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I always heard this phrase from school, but never understood the actual meaning of it or how this phrase originated.

What does this actually mean, and why was it Rome and not any other city?

What is so special about Rome in this phrase?

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closed as off-topic by Kris, tchrist, FumbleFingers, aedia λ, Rory Alsop Feb 4 at 10:27

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Rome was the greatest city in the history of the world. –  Ring Spectra Jan 30 at 5:21
    
yeah that I know, and I am really a fan of Rome, but I am asking about the etymology of phrase. –  Waseem Jan 30 at 5:26
    
@waseem He just told you the reason. And I don’t know that you can apply the notion of an etymon to an idiomatic expression or age-old refrain. You seek only its origins, not its etymology. And its origins should be self-evident; if not, you have just been so informed. –  tchrist Jan 30 at 5:33
    
The idiomatic sense of the expression is what would be relevant to this site, ELU. The story of Rome and its decline and fall is for another site. Voting to close as off topic. –  Kris Jan 30 at 5:37
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This question appears to be off-topic because it is not about the English language. For the idiom, see any respectable dictionary or just Google. –  Kris Jan 30 at 5:38

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

It is a proverb meaning a complex task is bound to take a long time (and should not be rushed).

It is a French proverb from the 1100s (more precisely 1190 A.D.) and didn't come into English until 1500s. A cleric in the Medieval court of Phillippe of Alsace — the Count of Flanders — dreamt up (or perhaps stole) the phrase in French: Rome ne s’est pas faite en un jour. In 1538 that the saying ebbed into the English language when playwright-author John Heywood included it in his work A Dialogue Containing the Number in Effect of all the Proverbs in the English Tongue.

Why Rome? Idioms are effective because of imagery. What better city than Rome? Built by hand, stone by stone, conquest by conquest, it was a great empire as well as a great city. Perhaps because the idiom was used in the Western world, and Rome is one of the oldest and most important continuously occupied cities in Europe. Rome's history spans more than two and a half thousand years, since its legendary founding in 753 BC.

According to tradition the ancient city was founded by Romulus (after whom it is named) in 753 bc on the Palatine Hill; as it grew it spread to the other six hills of Rome (Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Quirinal, and Viminal). By the mid 2nd century bc Rome had subdued the whole of Italy and had come to dominate the western Mediterranean and the Hellenistic world in the east, acquiring the first of the overseas possessions that became the Roman Empire. Rome "fell" on September 4, 476, when Romulus Augustus, the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, was deposed by Odoacer, a Germanic chieftain.

The proverb just wouldn't be the same if one said Athens... or Paris....

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+1 Very thorough! –  andy256 Jan 30 at 6:31
    
I did not know it was originally a French proverb. –  Mari-Lou A Jan 30 at 8:39
    
Excellent information about this idiom, Susan. The information etymonline gives is poor. They don't mention the French saying. –  rogermue Jan 30 at 8:39
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Thank you Susan. After reading various comments above, I was hoping someone would do waseem's question justice. An answer half as good as yours would have done the trick. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 30 at 9:28
    
And as I am sure you realise this is not the only metaphor we use in English concerning Rome. 'When in Rome, do as the Romans' is one which springs to mind. It would be interesting to see what others people can think of. –  WS2 Jan 30 at 9:50

Non fuit in solo Roma peracta die

It is an ancient Latin saying (hence the reference to Rome – the great, imperial Rome of that age).

I am Italian and the first time I saw it written in English I was surprised. The English meaning is the same as that of the Latin original, and also there is an Italian version:

Roma non fu costruita in un giorno

– it means that in life great goals can be reached only being constant and most of all patient.

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Great answer Susan! I just see that there's a little slight of meaning between italian and English. And of course, a different origin of the saying which I think it is normal when we talk of proverbs or fables. (Sorry for my English and for my auto-italian-correcting IPhone:)) –  Blisterinthesun Jan 30 at 7:01
    
I am not sure that I'm correct, as your saying seems to be the original... but I didn't see that anywhere I looked. –  medica Jan 30 at 9:10
    
I submit this french link, I think french could be easier to understand for English speakers. –  Blisterinthesun Jan 30 at 16:45
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I submit this french link, I think french could be easier to understand for English speakers. If you'd ever came across italian websites you can find this 'adagio' (proverb) easily. It has not a sure origin, anyway and your explanation is really interesting and suggestive and matches with the article I submitted and with my little research as well:)histoire.presse.fr/livres/… –  Blisterinthesun Jan 30 at 18:10

That is the Rome was not constructed in a single day that was a huge process. Like this "Every thing in life is not easily achievable have to work hard" is the reason behind the phrase

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