“Blood is thicker than water”, when used in the context of family over friends, is in fact a wildly incorrect bastardisation.
The true, full quote is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” and refers to relationships forged by choice holding deeper meaning than those of mere biology.
In which I ruin your fun:
Can anyone point me to a source for this “older proverb” that’s older than 2005?
So far I’ve found references to 2007 and I’ve read a 2008 article on a site that pays authors by the click. Helium. That’s the site that Cracked.com cites for their source. The Helium article states:
“The original phrase, “Blood is thicker than water,” was first attributed to John Lygates in his “Troy Book” c. 1492. The phrase commonly means that people will do more for relatives than they will for friends. There is an older phrase that says “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” meaning two men who go through a blood ritual of bonding have a stronger bond than two brothers who shared the waters of the womb.”
Where does this “older phrase” come from? Why can’t I find it referenced anywhere?
So, because I am That Person, I did a search for “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” in Google Scholar. That brought up 0 results, but “water of the womb” and “blood is thicker than water” brought up Albert Jack’s book “Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep: The Origins of Even More Phrases We Use Every Day.” And then I bought it in eBook format because I apparently have a sickness and that sickness is “just so stories drive me up the wall.”
This book was published in 2005/2006. It’s a popular history book, by which I mean there are no footnotes, endnotes, bibliography, or any extended discussion of his sources. I can’t follow his trail. So we’re officially taking his word for it. The people he thanks in his acknowledgements are lawyers, the hosts of a t.v. show he was on, and his publishers, not a librarian or an archivist.
According to his introduction, “Researching this book, I have waded through thousand of bizarre treatises, reference books and English histories in many libraries. Most notably I have been lucky enough to have access to the libraries of the Houses of Commons and of Lords, which have provided many answers. And the material has come from many other unexpected places such as, for example, George Orwell’s social commentary ”Down and Out in Paris and London,” which has inadvertently provided illuminating examples of some popular idioms in action.”
Okay, so, that’s a lot of background information just so I can tell you that Albert Jack seems to be the source for this older phrase (I haven’t been able to find anything before his book came out, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there). He writes:
"The phrase Blood is Thicker Than Water suggests that family bonds of trust and loyalty are stronger than those friendships we make for ourselves. I for one have never believed this, and was unable to work out the ‘water’ connection until I started to look at the many biblical references to the phrase. In ancient Middle Eastern culture, blood rituals symbolized bonds that were far greater than those of the family. Hence the bond between Blood Brothers - warriors who symbolically share the blood they have shed together in battle - is far stronger than the one between you and the boy you grew up with who kept pinching your records. In addition, there is an expression dating back three thousand years that tells us: ‘the blood of the covenant is far stronger than the water of the womb,’ which is a forerunner of the phrase we use today. In modern times, we understand ‘blood’ to be the bloodline of a family, but, as you can see, that is not the original meaning of the expression at all. Its meaning has thus been corrupted over the centuries, probably by the English nobility of the Middle Ages to whom the ‘blood line’ was all important.”
3000 years ago?Where?
Look, the thing is, I actually don’t doubt the idea that ties forged in battle have always been intense, and that there are always going to have been sayings that reflect that. And I 100% agree with people who say that their families of choice are far more important to them than their families of ‘origin’. I chose my husband, after all, and would happily bathe in the blood of his enemies while giving my brother’s enemies a dirty look and telling them to get off my lawn.
You don’t need a just-so story to prove that, though. You certainly don’t need thisjust-so story to prove it. This one says you’re only close to people you’ve shared an actual bloody battle with, with actual blood. You don’t have to return with your shield or on it. It’s good enough that you made your choice. If someone tries to push back against that, fuck ‘em. And then throw a copy of this book at them because I would like to think that my $9.01 CDN was not spent worthlessly.
Good takedown of a “fact” that struck me as pretty fishy the moment it popped up in my stream.