Más conozco a la gente, más quiero a mi perro.

‘The more I know of people, the more I love my dog.’

(For a learning note on the Spanish, please go to the end of the blog.)

The other day this Spanish phrase floated into my head. I was thinking of a dear Argentinian friend whose favourite phrase it used to be. There is also the variant Más conozco a los hombres, más quiero a mi perro. It’s the kind of disenchanted, cynical summation of human nature that you might blurt out after a particularly stressful day.

Having the phrase in mind, I then asked if people on Twitter knew of equivalents in other languages. An Italian tweep came up the with exact word-for-word equivalent in Italian: più conosco gli uomini, più amo il mio cane (word for word: ‘more Iknow the men, more Ilove the my dog’). She also suggested that it is used in German: Je mehr ich von Menschen sehe, umso mehr liebe ich Hunde! (‚The more I of humans see, so much more love I dogs!’).

Now, if a proverb straddles three European languages, it’s a fair bet there must be a common source somewhere. Often that common source turns out to be Latin or Greek. I wanted to find out what the source of this one was. At the same time, given the huge number of doggy proverbs and sayings in English, and how often some are used (e.g. it’s a dog-eat-dog world) I was surprised this one didn’t ring any bells for me.

Taking those two points in reverse order (just to keep you on your toes, you at the back!), it does exist in English. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable has it in the form ‘The more I see of men the more I love dogs.’

So, my question then becomes, how much do, or did, people use it in English?

My Brewer’s edition (an ancient 14th edition of 1989) describes it quaintly as ‘A misanthropic saying of obvious meaning, attributed to Mme. de Sévigné (1626–1696). Plus je vois les hommes, plus j’admire les chiens; also to Mme Roland (1754–1793) and Frederick the Great of Prussia (1712–1786).’ The multiplicity of alleged authors leads me to think nobody has a scoobie where it comes from.

The phrase as such does not appear in the OED. However,  under the canine meaning of ‘to beg’ (i.e. ‘Said of a dog trained to sit up and hold up its fore paws [sic] when told to beg’) there is a 1927 book title filed for a quotation, namely, More I see of men by E. V. Lucas (iv. 32):

He [sc. a dog] begs even when there is no meal in progress.

Now, to use part of the phrase as an oblique reference in a book title suggests that it would have been widely understood by potential readers in the late 1920s. Which is puzzling, because searches in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, the Corpus of Historical American English, and the Oxford English Corpus, in various guises, retrieved no examples. The NOW (News on the Web) Corpus (1) and the Global Corpus of Web-based English (GloWbE) (2) produced meagre results compared to the omnipresent ‘Love me, love my dog’. (Phew! It was not just a matter of personal ignorance on my part, then.)

Besides a 1989 example, the Hansard Corpus contains a  single 1919 one:

I listened with very great attention to the hon. Baronet when he made that quotation, and it reminded me of another, which is, ‘The more I see of man, the more I love  my dog,’ and the more I see of some hon Members of this House, the more I can understand their sympathy for the dog.

Google Ngrams takes the phrase as far back as The Spectator in 1888: ‘“The more I see of men, the more I love dogs,” said a somewhat gloomy sage’. (Note the alternation man/men in the different versions.)

Now, Brewer’s was first published in 1870 and revised in 1894 and it is quite possible that the phrase was added at either of those dates (I say ‘quite possible’ since I don’t have access to those editions.) One way or the other, combining The Spectator quotation and those dates suggests it was known in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. But that still doesn’t answer the question of where it came from, ultimately. And just to add to the mystery, a 1973 book from Ngrams attributes the phrase to the sixteenth-century French philosopher Pascal. And while we’re on French leave, Googling the version ‘plus je connais les hommes, plus j’admire les chiens’ retrieves Erik Satie and Mme de Staël (1766–1817) as originators (though she is given the version ‘plus j’aime les chiens’).

Au secours!

My Italian tweep also suggested Diogenes, the cynic (c. 404-323 BC), which makes sense, given the phrase’s dogginess. Except that there’s one major flaw in that theory. She could not provide me with a source. Nor is it listed among the quotations attributed to him in various classical authors – at least on the Interweb. Meanwhile, the indefatigable Quote Investigator suggests an earliest date of 1822, in the mouth of ‘anonymous’. Its lack of a specific author suggests the phrase was already proverbial by that date. But how we get back well over two thousand years from early nineteenth-century France to an eccentric Grecian philosopher, heaven knows.


On a Spanish-learning note, the form Más conozco a la gente, más quiero a mi perro relates two ideas (clauses) using más + verb twice, just as English uses the more + verb, the more + verb.

The more usual wording in Spanish, though, is cuanto más …, más…, for example:

La clave está en saber que cuanto más hacemos, más podemos hacer.

‘The key lies in knowing that the more we do, the more we can do.’

(Note that cuanto here does not need an accent because it is not being used in a question.)

In this Spanish parallel construction the subjunctive is often used. This is because the first clause can be thought of as a sort of hypothetical future, whereas the second clause will definitely happen if the action in the first clause is realized:

Cuanto más ayude a sus amigos, más harán ellos por usted.

‘The more you help your friends, the more they will do for you.’

However, if the action is taken to be a statement that applies at the moment of speaking, as in our proverb, you do not need to use the subjunctive:

Cuanto más leo, más me apercibo de mis grandes desconocimientos.

‘The more I read, the more I become aware of my great ignorance.’

Más conozco a la gente, más quiero a mi perro.

Other comparative constructions are possible using not más but some other comparative form or structure:

Cuanto más paguemos, mejor será el acuerdo. 

‘The more we pay, the better the agreement will be.’

Here the comparative is mejor. Another frequent word introducing the second clause is menos:

Cuanto más tardemos en vender, menos cobraremos. 

‘The later we sell, the less we will earn.’

Note that subjunctive again in the first clause in these last two, referring to a notional future event.

 

4 Comments

  1. And here I thought in the Spanish explanation that you were going to help me understand why the “quiero” cannot simply take a direct object, “perro”, but takes the preposition “a” in the phrase.

    Is it purely for rhyme?

    Like

    1. Hello! Thanks for reading the post and for your query. The idiom discussed is ‘Más quiero A los hombres, más quiero A mi perro.’ In grammatical terms, both ‘hombres’ and ‘perros‘ are direct objects; the addition of ‘a‘ does not change that. To quote a well-known grammar, “Personal a is required before a direct object which denotes a known or identified human being, or a “personified” animal’.

      In the proverb, ‘hombres‘ and ‘perros‘ are in those respective categories. They are in parallel. Not to use ‘a‘ in front of ‘perros’ would be odd and unidiomatic.

      Like

      1. Hi there,

        I’m wondering if you have any comment on a feat being “wrought with danger”? I always thought it should be “fraught”. Is it just because they sound so similar or is there a difference in meaning?

        Thanks,

        Rick

        ________________________________

        Like

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