Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Episode 34: Rising Tide Lifts All Boats Transcript

Click on "Read More" for the full transcript.

We used Temi to auto transcribe this, then Dan went through and checked it based on the show notes. He tried really hard on it, but this kind of stuff isn't his specialty. So if you notice anything confusing, please comment on this post so Dan can look at it and clarify anything.

Shauna:                               00:00                    Welcome to bunny trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. I'm Shauna Harrison.
Dan:                                     00:06                    And I'm Dan Pugh.
Dan:                                     00:07                    Each week we delve into the origin and history of an idiom or other turn of phrase and discuss how it's been used over time. This often takes us down some fun and interesting research rabbit holes. And this week we're looking into the phrase a rising tide lifts all boats, or as I had always heard it, a rising tides lift all ships. But it turns out I only see like six or seven times that I saw that in print. So I heard it probably the wrong way or at least the least, uh, least used way.
Shauna:                               00:36                    Yeah, that's kind of interesting. I think I've always heard boats for sure.
Dan:                                     00:39                    Oh yeah. Well the, that way, the aphorism is absolutely boats. So, so a rising tide lifts all boats is generally meant to say that something that is good for some in a group is also good for all in the group. And that's kind of the general concept. Right? And since the 1960s this phrase is most often been used with financial or economic connotations, meaning improvements in the economy will benefit all participants in that economy. So a cursory internet search would lead someone to believe the phrase originated with President John F Kennedy in the 1960s. And I think it's safe to say that he popularized the... I think it's safe to say he popularized the phrase and turned it into the way we use it today. But it definitely was in use even before he was born for sure.
Shauna:                               01:27                    Gotcha. Yeah, I think that's what I had heard was jfk, was, was the one who kind of started that phrase.
Dan:                                     01:34                    Oh yeah. I definitely, I also thought that it was jfk until I started researching it, but I mean, things are mis attributed all the time, especially to president who use things in speeches. So yeah, definitely we, uh, you know, that's the fun. They will talk about that in a few minutes about whether a president just because the president says it doesn't mean he was the one who wrote it. It was just delivered. He's like, I'm, I'm the narrator. Sometimes the speech writers who wrote it, but in this case, uh, I want to start with the word "tide". So tide comes from old English and old Saxon or Germanic roots and it refers to a period of time. So this was the only way that the word tide was used from about 800 ce until the late 1300s. Now the, the variety of what that time meant like an hour or a season or whatever.
Dan:                                     02:26                    That varied greatly, but the word itself "tide" did not, there was not an English word that meant like tides; the ebb and flow type of tide that we think of today, at least not until the late 13 hundreds and into the 14 hundreds. And we saw the Germanic word "getîde" and later "tide" begin to transition into tide. So it was g-e-t-i-d-e and then later t-i-d-e and it began it's transitioned from a lower to middle Germanic. And then it started to be used and specifically it was used to refer to the time of high water, which is how it transferred from a period of time to a time of high water and then eventually transitioned to the high water, low water pattern that, that we understand it to be today, but, but even at that time frame, there is still a contemporary wear a time frame was used.
Dan:                                     03:29                    So the time frame usage actually fell off in the 18 hundreds. And at the same time we began to see tide be used in a figurative sense, such as a rising tide. This meant anything that would be overwhelming and can take over. So in 1864 in the sanitary communications of the US army, it said, "how shall it (meaning the rising tide of popular sympathy) be left to act as a true helper and supplementer of what the government may find it possible or convenient to do from its own resources". So in this case, we see the usage of rising tide of popular sympathy. And that was in the US in the UK we saw in the times of London in 18, 84 "transportation is the only way of immediately stemming the tide of recidivism", which may I say what they're talking about here is shipping criminals away.
Dan:                                     04:09                    So. Oh, you. The only way to keep you from going back to jail is to make you not be here.
Shauna:                               04:15                    That it's just such a good phrase stemming the rising tide of recidivism. Right? Yeah.
