Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Felix: "Nothing propinks like propinquity"

Felix Grant recently introduced a Growlery post, Picture perfect, with the aphorism "nothing propinks like propinquity" - that is, nothing engenders a relationship (of whatever sort) better than proximity. The background is interesting. As Felix says:

*Exactly who "they" [who say it] are, in this case as in many others, is unclear. My mother used to say it before I started school in September 1956. The phrase is often attributed to George Ball, a US Undersecretary of State in JFK's and LBJ's administrations, but his first recorded usage of it is in the 1960s. Ian Fleming used it as a chapter title in Diamonds are forever, published (London: Jonathan Cape) in 1956; but I am fairly certain that my mother has never read any Ian Fleming, and Fleming seems, in any case, to be quoting.

Just so. Ball is widely quoted as using the aphorism - later called the "Ball rule of power" - concerning the political value of closeness to the President (Walter Mondale is also credited with its use in that context in the mid-1970s). Fleming, in the chapter of the same name in Diamonds are Forever, put the words into the mouth of Felix Leiter, as he says goodbye to the still-bickering Bond and Tiffany Case.

"And you've got your plane to catch. You can go on fighting at twenty thousand feet. Get a better perspective from there. May even decide to make up and be friends. You know how they say." He beckoned to the waiter. "Nothing propinks like propinquity."

But where did it come from before that? A number of unspecific citations - the spelling varies ("propinks", "propinqs", "propinques") - call it "an old saying", "a modern saying", and so on. A couple specifically credit PG Wodehouse (Sarah Bradford, 1984, and Petronella Wyatt, 1999) but although Wodehouse clearly relishes the word (see Right-Ho, Jeeves) there's no sign of this specific quotation, so it looks like a "Hillfinger". The same goes for Frank Welsh's 1982 attribution to "the immortal words of Groucho Marx".

There are a number of precursors, "nothing ... propinquity" sayings to exactly the same effect:

There is nothing like propinquity to intensify friendship
- New Outlook, Alfred Emanuel Smith, 1918

Nothing breeds interest like propinquity
- A Heroine of Reality: A Novel, Percy Vincent Donovan, 1903

"nothing fosters a passion like propinquity"
- Arthur's Home Magazine, 1892

As Miss Edgeworth says, Cupid desires nought so favourable as propinquity
- A Midshipman in Love, Harvardiana, Vol III, No II, October 1836

"Miss Edgeworth" is an allusion to the novelist Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) who repeatedly stressed the role of "propinquity" in cementing relationships (as in the 1809 Tales of Fashionable Life - see quotation), and that seems to be the root of the saying. But there's no sign pre-Fleming of the specific form, so he wins the Internets for the first solid citation. However, it'd be nice to find the coiner of propinking.
- Ray


  1. Propinking comes after pupating in the developmental stages of the cymhorthdal ... critter.

  2. cymhorthdal

    Ah, yes: Cymhorthdal astudio, an endangered species much in need of subsidy.

  3. Astudio? I thought he was arthio. Do we have a rare hybrid -- the Cymhorthdal astudio arthio in advanced stages of propinking???

  4. Could be: in the stage of snarling that precedes premature explosion.

  5. Whatever the correct binomial nomenclature, and whether the critter in question be in a studio or not, I wish it well in its larval propinking and subsequent pupation.

    Since my Growlery post to which PP refers, conversation with my mother has confirmed that she never read Diamonds are forever. She dipped into the first Bond book, found what she saw as a self indulgent and trivialised misrepresentation of her own field, and didn't look again.

    She doesn't, however, remember where she first heard the expression "nothing propinks like propinquity". That leaves open the possibility that she heard it in 1956 second hand from someone who had recently read Fleming; but on the other hand she's fairly certain that she already knew it as a teenager before WWII.

  6. a self indulgent and trivialised misrepresentation of her own field

    Yes, Mr Le Chiffre next door says the same.

  7. PP> Yes, Mr Le Chiffre next door
    PP> says the same.


  8. Ray,

    There's one fellow who claims J. Robert Oppenheimer said, "Nothing pinks like propinquity." I can't find any other source, so I think that person is mis-remembering (Google the phrase and you'll find him).

    However, it's interesting to consider that *if* Oppenheimer said that, he could have been talking about the teamwork of the Manhattan Project -- or, he could have been referring to his links to communist party members -- "pinkos" (his wife was a party member).

  9. Nothing pinks like propinquity

    Nothing pinks like low-octane fuel.

  10. Nothing pinks like Inigo Montoya.

  11. We do seem to keep using that word.

  12. PP> Nothing pinks like low-octane
    PP> fuel.

    Ha. I remember that one. "When the temperature dinks, think pink!"

    JH> ...Inigo Montoya...

    That's my signal to bow out. I don't remember IM being "The Man in Pink" ... it's time for me to go and mow the radishes.

  13. Cymhorthdal astudio arthio rhuddygl pladuro??

    Holy smokes!

    [whistling softly in total amazement]

  14. Could be a euphemism for a political purge of moderate Socialists (the rad-ish ones).

  15. Gorffennaf Ar-gwair, meistres amdano fe bwriadau deublyg Cymroaidd dim cyfochrol ... i dysgiau fe lincyn-loncyn :-)

    Rad-ish ... unterm radish ...

  16. Uh ... "July On-grass, mistress before he (the) intention double Welsh only collateral ... me dishes he slowly?"

    You've been talking to someone who actually knows the language. Ffolennau-smart.

  17. I think he's trying to tell us he's not into dualling -- either with Welsh or with blades (fear of pinking).

    Either that or he's trying to order radish pizza with no sausage and double cheese sprinkled haltingly.