Who could possibly confuse Admiral Lord Nelson, of the Battle of Trafalgar, with Spike Milligan, of The Goon Show? Well, the quagmire of quote attribution doth make fools of us all, as someone (ahem) may have said.
“A sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree.”
Attributed to Lord Nelson (1758 – 1805)
and to Spike Milligan (1918 – 2002)
It shouldn’t be difficult to sort out this confusion, given that Nelson died 103 years before Milligan was born. They weren’t contemporaries, nor in the same line of work. But apparently it’s not that simple, or ‘twould already have been done.
And it gets worse: It’s unclear what was meant, no matter who said it. Is it a rueful observation on the difficulty of accessing a cure, in the moment: on the sad inevitability of seasickness, literally and figuratively? Is it a pointed observation on the importance of avoiding trouble, or a bracing observation along the lines of “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”?
And it gets worser: It’s unclear who said it; it’s unclear what was meant by what was said; it’s also unclear precisely what was said. Without much effort, I found the variant above, and these two:
- The only sure cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree.
- The best cure for seasickness is to sit under a tree.
A sure cure, the only sure cure, the best cure: Differences worth bothering about?
It seems so to me.
A “sure cure” points out what should be obvious (albeit not always possible at that exact moment) and applies both literally and figuratively: If doing something makes you sick, stop doing it. Subtext: What kind of idiot doesn’t stop banging their head against the wall?
The “only sure cure” adds a disparagement of all other suggested remedies. Subtext: What kind of idiot would try all those ridiculous suggestions instead of the obvious one? Or, indeed, instead of just accepting the inevitable?
The “best cure” adds the “No pain, no gain” message popularized by Jane Fonda in the 1980s. Subtext: What kind of wuss would avoid sailing to avoid seasickness?
I don’t know whether Nelson or Milligan were careful communicators for their respective days, but for today’s days I have some modest proposals to address the possible communication intentions here, subtexts aside.
A sure cure? If going to sea makes you seasick, then stay on land.
The only sure cure? If going to sea makes you seasick, forget any other purported remedy, and just stay on land.
The best cure? If going to sea makes you seasick, forget any other purported remedy and consider only whether the benefit is worth the cost. If not, then stay on land.
Now, Horatio (or Spike): Was that so hard?