Famous Sayings: #66 — ‘Like Father, Like Son’

June 16, 2017

He has taken to baseball, as his father did. Like father, like son.

like father like son, like mother like daughter, Father's Day, Famous Sayings

In order to commemorate Father’s Day, which is this Sunday, I decided to look at this quote. It’s also a two-for-one, since the sister quote “like mother, like daughter” has its own origin.


What Does It Mean When Someone Says, ‘Like Father, Like Son’?

More often than not, when someone uses the term, “like father, like son,” the person speaking is comparing a child’s behavior to that of their parent. It’s only natural since kids learn from their parents (who are their first teachers) and thus pick up on their parents habits and social cues.

Additionally, kids are compared to their parents in terms of appearance. Kids inherit their parent’s genes and often inherit physical features, like facial features.

In short, this phrase is often used in a positive light.


When Did This Phrase Originate?

The phrase “Like father, like son” was used in 1787, when it turned up in the London World Fashionable Advertiser:

For between ourselves, it was like father, like son.

However, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, the phrase may go back to the 1300’s when it often appeared with a counterpart, “Like mother, like daughter.”

The saying may have also appeared Bibliotheca Scholastica Instructissima (1616), a collection of proverbs compiled by English theologian Thomas Draxe:

Like father, like son; like mother, like daughter.

At the Grammarphobia Blog, someone asked the writers about the history and grammatical construction of the phrase “like father, like son.” Past the grammatical discussion, a few sources were discussed:

  • This blog also cited the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms in tracing the phrase to the 14th
  • The same source cites Bibliotheca Scholastica Instructissima.
  • The phrase “like father, like son” may have evolved from two Latin phrases, Qualis pater, talis filius (“as the father, so the son”) and patris est filius (“he is his father’s son”).
  • However, the mother-daughter version may have come before the father-son version. If you look at the Old Testament, you will find this from Ezekiel 16:44.

Looking at the Book of Ezekiel

In this chapter, God compared the city of Jerusalem to an unfaithful, promiscuous woman who was once found as an abandoned baby and bestowed with a great stature. Jerusalem was also compared and contrasted with (her sisters) Samaria and Sodom. Both of those towns fell, yet Jerusalem was said to have been even more sinful than those two.

44Behold, every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying, As is the mother, so is her daughter.

45Thou art thy mother’s daughter, that lotheth her husband and her children; and thou art the sister of thy sisters, which lothed their husbands and their children: your mother was a Hittite, and your father an Amorite.

46And thine elder sister is Samaria, she and her daughters that dwell at thy left hand: and thy younger sister, that dwelleth at thy right hand, is Sodom and her daughters.

If this is the source of “like mother, like daughter,” it was not originally used in a positive matter, like it is today.


How Will You Spend Father’s Day?

To end on a positive note, do you have something planned? I know Father’s Day isn’t as popular as Mother’s Day, but some dads just like to know you care. Sometimes, a call — on any day, especially birthdays — is enough to put a smile on his face.

Whatever you do, I hope it’s a good one. 😉


Works Cited

“Ezekiel Chapter 16 KJV.” King James Bible Online. Web. Retrieved 16 June 2017. Web. <https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Ezekiel-Chapter-16/>.

Kellerman, Stewart and O’Cnner, Patricia T. “Like father, like son.” Grammarphobia. 29 Feb 2016. Weblog. Retrieved 16 June 2017. <https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2016/02/like-father-like-son.html>.

“Like Father, Like Son.” Know Your Phrase. Web. Retrieved 16 June 2017. <http://www.knowyourphrase.com/phrase-meanings/Like-Father-Like-Son.html>.

“like father, like son”. Via Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Houghton Mifflin Company. 16 Jun. 2017. <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/like-father–like-son>.

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