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Saturday, 19 September 2009

A Good Workman Never Blames His Tools

In one form or another, the proverb “A good workman never blames his tools” dates back at least as far as the 13th century but in recent times has often been misinterpreted as “if it goes wrong it can’t possibly be the tool’s fault.” Or worse, “if you think the tool is at fault, then you must be a bad workman.”

The real message is that a good workman wouldn’t have bought a shoddy tool or allowed a good tool to fall into a state of poor repair in the first place.

The market for ‘disposable’ tools has flourished in recent years, but the concept of buying a tool, using it for one job and then throwing it in the skip and buying another one remains utterly unfathomable to me. The souls I really pity are those who buy cheap tools that are designed for this market and then hold themselves accountable when the work isn’t up to standard “because a good workman doesn’t blame his tools, right?” Wrong. Digging back through the earlier incarnations of the expression I found this one, which is less open to misinterpretation:

A bungler cannot find (or fit himselfe with) good tooles.”
R. Congrave, French-English Dictionary, 1611

And let’s face it, no-one wants to be thought of as a bungler do they?

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