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In the phrase finder (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/all-that-glitters-is-not-gold.html) I found the "correct" syntax of the saying: "All that glitters is not gold," and that's fine. The saying trips off the tongue quite nicely, I guess, which is good in and of itself.

I've also read the OP's question at "All that is gold does not glitter", which does not really pertain to my question, which is this:

How is it that the logically "wrong" syntax becomes accepted and traditional?

In other words, for other than purely stylistic reasons is there a mini-theory which explains the phenomenon?

I realize that people prefer on purely stylistic grounds the peculiar syntax of a given saying or quotation . As I said, sometimes the way that words come trippingly off our tongues is sufficient reason for embracing a saying exactly as worded. I also realize that some sayings become accepted into the repertory of a culture's proverbs by simply being repeated over the span of generations.

Nevertheless, despite its seeming almost fungible with "All that glitters is not gold," "Not all that glitters is gold" is preferable, logically, is it not? After all, if gold is NOT among all things that glitter, then why does it glitter? I mean, it does glitter, doesn't it?

Perhaps I'm making too big a deal of this. Perhaps it's a non-issue. Perhaps language just evolves that way sometimes, and there is nothing necessarily illogical or irrational about it. Even if there is something illogical or seemingly irrational about it, language is, after all, illogical (if not irrational) at times. As the young people say today in their quasi-profound, ersatz way, "It is what it is."

To wrap things up, I've posed at least three questions:

Does the basis for an answer to my question come from people's stylistic preferences?

Does the basis for an answer to my question come from the phenomenon of perseveration? Or,

Does the basis for an answer to my question come from some other explanation (or from a combination of question one and question two and some other explanation)?

If I get one down vote, I'll delete the post, but I'm really curious about this!

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In short, set phrases handed down from time immemorial, or even from the 12th century, often keep the archaic style of phrasing long after that style has gone out of productive use in the language. –  tchrist Jun 8 '13 at 1:03
    
Thank you. As I'm fond of saying, there's more than one way to stuff a turkey! Shakespeare's wording was brilliant, but then so too was Chaucer's. So you're saying, in effect, the reason is the obduracy of perseveration? (I do not mean in the psychologically aberrant sense of perseveration, of course.) –  rhetorician Jun 8 '13 at 1:11
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It's a good line; and it's perfectly good Elizabethan syntax, a negation of the proposition that all that glisters is gold. Compare "We were not all unkind, nor all deserve / The common stroke of war. [...] All have not offended. / For those that were, it is not square to take / On those that are, revenges/" - TA,V,4 –  StoneyB Jun 8 '13 at 1:25
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Things are seldom what they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream. –  John Lawler Jun 8 '13 at 16:17

1 Answer 1

These versions are fungible amongst those who are familiar with the phrase, and its intended meaning. For a large number of people, merely saying "glitters; not gold" will invoke the phrase as well, albeit it slightly indirectly.

People who are culturally fluent in a language can pick out intent, as well as literal meanings.

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Intent is important, I grant you. Being culturally literate myself, I know what the saying means, and I'm not in favor of changing it. Language is a tapestry, with many interesting skeins of meanings, connotations, shadings, and poesies. I enjoy a good metaphor as well as the next guy, and figures of speech do make my ears perk up and sometimes enhance my listening and retention. When I was a kid, I couldn't figure out what "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" meant. "Why wouldn't someone want the Lord as their shepherd?" I wondered. Years later, I learned what it meant. –  rhetorician Jun 8 '13 at 15:26

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