Dan:                                     04:25                    I think I appreciate the words and the phrases, but not necessarily the meaning behind that particular one. So the usage of rising tide is still used today. Independent of a rising tide lifts all boats and you'll still see that. We still see that in quite a few things. Talking about the rising tide of a thing in a figurative sense. Speaking of in the early 19 hundreds is where we see the first usage of our specific phrase in print. So the first time that I could find it attested was in the Christian advocate volume 85, and this was by the Methodist Episcopals, January 20th, 1910. When they're talking specifically about a movement here, and we're going to see this play out.
Dan:                                     05:04                    And so this really, this phrase started to catch on with a Christian group, and so we see it talking about a movement of trying to, uh, bring Christianity to a broader base by talking good about it in the, in the general area. So here we see "many ministers have heartily endorse the movement and we'll support it with they're indispensable influence". It goes on to say, "as Commissioner Mcfarland said, at the astor dinner, the rising tide lifts every boat". Now this Commissioner Mcfarland is likely commissioner BF Mcfarland. That is most likely. That's the first time we see it attested. I couldn't find it anytime before 1910. And I went through every instance of every digitized newspapers in the United States of America from 1783 through 1915.
Shauna:                               05:54                    Nice. Impressive.
Dan:                                     05:55                    Uh, yeah. Well, I mean it took me like four days to get through all of those. So. But anyway, um, that's, that was the first time we see it there, used there.
Dan:                                     06:03                    Then there's a man, a preacher by the name of William T Ellis. And he would use it in a series of sermons and those sermons were, were printed in newspapers basically, and I will just use, I'll use two examples here. Uh, both of them from 1915. In the farmer and mechanic, which is a newspaper out in North Carolina. He said "the rising tide lifts all ships. A direct plan for improvement by every Christian endeavor society is to identify itself with all union movements". And he's talking about building an esprit de Corps here and trying to keep up the, the basically the, the appearances and the looks and to bring people together. Uh, and his whole concept is here of course, that if, if people have a better viewpoint of Christianity, then this is going to be good for all of Christianity. Right? And then in the Richmond Times dispatch, which is out of Virginia in October 10th, 1915, uh, the same, William t ellis in a different thing says, "the rising tide lifts all ships. A general vogue of Christian publicity may do more for a local church then its own particular announcements. The best way to serve as one own school or church in this respect is to encourage the newspapers and all forms of religious publicity." So in this case, he's still talking more on that same concept, just having good, positive publicity is as good for Christianity as, as anything else. And by doing that in your area, you're making Christianity more accepted everywhere.
Shauna:                               07:31                    Uh, you know, this is a, that's interesting. It's a concept that's practiced in PR and things like that still today where if you are trying to improve the positive, um, the perception and in a group, in a society of an organization, then you as an been, as an organization, it's good to boost other or similar organizations is actually one of the ways to kind of get a more positive outlook going into society. So that's really interesting to hear it, um, being, being encouraged at that timeframe. So also this guy really liked, uh, this, this phrase.
Dan:                                     08:04                    Oh yeah. And he used it. He was one of the few that used is rising tide lifts all ships. I saw a couple other examples of this. I don't know that I included any others in here, but that was one of the few times that I saw it, um, that, that was listed that way as ships not boats. Yeah. So another example of this being used in this time, uh, is, uh, is in response to a princeton professor of chemistry being offered a much higher salary at a large industrial company. Uh, the Ivy League colleges basically banded together to post complaints about losing good teachers to better paying jobs in the private sector. Right. So this isn't an advertisement by Cornell, even though it was a princeton professor, they had all come together and so everywhere cornell was running advertisements, they ran something like this. Uh, and this was from the New York Tribune in February, 21 1920 Princeton.
Dan:                                     08:57                    This is the last paragraph in the long advert. "Princeton and Cornell, Harvard and Yale, amherst and Williams and the rest, they are all trustees for the America that is to be in presenting Cornell's great need. We speak for the others as well. The gain of one is the gain of all the rising tide lifts all the boats." Nice. So we see this, we see this start to become more and more used in, uh, in society as, as we're seeing it more frequently in newspapers now and we see it here in 1920. I'll fast forward to 1947 in Design for Giving: The Story of the National War Fund. This was by Harold James Seymour, and this is a pamphlet that was put out a. He was a, he was known for. He was an author that wrote about fundraising a lot. He said "the circling ripples, it will be seen, became a rising tide and even we native middle Westerners know that a rising tide lifts all the boats. "
Shauna:                               09:59                    Even those of us in the middle of the country. Never seen water a day in our life.
