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Thursday, January 29, 2015

A chain's weakest link

"A chain is only as strong as its weakest link"
I'm interested in digging out the background and origin of sayings we take for granted. Here's what I learned about this phrase. 

It is a literal fact that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In 1786, Thomas Reid wrote his 
Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man” wherein he stated:

      “In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of 
       the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest.”

This proverb has a literal meaning, but often when it is used, the 'weakest link' is referred to is usually figurative and applied to a person or technical feature rather than the link of an actual chain.

 Cornhill Magazine published an article in 1868 that contained this bit of advice:

      “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link; but if you show how admirably the last few are
       united … half the world will forget to the security of the … parts which are kept out of sight.”

 The only proverb I've come across that is remotely similar to this is a Basque saying; 

      “Haria meheenean eten ohi da” which translates into “A thread usually breaks from where it is

My only conclusion I can come to is to make certain all links in my chain of reasoning are solid and firmly established...but, be especially convincing with the latest arguments because that is what people will remember.

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