Necessity is the mother of invention

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"Necessity is the mother of invention" is a well-known proverb. It means, roughly, that the primary driving force for most new inventions is a need.[1]

Meaning[edit]

The need to communicate led to the creation of different communication devices – this is a prime example of the expression: Necessity is the mother of invention.
  • On Lexico, the proverb has been defined as "When the need for something becomes imperative, you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it."[2]
  • According to the Cambridge Dictionary, this is "an expression that means that if you really need to do something, you will think of a way of doing it."[3]
  • Longman dictionary has defined the proverb as: "if someone really needs to do something, they will find a way of doing it."[4]

History[edit]

The author of this proverb is unknown. One of the earliest recorded instances is in one of Aesop’s Fables, “The Crow and the Pitcher” from the mid 6th century BCE. Plato's Republic says "our need will be the real creator",[5] which Jowett's 1894 translation rendered loosely as "The true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention."[6]

The connection of mother and necessity is documented in Latin and in English in the 16th century: William Horman quoted the Latin phrase Mater artium necessitas ("The mother of invention is necessity") in 1519;[7][page needed] Roger Ascham said "Necessitie, the inventour of all goodnesse" in 1545.[8][page needed] In 1608, George Chapman, in his two-part play The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron, used a very similar phrase: "The great Mother / Of all productions, grave Necessity." And the exact phrase is used by Richard Franck in 1658.[9][1]

The phrase was also used in medieval French. It is found in a collection of proverbs dating to 1485-1490, and is included with another saying, "Hunger makes people resourceful," and an illustration of one man eating a carrot and another man eating grass.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In 1964 Frank Zappa took over leadership of the American rock band The Soul Giants. He renamed the band The Mothers, referring to the jazz compliment of mother for a great musician. However, their record company, Verve Records, objected to the insinuation (i.e., "motherfuckers") and by necessity Zappa had to change the name, creating (and defining) The Mothers of Invention.[11]
  • Danish economist Ester Boserup believed "necessity is the mother of invention"[12] and this was a major point in her book The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure.

Criticism[edit]

In an address to the Mathematical Association of England on the importance of education in 1917, Alfred North Whitehead argued that "the basis of invention is science, and science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity," and in contrast to the old proverb "Necessity is the mother of futile dodges" is much nearer to the truth.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Necessity is the mother of invention". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 2 March 2021.
  2. ^ "necessity is the mother of invention". Lexico UK Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  3. ^ "Necessity is the mother of invention". Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  4. ^ "Necessity Longman". Longman dictionaries. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  5. ^ Benjamin Jowett, Plato's Republic: The Greek Text, 1894, 3:82 "Notes"
  6. ^ Jowett, Book II, 369c
  7. ^ William Horman, Vulgaria
  8. ^ Roger Ascham, Toxophilus
  9. ^ Richard Franck, Northern Memoirs
  10. ^ Pleij, Herman (2001). Dreaming of Cockaigne: Medieval Fantasies of the Perfect Life. Translated by Webb, Diane. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 114. ISBN 0-231-11702-7.
  11. ^ "The Mothers of Invention". BBC Music. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  12. ^ Peter P. Rogers; Kazi F. Jalal; John A. Boyd (2008). An Introduction To Sustainable Development. Earthscan. pp. 20–. ISBN 978-1-84407-521-8. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  13. ^ Plato; Julius A. Sigler (1 December 1996). Education: Ends and Means. University Press of America. pp. 140–. ISBN 978-0-7618-0452-9. Retrieved 15 July 2012.