Dan:                                     10:05                    Right? And I thought that was funny because he refers to what we would say is midwesterners now, but he uses the phrase middle Westerners, which mean that's what the mid stands for. So I've just never heard it put that way. And I thought it was weird the first time I saw it because I, you know, we're in the Midwest. So I'm like, yeah, we're midwesterners middle westerners. Sounds weird.
Shauna:                               10:23                    Middle Westerners, almost like a tongue tongue twister.
Dan:                                     10:29                    Yeah. So the, we start to see it really entered the vernacular of a larger audience in the 19 fifties specifically here is part of the congressional record of 1951. These are proceedings in debates of Congress and in volume 97, part 12. And I couldn't quite identify who is speaking here, but they were speaking about the new England councils booklet and they said "I was particularly struck by its compelling title. The rising tide lifts all the boats. How aptly that phrase describes the meaning which underlies the work of the council". So in this case, that was probably the first time he had seen that, but it was really, it was a really good point to what the, uh, New England council. And this was the New England Council, a chamber of Commerce. And we're going to come back to that here in just a few minutes. But first I wanted to point out here a snippet in 1952 from the proceedings of the national convention of the Young Women's Christian Association. So the YWCA of the United States, and again 1952, "it has been said that a rising tide lifts all the boats. The rising tide of understanding of the YWCA through the centennial observance and fund activities should help every part of the association life." So that leads us back to JFK. In 1963 speech, he said "a rising tide lifts all the boats and as Arkansas more prosperous, so does the United States. And as this section declines, so does the United States." And he was speaking about the grers ferry dam project in Arkansas. There had been some concern that this project got green lit because the congressman from Arkansas was also the chairman of the ways and means committee and adjust a few weeks earlier, pushed through a tax reform bill that JFK was heavily backing. So jfk was hoping to show that this project wasn't just a favor for the congressman, but what's going to be beneficial for all of the United States.
Shauna:                               12:28                    I see you've got a little bit of back alley...
Dan:                                     12:32                    So interestingly enough, JFK also used the phrase rising tide in another way. During the same speech saying, "and yet when we look from 1945 to now almost 20 years, we have had a gradual rising tide of prosperity throughout our entire country". So this is a, this became a favorite phrase of his using rising tide, both using rising tide as a figurative with another word, and then also using rising tide lifts all boats, which, because of the frequency with which he said it and the way he frequently applied it to the economy, uh, that I think is what really drove its usage today. And it's permeance in the American mindset to be able to drive this aphorism home and, and get to a point where everyone is pretty mature at this, right? So sometimes their speeches are written by the president alone, but oftentimes it's with assistance from speech writers.
Dan:                                     13:26                    In this case, Ted Sorensen was the speech writer for JFK and he had been working with JFK since the 19 fifties when JFK became a senator. And Sorenson said that neither he nor the president came up with this phrase. In fact specifically says when he was working with jfk back when he was a senator during that time, they were working on economic problems in New England and he wrote, this is what Sorenson and wrote "the regional chamber of Commerce, the New England Council, how to thoughtful slogan, a rising tide lifts all the boats." We, of course, we of course know that the New England Council didn't create this phrase. It was in the vernacular before that. But, uh, the obviously jfk speech writer got it from there and I am part of that reason. I was trying to figure out who was saying that in the congressional records, but I just didn't have full access to all of the records. I could only find bits and pieces. So it was really difficult. But I really wonder, like, was it jfk that said that? Who said that? But anyway, so that was, that was known to people in the area. And so Sorensen himself debunks the myth that JFK created this phrase. Uh, but as I said before, it would be hard to argue that he didn't shape its meaning for decades to come. So more on that a moment, but first a quick word from our sponsors.
