In matters of style, swim with the current...(Quotation)

Quotation: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Variations:

  1. “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.”
  2. “If you would have a happy family life, remember two things – in matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.”

Sources consulted (searching “stand like a rock” and “swim with the current”):

  1. Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition
  2. Hathi Trust Digital Library
  3. Google Books
  4. JSTOR
  5. America’s Historical Newspapers
  6. 19th Century United States Newspapers
  7. America Periodicals Series Online

Earliest known appearance in print: 1891 (as the second variation) [1]

Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Jefferson: 1973 (as the first variation) [2]

Comments: It is clear that the quotation came into use at least as early as the 19th century, although when it was used, it was not attributed to a particular author and was often referred to as an “old adage.” It is not clear where the phrase originated from, but there is no proof that Jefferson ever uttered these words. It appears that the phrase became connected to Jefferson around 1973, and from then on, it is almost always attributed to him when quoted - usually in the context of homemaking or education.

- Elizabeth Huff, June 8, 2011

 

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Discussion

says

I was amused to see in the NY Times article on UVA's excitement earlier this year ("Anatomy of a Campus Coup," Sept. 11, 2012) that Rector Dragas quotes Jefferson as having said "in matters of style," etc. What must Mr. Jefferson be thinking?

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