Have you ever heard the phrase “A rolling stone gathers no moss”?
It’s credited to Publilius Syrus, a Latin writer who lived from 85-43 BC so it’s safe to say the phrase has been around for a while. You might even think that with such a longstanding history, this phrase is easily understood by all who hear it. Lucky for us, the precise definitions of words and the origins of phrases entice me! So I gave this phrase a last minute check today before using it in a post and discovered I had no idea what the phrase meant. Here’s what Google tells me:
a person who does not settle in one place will not accumulate wealth or status, or responsibilities or commitments.Definitions from Oxford Languages
That wasn’t what I expected so now I’m on the fence on whether or not a rolling stone is a good thing (see my last post on burout to understand the appeal of not accumulating responsibilities or commitments). Moss, so says Literary Devices, symbolizes patience, experience, and persistence. Which sound like good things. But I’m pretty sure when I’ve heard this phrase before, it’s the stone we’ve wanted and not the moss.
Turns out, I’m not the only one who’s confused. You can read more about the way this phrase has morphed over time here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/rolling-stone-phrase-origin but essentially, what used to be a warning against social irresponsibility sort of became an ode to wanderlust.
Is it good or bad to be a rolling stone? Depends on whom you ask!
(Perhaps the best part about this utter tangent of a post is that neither explanation represents what I thought the phrase meant. Go figure.)