Where did this saying come from, and what is its true meaning?
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The phrase "Wake up and smell the roses!" appears to be a conflation of two separate phrases, namely, "Wake up and smell the coffee!" and "Stop and smell the roses". This is confirmed to an extent by the following ngram:
Going by the graph, the two "source" phrases appear to have become popular in the 1970s while the conflated version appears to have done so in the 1980s.
The phrase, "Wake up and smell the roses!", carries the same meaning, and going by the nGram and the results on Google Books, is used around the world albeit far less frequently than the other two.
I believe this comes from a mixing up of metaphors.
The Half-Life 2 opening line "smell the ashes" is an obvious play on the idiom; also tying in with Apocalypse Now's line "I love the smell of napalm in the morning."
Also the idiom "to smell of roses" means that your character is unsullied.
There's this one instance that seems to mention the usage:
"Stop and Smell the Roses" was the title of a song by Mac Davis in 1974.
I could have sworn that I read this as a quote from "cowboy humorist" Will Rogers back in the 1920s or so, but I just spent more time googling this than it was worth and am unable to find any confirmation of this. (I did see that Mac Davis did a Will Rogers tribute: perhaps somewhere along the line I saw something with Mac Davis talking about Will Rogers and singing his own song and I conflated the two.)
The golfer Walter Hagen is quoted with numerous variations of this phrase,, "stop and smell the roses", "stop and smell the flowers", "take time to smell the roses", etc. That's the oldest source I could find.
Intuitively, the sentiment seems so obvious and the wording so straightforward that I expected it to be older, but ...
protected by tchrist Jul 25 '14 at 17:18
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