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From the rooftops
Posted: 30 January 2008 01:54 PM   [ Ignore ]
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To shout (or proclaim) something from the rooftops.  The imagery is obvious, but it’s such a set phrase that it feels to me like it could have a definite, attributable source.  And yet I can’t find one.  Searching the various references at bartleby.com turns up nothing (I’m sure a remark by Krushchev about sparrows on rooftops isn’t the origin.) It sounds vaguely Biblical, but that turned up dry as well.  Anyone?

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Posted: 30 January 2008 02:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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There is Matthew 10:27.
Here is one English translation I found (there are more at http://bible.cc/matthew/10-27.htm):

“What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.”

In Dutch that is rendered as ‘van de daken schreeuwen’.

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Posted: 30 January 2008 04:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Excellent!  I didn’t think of searching for “housetops”.

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Posted: 31 January 2008 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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However, my curiousity has been piqued by the popularity of the exact phrase “shout it from the rooftops” which is not how that verse (nor the similar verse in Luke) is phrased in any of the Bible translations available online (they have various combos of shout, preach and proclaim with both house and roof, but never exactly that).

In Google News Archive, it seems to pop up suddenly in 1956, and in some of those cases, people are using it with quotes around it.

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Posted: 31 January 2008 10:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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“shout it from the rooftops” is easy to find in song lyrics which may account for the popularity but I cannot find a date.

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Posted: 31 January 2008 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I found a cite in The American Political Science Review (this is the hit; date unclear) that says “his disapproval of David’s behavior ‘from the rooftops’ (see II Samuel 11:2),” so I’d say it’s definitely biblical.

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Posted: 31 January 2008 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I don’t think that Biblical passage has anything to do with the common idiom.  I has nothing to do with shouting or proclaiming something from the rooftops; it refers to King David walking on his roof and seeing Bathsheeba bathing.  And none of the common translations I could find use the word “rooftop”, they all just say “roof”.  The KJV, for instance: “And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman [was] very beautiful to look upon.”

It’s hard to get the full meaning from the snippet view, but I suspect the reason for the quotes is that the author is calling attention to a play on words, combining the “public proclaiming” sense of “from the rooftops” with the fact that David’s temptation to adultery began with this voyeuristic incident on his rooftop.

[ Edited: 31 January 2008 12:53 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 31 January 2008 03:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Rats.

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Posted: 31 January 2008 08:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Myridon - 31 January 2008 08:50 AM

However, my curiousity has been piqued by the popularity of the exact phrase “shout it from the rooftops” which is not how that verse (nor the similar verse in Luke) is phrased in any of the Bible translations available online (they have various combos of shout, preach and proclaim with both house and roof, but never exactly that).

In Google News Archive, it seems to pop up suddenly in 1956, and in some of those cases, people are using it with quotes around it.

The Greek at that point is doma hence domestic.  The meaning is simply that the shouting is from the top of the house which is more public than inside the house.

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Posted: 31 January 2008 11:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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What I said was that none of the common Bible translations I checked (on biblegateway.com) for any of the mentioned verses is in the exact words “shout it from the rooftops” but that exact phrase pops up from somewhere and becomes very popular and it seems to start in the mid-1950’s.  I’m not disputing that it might be possible for someone else to translate the verse that way, but how did that exact phrasing become popular?

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Posted: 01 February 2008 09:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I wonder about that too.  Of course, sometimes even expressions that originated in English and have a definite, correct original phrasing get mutated on the way to becoming a stock phrase. Consider “gilding the lily”.  It’s possible that “proclaim” and “housetops” simply got turned into “shout” and “rooftops” because the latter words were more common.  Not a very satisfying answer, though.

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Posted: 01 February 2008 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I found a couple of references to exact phrase “shout it from the rooftops” dated in the 1920s in books.google but I have been led to believe that books.google dates may be problematic.

I searched and failed again for the date of the song lyrics containing “shout it from the rooftops” which, again, must be the reason for the current popularity of the exact phrase.

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Posted: 01 February 2008 12:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The Times (of London) only has one reference to shouting from the rooftops, from the 1950s, but it has several, all early 20th century, to “from the housetops”, or house tops, or housetop, and so on, although what people should do, or not do, ranged from preaching through trumpeting to proclaiming:

Wednesday, May 03, 1905; pg. 7 “The duty of cleanliness should be preached from the housetops”

Saturday, May 11, 1912; pg. 10 (in an advertisement) “There is no need to proclaim from the house tops the merits of a good article.”

Thursday, Sep 30, 1920; pg. 5; “… their good work in the district is generally known to people who do not care to declare it from the housetops.”

Tuesday, Feb 12, 1924; pg. 14 in an advertisement, quoting the Daily Graphic: “The beauty of the book ought to be trumpeted from the housetops.”

and once in the singular:  Friday, Mar 23, 1917; pg. 9, in another book ad: “Occasionally, very, very occasionally it happens that a book appears whose merits one would like to shout from the housetop ...”

It looks, therefore, as if the original idiom did indeed echo the Bible and used “housetops”, not “rooftops”, but I’m surprised at the lack of 19th century examples, and the absence of anything after 1924.

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Posted: 01 February 2008 12:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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(deleted due to accidental duplication)

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Posted: 01 February 2008 12:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Certainly with Googlebooks you can’t confidently rely on the date Google gives; you have to verify it (or correct it) based on other evidence, preferably internal.  For instance, of the two hits for “shout it from the rooftops attributed to the 1920s, the first is from the journal “Child Development Abstracts and Bibliography”, which like essentially all journals in the Googlebooks databank, is assigned the date of the journal’s founding, regardless of the actual date of publication.  In this case, a casual look at the snippet view shows that the phrase is contained within a review of a book that is shows a publication date (for the book) of 1970, so clearly this is not from the ‘20s.

The other one is from Business Week, founded 1929, but the snippet view shows pretty modern-looking typography, and includes the phrase “whistle-blower” (first cited in the OED from 1970).  A reference to a sum of money awarded to one Christopher M. Urda for whistleblowing on his company’s attempt to bilk the government, combined with Google search on the name, allows us to assign an actual date of 1992.

Sometimes it’s really difficult to determine the date of publication of one of those snippets, but sometimes it’s quite easy.

The earliest verifiable example of the phase that I could find on Googlebooks was from 1941: The Golden Touch by Stephen Longstreet.  (Date couldn’t be verified internally because of snippet view restrictions, but Worldcat confirms the publication date given by Googlebooks.)

[ Edited: 01 February 2008 12:48 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 01 February 2008 04:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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droogie - 01 February 2008 10:11 AM

I searched and failed again for the date of the song lyrics containing “shout it from the rooftops” which, again, must be the reason for the current popularity of the exact phrase.

What song did you have in mind? 1910 Fruitgum Co.’s 1968 song “Goody Goody Gumdrops” contains the phrase, but it hardly explains the 1950’s popularity.

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