Posted by: Jack Henry | August 11, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Fables

Good morning, kids! Today I’m taking a mini-vacation with the Editor’s Corner and letting Richard Lederer entertain us with his article “Fabulous fables live on in our everyday expressions.” It even comes with a little quiz towards the end that you can take. (Answers at the bottom of the email.) Enjoy!

One afternoon a fox was wending his way through the forest when he spotted a bunch of grapes hanging from a lofty branch. “Just the thing to quench my thirst,” said he. Taking a few steps back, the fox leapt up and just missed the hanging grapes. After springing and missing three times, the fox turned up his nose and said, “They’re probably sour anyway” and loped away.

And that is why, even today, when people disparage something that is beyond their reach, we say that their attitude is one of “sour grapes.”

A fox, a jackal and a wolf went hunting with a lion and they took down a deer. When it came time to share in their catch, the lion proclaimed, “The first share is mine for my part in the chase. The second share is mine because I am King of the Beasts. The third share is mine because I am stronger than you. And, as for the fourth quarter, I should like to see which of you will lay a paw upon it.” And thus the lion alone devoured the deer.

That story sparks forth the origin of the expression “the lion’s share,” which has changed meaning since its first telling. In the original tale “the lion’s share” meant the whole shebang, ball of wax, enchilada, nine yards and shootin’ match. To us today the phrase means “the largest portion.”

One of the richest veins from which nuggets of folk wisdom are mined is the fable, a made-up story that often involves talking animals. In olden days such “cock-and-bull stories” were “fablelike.” As a result, anything wonderful or astonishing is nowadays described as fabulous.

The stories of “The Fox and the Grapes” and “The Lion’s Share” are associated with everybody’s favorite fabulist, Aesop. We don’t know much about Aesop, but he is said to have lived 620-564 B.C. in Greece, where he was a black slave to a Thracian. According to legend, Aesop was deformed and ugly and used fables to entertain and edify others, ultimately winning his freedom.

Fables have made fabulous contributions to our everyday expressions. Here are compacted versions of four more Aesop’s fables, each of which has bequeathed us a popular piece of folk wisdom. Identify each moral:

  1. A wolf clothed himself in a sheep’s skin in order to get among a flock of sheep so that even the shepherd was deceived by the disguise. When night fell, the shepherd, wanting meat for his supper, mistook the wolf for one of his flock and killed it.
  2. A hare mocked a tortoise for the slowness of her pace. “Let’s race each other,” jeered the hare. “You shall soon see what my feet are made of.”
    The hare and the tortoise agreed to start at once. The tortoise set off on her course, plugging along, without a moment’s stopping, at her usual steady pace. The hare, treating the whole matter lightly, first took a little nap, planning to swiftly overtake the tortoise. But the tortoise plodded on, and when the hare, having overslept, arrived at the goal, he saw that the tortoise had beaten him to the finish line.
  3. A certain man had the good fortune to possess a goose that laid him a golden egg every day. But dissatisfied with the slow pace of his income and thinking to seize the whole treasure at once, he killed the goose. Alas though, when the man cut open the bird, he found no golden eggs inside her.
  4. A shepherd boy tended his flock not far from a village. To amuse himself at times, the boy would cry out, “Wolf! Wolf!” Three times his ruse succeeded, and the whole village came running to assist the boy, who laughed at them for their pains.
    One day the wolf actually showed up. “Wolf! Wolf!” the boy shrieked in earnest. Supposing him to be up to his old tricks, his neighbors paid no heed to his cries for help, and the wolf devoured his flock. So the boy learned too late that liars are not believed even when they tell the truth.



1. Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
2. Slow and steady wins the race.
3. Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
4. Don’t be the boy who cried wolf.

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