The blind leading the blind

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"The blind leading the blind" is an idiom[1] and a metaphor in the form of a parallel phrase, it is used to describe a situation where a person who knows nothing is getting advice and help from another person who knows almost nothing.[2] It can be traced back to the Upanishads, which were written between 800 BCE and 200 BCE.[3]

Abiding in the midst of ignorance, thinking themselves wise and learned, fools go aimlessly hither and thither, like blind led by the blind.

Notable appearances[edit]

A similar metaphor exists in the Buddhist Pali Canon, composed in North India, and preserved orally until it was committed to writing during the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka in 29 BCE.

Suppose there were a row of blind men, each holding on to the one in front of him: the first one doesn't see, the middle one doesn't see, the last one doesn't see. In the same way, the statement of the Brahmans turns out to be a row of blind men, as it were: the first one doesn't see, the middle one doesn't see, the last one doesn't see.

— Canki Sutta (MN 95)[5]

The expression appears in Horace: Caecus caeco dux ("the blind leader of the blind"). Horace was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus (27 BCE – 14 CE) [6]

The saying appears several times in the Bible with similar stories appearing in the gospels of Matthew, Luke and Thomas, possibly via the Q source.

"Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides [of the blind]. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

— Matthew 15:13-14

Sextus Empiricus (160 – 210CE) compares ignorant teachers and blind guides in Outlines of Scepticism:

"Nor does the non-expert teach the non-expert - any more than the blind can lead the blind."[7]

The phrase appears in Adagia, an annotated collection of Greek and Latin proverbs, compiled during the Renaissance by Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus. The first edition, titled Collectanea Adagiorum, was published in Paris in 1500 CE. [8]

References in popular culture[edit]

"Blind Leading the Blind" is a song by Lynsey de Paul. It was the 'B' side of her 1973 single, All Night.

"Blind leading the blind" was a song written by Mick Jagger, performed by Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart for the soundtrack of the 2004 film Alfie.

In a notable episode of Sex and the City Samantha tells Carrie that giving her advice is like 'the blind leading the blind'.

Translations[edit]

  • أعمى يقود أعمى Arabic
  • کوری عصاکش کور دگر (Persian)
  • τυφλός τυφλόν ὁδηγεῖ Greek (classical)
  • caecus caeco dux Latin
  • Слепой ведет слепого Russian
  • Vak vezet világtalant Hungarian
  • L'aveugle conduisant l'aveugle French

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "What does 'Blind leading the blind' mean? - Idiom Definition". UsingEnglish.com. Retrieved 2017-11-27. 
  2. ^ "Meaning of the phrase blind leading the blind at dictionary.cambridge.org". 
  3. ^ Gary Martin. "'The blind leading the blind' - the meaning and origin of this phrase". phrases.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-11-27. 
  4. ^ Juan Mascaró (tr), The Upanishads, Penguin Classics, 1965, ISBN 0-14-044163-8, p. 58.
  5. ^ Canki Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 95) Archived index at the Wayback Machine., translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
  6. ^ Sullivan, Margaret A. (September 1991). "Bruegel's Proverbs: Art and Audience in the Northern Renaissance". The Art Bulletin. College Art Association. 73 (3): 431–466, 463. doi:10.2307/3045815. JSTOR 3045815. 
  7. ^ Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Scepticism (tr. J Annas and J Barnes), Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0-521-77809-1, book III: 259
  8. ^ https://archive.org/details/proverbschieflyt00blaniala Proverbs taken chiefly from the Adagia (1814)