Shauna:                               14:44                    Today's show is sponsored by our patrons on Patreon special thanks to our lagamorphology interns, Charlie Moore and Pat Rowe for sponsoring this episode. is a subscription service that allows you to support content creators you love. It's free to sign up and follow along if you are in a financial situation that allows for monetary support, you can get additional perks for as little as a dollar a month. Features like early access to episodes behind the scenes content bonus episodes and more are all available at
Dan:                                     15:19                    So I want to talk about a little bit more recent usage of this and an almost in all of these cases we're talking really about. We're really talking about things that have happened with a political or financial things. So, uh, in 1984, a Jesse Jackson who was speaking to the United States Democratic National Convention said, and he was twisting. JFK is words to point out that that what's good for everybody isn't necessarily what's good for some, isn't necessarily what's good for everybody. So he says "the rising tide don't lift all boats, particularly those stuck at the bottom". So his, his message here is that poverty is more than only income, uh, and the fight against poverty entails more than just pushing economic growth. Right? And that actually was one of the driving points that Jesse Jackson had made and one of the reasons that he became so popular within a certain group of, of the constituents in the United States is that they, uh, he was really speaking to people who understood that, that just because the economy grows doesn't necessarily mean everybody has benefited from it. There are some people who get left behind and he was trying to speak and reach out to those people. Fast forward here to 2013 and in the Atlantic to follow up on the same, the same concept, Ta-Nahesi Coates wrote an article that was called A Rising Tide Lifts All Yachts: Why White Class Based Social Policy Doesn't Address African-Americans Problems. Ta-Nahesi continues to follow that up in this piece in the Atlantic where they continue to talk about that. I like that.
Dan:                                     16:59                    And then of course in, in November, fifth, 2015 in the New York Times article, uh, I found this one very funny. It was talking about how the University of Alabama has a lot of. It's got a lot of money coming in, especially in 2015 from its football program and other sports and how that has been helping the entire university be able to fund things because there's so much money coming in. Right? Okay. And so the title was, Alabama is Rolling in Cash With a Crimson Tide Lifting All Boats. Nice. University of Alabama as the crimson tide. What a clever, clever headlines. Recently in January 24th, 2019 Khalid al-Rumaihi, the chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board said, and he was looking to the relative fiscal stability of other regional hubs. So he, this sentiment to CNBC saying "a rising tide lifts all boats". So in this case, you know, we're continuing to see it literally just a couple of days ago when this episode is released that we're continuing to see this used right there.
Dan:                                     18:04                    Uh, there are a couple of economic books listed, um, with that title. A rising tide lifts all boats, but there's only one song that I could find. There's a couple that have some of these lyrics in it, but this one is a called, A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats by Kammerton, and it's off of the album Take Me For Granted in September 28th, 2012 usually. This is where I would read you the applicable lyrics. Uh, however I listened to the song on Youtube for a full two and a half minutes before I realized it was an instrumental piece, which is super embarrassing.
Shauna:                               18:36                    That's awesome. I'm sure word somewhere.Did you get distracted while you were listening?
Dan:                                     18:42                    No, I was like, it kept, it felt like it was built into something but then it would like come back down and then it would build to something. But they would come back just like w, W, W, and it was about two and half minutes.
Dan:                                     18:52                    And I was like, wait a minute, hold on. So it's a, it's kind of a techno-pop piece and it sounds like the kind of thing that would run on background of like a funky and fresh powerpoint video you're watching, or maybe the on hold music for a tech startup thing. Real quick, real quick disclaimer, if you're from Kammerton and wish to complain about my assessment, you can reach out on twitter @bunnytrailspod. So this phrase is a classic example of how phrases or misattributed to a person who made it popular because this, this phrase is long attributed to jfk and nearly every place I looked on the Internet kept talking about JFK, JFK, JFK, and you know, they would say, JFK said this and this is where it came from. He made this and Blah Blah Blah. And so there's just so much of that where people just think they just repeat off of each other.
