Toward the finish of the recent Star Trek film, Captain James T. Kirk makes yet an additional in a cable of bold decisions: that decides he will join pressures with one of his adversaries to fight another even more dangerous enemy, rationalizing his decision with the axiom that “the foe of my adversary is friend.” Spock, together ever, is an ext skeptical, and also warns Kirk the this saying to be an Arab proverb coined by a prince that was quickly decapitated by his “friend.” It’s among the movie’s much better laugh lines—but is the right? Or has Spock’s Vulcan memory somehow failure him?This explain must have actually been made by his human half. The decades-spanning, cross-cultural background of the proverb is a little murky, but, unless our expertise of background changes between now and also the year 2259, Spock’s story shows up to have actually no communication in historical fact: The adage doesn’t show up to have originated through an Arab, nor a prince, nor a male who shed his head.It’s true the the phrase is frequently described together an Arab proverb. Longtime New York time language columnist wilhelm Safire learned this as soon as he request around around the expression in 1990, in the buildup to the an initial Iraq War: “Everybody i ask around this says, ‘It’s one old Arab proverb,’ ” that wrote. And also a similar expression go exist in Arabic: Safire cited the New York Times correspondent in the middle East, Tom Friedman—later to come to be a columnist because that the paper—who told him of a comparable saying he had actually heard in that part of the world: “Me and my brother against my cousin; me, my brother and also my cousin versus the outsider.”But once I asked various experts who examine the beginnings of words and phrases, none could support Spock’s assertion. Instead, they referred to the history provided by the Yale publication of Quotations, which suggests that the phrase is the summary of advice offered not by one Arab yet by Kautilya, the “Indian Machiavelli.” In the Arthashastra, a foundational text of military strategy created in Sanskrit about the 4th century B.C., Kautilya puts that this way: “A king who territory has a common boundary v that of an antagonist is an ally.” (Or, as his theory is commonly summarized: “Every surrounding state is an enemy and the enemy’s opponent is a friend.”) ~ his death—whose circumstances are a tiny mysterious yet don’t seem come involve beheading—Kautilya’s counsels stayed influential about much that the civilization for centuries.In the West, the proverb eventually uncovered a much more recognizable kind in Latin.

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Amicus meus, inimicus inimici mei (“my friend, the adversary of my enemy”) was a usual saying by the at an early stage 18th century, as soon as it appeared in books otherwise composed in Italian (by 1711), composed in German (by 1721), and also tranbsci-ch.orgd into Spanish (by 1723).From there, the axiom may have gone into English v French. As Garson O’Toole, the self-styled Quote Investigator, mentioned to me, the expression “every enemy’s foe is a friend” was described as a “popular” heat of thinking in one 1825 English translation of a French book, History that the occupation of England by the Normans. The adage take it on the an ext familiar English phrasing, “the foe of my adversary is my friend,” through the late 19th century. The very first recorded instance for this phrasing comes from Gabriel Manigault, that in his 1884 Political Creed explained the feeling that “the foe of my adversary is my friend” as a “natural feeling.”

Natural or not, the phrase didn’t show up in the New York times until 1954—where it was described, not for the last time, as an “ancient Arab saying”—and only ended up being a common household saying during the numerous decades the the Cold War.

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Thanks likewise to Barry Popik, Ben Zimmer the the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, and Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale book of Quotations.