Graduate School referenced this entry in my original volume of “Most Comprehensive Origins of Clichés, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions.” The reference was accepted and she received her degree. I didn’t know the lady, so when I found out, I felt much honored. 

Contrary to popular belief, this did not come from the Bible. The earliest version of this proverb was applied to young women or “maids” and was recorded in Augustinian prior John Mirk’s Festival like this in about 1389:

“Hyt ys an old Englysch sawe (saying): ‘A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd.’”

Note that the saying was “old” at that time.

In Thomas Becon’s Works, in 1560, we read:

“This also must honest maids provide, that they be not full of tongue. A maid should be seen, and not heard.”

This trend continued until the 19th century, when we find the following in John Quincy Adams’ Memoirs, first published in 1876:

“My dear mother’s constant lesson in childhood, that children in company should be seen and not heard.”

Here’s wishing all mothers good returns for all they put up with bringing up their children, and for always being there for us. Stay healthy and stay safe, mothers!

 

If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303 or email him at stan@stclair.net.