Tuesday, 5 October 2010

"Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?"

"Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?" is a quotation – sometimes misquoted with "on" in place of "upon" – from Alexander Pope's "Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot" of January 1735. The line has entered common use and has become associated with more recent figures.

It can be taken as referring to putting massive effort into achieving something minor or unimportant, and alludes to "breaking on the wheel", a form of torture in which victims had their long bones broken by an iron bar while tied to a Catherine wheel


In Finnish teilata, "to execute by the wheel", refers to forceful and violent critique or rejection of performance, ideas or innovations. In Norwegian, the verb radbrekke is generally applied to art and language, and refers to use thereof which is seen as despoiling tradition and courtesy, with connotations of willful ignorance and/or malice.


No comments: