Waste Not Want Not
Jan 23, 2021
Have you ever heard the saying 'Waste Not Want Not' ?
I'm sure you have. It sort of rolls off the tongue doesn't it?
And in these days when we're encouraged to try to do our best to save the resources of our planet, the emphasis on conservation, recycling, and on 're-using' and 're-purposing' - it's a phrase that is very 'current'. Or at least, it should be!
This won't be the only time I talk to you about 're-using'. It's something I love to do, especially when I'm sewing and crafting, using up old material, ribbons gathered from all sorts of places, cards, pictures, papers. I'm also a person who loves to visit charity/thrift shops to find stuff that other people have discarded, and to give them a new life.
But that's a tale for another time.
Back to that phrase - 'Waste Not Want Not'.
What does it actually mean?
Well, it's really saying ... if you don't waste anything, you will always have enough. If you don't squander your money and resources, you will never be in want. If you use a commodity or resources carefully, you will never be in need.
In other words - there's always enough to go around. We just need to stop wasting stuff!
I love that!
But although it's a phrase perfectly suited to today, did you know that it's an idiom that has been around since the end of the 18th century?
It's reckoned one of the first references was in a book called 'The Parent's Assistant' which was the first collection of children's stories by a writer called Maria Edgeworth, and it was published in 1796.
Maria was English/Irish and a prolific writer of children's and adult literature. She had strong views on politics, education and estate management and she wrote on these matters, as well as creating stories. And apparently Maria was a significant figure in the evolution of the novel in Europe.
Queen Victoria was a fan. She was reading The Parent's Assistant in 1837, just three months before her coronation. In her diary she recalled reading "The Birthday Present" in "Miss Edgeworth's inimitable and delightful Parent's Assistant" while doing her hair.
Today's phrase is actually the title of one of her stories, entitled 'Waste Not, Want Not' (or 'Two Strings To Your Bow'). It's the story of two boys Hal and Benjamin, who are taken in by their Uncle. The motto is actually written over the chimney-piece, in the Uncle's big kitchen, and the narrative is mostly about how the boys learn the lessons of not wasting or squandering what they have, or are given.
Maria Edgeworth, in common with many early novelists, definitely wrote to teach as well as to inform and to entertain. Although it's not exactly the genre of storytelling that is popular these days, in their time these stories were very much in demand.
And the fact that Maria was highly regarded as a writer, at a time when educated females were often disapproved of, says much about the woman who more than 200 years ago first profiled a simple phrase which is even today calling us to action.