Join 3,501 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


What does 'Cobbler, stick to thy last.' mean?
November 18, 2005 5:26 PM   Subscribe

What does "Cobbler, stick to thy last." mean?
posted by jojopizza to Society & Culture (22 answers total)
 
A last (scroll down the page to the middle) is "A block or form shaped like a human foot and used in making or repairing shoes." The phrase means, "Stick with what you know," or "Don't try to talk about/do stuff when you don't know what you're talking about/doing." Like if a cobbler or shoemaker started trying to talk about neurosurgery. In the context of that thread, it means, "You're much better at lurking than posting. so why don't you stick with lurking?"
posted by Gator at 5:34 PM on November 18, 2005


"Do not presume to address
matters beyond your competence."

posted by CunningLinguist at 5:34 PM on November 18, 2005


A cobbler makes shoes and their last is the thing they fashion or repair the shoes on. The phrase means stick to what you're good at, or more negatively, don't get above yourself.
posted by Flitcraft at 5:37 PM on November 18, 2005


Stick with what you know.
posted by amro at 5:38 PM on November 18, 2005


Oops, what Gator said.
posted by amro at 5:38 PM on November 18, 2005


Scrooge McDuck had it as "Cobblers should stick to their last."
posted by yerfatma at 6:52 PM on November 18, 2005


My Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable also has the following story (perhaps the root of the saying?):

"There is a story of a cobbler who detected a fault in a shoe latchet in a painting by Apelles. The artist rectified the fault. The cobbler then ventured to critcize the legs, but Apelles answered: 'Keep to your trade: you understand about shoes, but not about anatomy.' "
posted by kalimac at 6:56 PM on November 18, 2005


Now that the question has been addressed, I'd just like to add that the referenced post was damn fun to watch unfold
posted by menace303 at 7:10 PM on November 18, 2005


I suppose this has been answered satisfactorily upthread, but let me add this:

languagehat's use of the expression was (to memory) the first instance in which I have ever seen it used in English. I also kind of could guess that you were referring to that comment, without clicking or hovering the link :)

It doesn't seem to be used in English very often, yet I knew exactly what it meant: it is a very commonly used expression in Dutch. "Schoenmaker, blijf bij je leest" is pretty much a word-for-word equivalent to its English counterpart, and both the literal and abstract meanings are transparent to each other. (Non-speakers of Dutch may spot 'shoe-maker' in "schoenmaker", obviously meaning cobbler.)

Note: I am a native speaker of Dutch, and a second language speaker of English.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:23 PM on November 18, 2005


Maybe it's because I first encountered it in Latin, but I think "Sutor, ne ultra crepidam" is the more biting retort. You're not only calling the guy unqualified, but you're doing it in a classical language. Insults which must be parsed through Google tend to sting just that much more.
posted by electric_counterpoint at 7:26 PM on November 18, 2005


I have a hopefully-not-too-off-topic, and serious-not-snarky question for jojopizza: why did you not just contact languagehat to ask? (Even if he hadn't been the one who said it, but especially since he was.)
posted by attercoppe at 7:47 PM on November 18, 2005


My copy of Classical and Foreign Quotations (W. Francis H. King, ed.) quotes the phrase as Ne supra crepidam sutor judicaret, (“A cobbler should stick to his last”) explaining: “When a cobbler, not content with pointing out defects in a shoe of Apelles’ painting, presumed to criticise the drawing of the leg, the artist checked him with the rebuke here quoted. It is often said of those who offer opinions on subjects with which they are not professionally acquainted.”
posted by letourneau at 7:55 PM on November 18, 2005


letourneau's reminded me -- my own Latin doesn't translate directly to the English provided. It's actually "Cobbler, no higher than the sandal" -- the painter's direct address to the cobbler.

Would have corrected myself earlier, but I was reliving the portabella thread...
posted by electric_counterpoint at 8:10 PM on November 18, 2005


Seems like a fancy-pants way to say "Mind your own business".
posted by blue_beetle at 10:41 PM on November 18, 2005


Seems like a fancy-pants way to say "Mind your own business".

To you it's fancy-pants; to electric_counterpoint it's not fancy-pants enough. A guy just can't win. Anyway, though I'm sorry I joined in the bashing of poor MiHail, who turned out to be perfectly nice, I'm glad I provided goodnewsfortheinsane (man, there are some long usernames in this thread) with an example of actual use. (I presume you know that Schoonmaker is a fairly common name in English; I still remember my surprise when I learned that it was pronounced skoon-, not shoon-.)

why did you not just contact languagehat to ask?

If I had been in jojopizza's shoes, I too would have posted a question here rather than sending an e-mail, because it would have seemed to me like something others would be interested in.
posted by languagehat at 6:56 AM on November 19, 2005


Ultracrepidate is actually a wonderful word.
posted by ktrey at 7:10 AM on November 19, 2005


I learned that it was pronounced skoon-, not shoon-

Then again in Dutch, it's pronounced /sxu/ (IPA x as in Scottish 'loch', or 'chanuka'). Oh and in English there's also the schooner, also pronounced 'skoo' - although I prefer longboats myself. :)

(man, there are some long usernames in this thread)

Hey, you know you can call me gnfti!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 8:01 AM on November 19, 2005


Was there some editing is thread that makes the comments not exactly make sense?
posted by fixedgear at 12:06 PM on November 19, 2005


I don't think so. What doesn't seem to make sense to you?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:26 PM on November 19, 2005


Late to the party, but as an addendum: Cobbler has another meaning at least as far back as early modern English; something very much synonymous with meddler, but also with an implication of incompetence.
So there's a little more than just the analogy with a literal shoemaker. It is essentially a very pointed way of suggesting that you're speaking above your station and being especially stupid about it. It's a hell of a dis, really.
I suspect there's more going on with the various meanings of last, as well, but I'm less informed there.
posted by willpie at 9:29 AM on November 20, 2005


It is essentially a very pointed way of suggesting that you're speaking above your station and being especially stupid about it.

That certainly isn't how I was using it; I enjoy a good insult as much as the next grump, but I dont think I ever use class-based insults. (For one thing, my own class background wouldn't really support my right to do so.)
posted by languagehat at 5:12 PM on November 20, 2005


When a cobbler found fault with the shoes in a painting Apelles (4th century BC), the artist corrected the mistake. The cobbler was flattered, and went on to criticize the shape of the legs of a figure in the painting, but that was too much for Apelles. "Cobbler, stick to your last!" he cried, contributing a phrase that has endured for more than two millennia. -- Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes
posted by phhht at 10:47 PM on November 20, 2005


« Older I need a new video card for my...   |  Does anyone know a Chinese res... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.