Dan:                                     19:41                    But it reminds me of the quote "I'm in love with cities I've never been to and people I've never met"
Shauna:                               19:45                    That's one of my favorite quotes ever.
Dan:                                     19:48                    And this phrase was misattributed to the author John Green as coming from one of his books, Paper Towns. Here's the thing he thought he wrote it to. So he just, people had been talking about, I saw it popping up all over the place and they kept saying it was from Paper Towns. He just, he jumped on it and it was like, well, okay. And then his merch companie started selling posters with it on there. But then he saw something in the subreddit that, that was basically this person saying, hey, my friend wrote that. And everyone's saying it's John Green. And this poor person on Tumblr who actually did write it was getting all of this hate mail and stuff because like, you know, why are you stealing John Green's stuff?
Dan:                                     20:26                    And there's a youtube video that will link to on our patreon. It's free to look at. But, um, it, we'll, we'll put it on there. But the, uh, John Green talks about this after he discovers, basically they said, yeah, go, go "control f" that book. And it's not in there anywhere. And so John Green talks about. He says, I, uh, yeah, I went and I pirated a illegal copy of my own book and did a control f and Yup. Nope, it was not there at all. That is not there. So this is what he says. "I don't remember writing the words. I'm in love with cities I've never been to. And people I've never met. But then again, I don't remember writing a lot about paper towns. That book came out seven years ago." He said, he said. "So when I started seeing the quote a few years ago, I just assumed that it was in paper towns. People kept sourcing it as from being from paper towns, I suppose instead of blindly assuming the internet said I wrote it, I should've done some research."
Shauna:                               21:13                    This is one of my favorite things that's ever happened.
Dan:                                     21:17                    So, so in that video he talks about, they're like, they're talking about how this poor person on Tumblr is getting all of this kind of hate mail from people. Like, why are you still in John Green's things? And John Green, he's like, "I STOLE IT! I'M THE THEIF!" But uh, and, and you and I have met the green brothers before and, and we just saw them again at, at podcon very recently, but, uh, I do think that they are genuinely good people. They're good caring people. And what John did to follow up on this I think highlights that, uh, because he reached out to the person who did actually say it, set them up to get the royalties on the things that had been selling on there, on the website basically with the merchandise.
Dan:                                     21:59                    So he both got the royalties retroactively and back paid this person everything that she was owed and then set it up so it would be paid out moving forward. And that person was 13 year old Melody Troung.
Shauna:                               22:12                    She's very insightful. Oh yeah.
Dan:                                     22:14                    Well they actually. So he actually, when he reached out to her, saw some of the other work she had on her tumblr and asked if they could, if they could sell some of that artwork too. And so she gets royalties from that and they created posters out of some of her other work as well, I think, it's such a good story.
Shauna:                               22:28                    Which is what makes this such a great story. Like if it ended differently and he just said, well I'm a thief and that's, that wouldn't be such a great story, but I love it.
Dan:                                     22:37                    But the way it works out in the fact that John Green was such a nice guy and recognize I messed this up and it was the diligence should have been mine to go and like verify that I did say that, but I was lazy.
Shauna:                               22:51                    He's like I'm eloquent AF, so I probably did that. That that's fine.
Dan:                                     22:56                    So, uh, in our case we aren't totally sure who said a rising tide lifts all boats first, but we know it likely came from the, the Christian group, the methodist group and their, their stuff. But we can be certain it wasn't jfk just as the other one. We know for sure it wasn't John Green. Well, that about wraps us up for today. I'd like to say a big thank you to those of you who posted reviews for the show that really is the easiest way to support your favorite podcast, so do that for all of your favorite podcast and best of all it's free. If you have a suggestion for an idiom or another turn of phrase or you just want to chat, you can catch us on twitter and instagram and sometimes even on facebook, all @bunnytrailspod.
Shauna:                               23:38                    We post most of our additional content on Patreon and you can follow along there for free. Of course, if you want to support show through monetary means, we're okay with that too. Either way, head over to for all the latest content. Thanks again for joining us and we'll talk to you again next week. Until then, remember, words belong to their users.

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