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Lexical Leavings

by Tom Gally



Proverbs in dictionaries tend to be the goody-good ones. Here is a famous one from three different English-Japanese dictionaries:
Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
今日できることを明日に延ばすな.

Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
今日できることを明日まで延ばすな.

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
きょうできることをあすに延ばすな。
None of the dictionaries listed the also-popular "Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow." As the following Google hit counts show, while the goody-good version is more popular, the procastinators' version should not be ignored:
"Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today." 674
"Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow." 302

"Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today." 437
"Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow." 213

"Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today." 227
"Don't do today what you can put off till tomorrow." 34

"Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today." 352
"Don't do today what you can put off until tomorrow." 62
Many Web sites attribute the original version to Thomas Jefferson, but according to Barlett's it appeared in a letter by Lord Chesterfield in 1749, when Jefferson was six years old. The opposite version appeared in a poem by William Brighty Rands (Matthew Browne, 1823-1882).
(March 13, 2003)