Looking for Two Phrases:

I vaguely recall hearing two phrases about language, which were roughly:

1. Understand as the learned, but speak as the common. (This was apparently a translation from Latin.)

2. Unlike with morals, where our goal should be to act better than one's neighbors, with language our goal should be to speak just like our neighbors.

Unfortunately, I don't recall the precise wording, except to remember that it was considerably better than what I reproduce above. Can anyone remind me what the quotes were?

By the way, I realize that proverbs like this aren't always exactly right, and are in any event oversimplifications. Naturally, it's generally good to speak more accurately, more precisely, and more clearly than your neighbors -- the point of both sayings is simply that effective communication usually calls for a style that is familiar to listeners, and that doesn't distract or alienate listeners by departing too much from the norms of the listeners' place and class.

steve (mail):
"Understand as the learned, but speak as the common."

This is from a work by Bishop Berkeley, I believe. I first
heard it as "Think with the learned, speak with the vulgar."
7.23.2007 8:37pm
I think one of the proverbs you mean is "Think with the wise and talk to the vulgar." It is not Latin in origin (that I know of).
7.23.2007 8:37pm
Of course the conotaions of 'vulgar' have changed since Berkeley. Closer to the Latin root--vulgatus: commonly known.
7.23.2007 8:57pm
gp (mail):
Jon Postel: "Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send."

Postel was talking about computer communications, but it seems to apply to human communications too.
7.23.2007 9:08pm
Fowler wrote (s.v. "Pronunciation"): "The ambition to do better than our neighbors is in many departments of life a virtue; in pronunciation it is a vice; there the only right ambition is to do as our neighbors." That may be the quote you are trying to recall.
7.23.2007 10:18pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
wm13: Yes, yes, yes! Many thanks.
7.23.2007 10:26pm
Baloney, we should not accept the degradation of distinctions, clarity, etc., that illiterates introduce into the language. To grill is not to barbeque. At present does not mean presently. Anxious does not mean eager. And to beg the question does not mean suggests the question. Except to people who have no concern for communicating clearly.
7.24.2007 1:29am

To grill is not to barbeque . . . Except to people who have no concern for communicating clearly.

As a Southerner and lover of fine barbeque, I couldn't agree more, but I'm not sure it's the best example to make your point. If I am to believe wikipedia, the English use the word "barbecue" to mean what Americans call "grilling"--cooking over direct flame--and the word "grill" to mean what we call "broil". So depending on where you are or to whom you are speaking, to grill is to barbecue.

To me--born in Louisiana, raised in Lower Alabama and who resides in Atlanta--"barbecue" requires the use of indirect heat and smoke. But throws me for a loop when it includes a definition of "barbecued" that requires the use of a vinegar-based sauce. I'm sure people in Memphis and Mississippi would strongly disagree based on the fact that their barbecue is often cooked with a dry rub only and no sauce is ever used. The good people of the South Carolina low country would also disagree, as their barbecue primarily relies on a mustard sauce rather than a vinegar one. And I'm certain I've had bourbon-based sauces in central Tennesse and Kentucky and very sweet sauces in Missouri.
7.24.2007 3:15pm