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I have always pondered on the meaning of this phrase, "United we stand, divided we fall." In my understanding, "divided we fall" connotes a negative message in that it says 'in times of trouble, they will fall individually and that everyone should be thinking only about themselves'.

Am I getting it wrong?

closed as off-topic by MetaEd, tchrist, Jim, NVZ, curiousdannii Jul 31 '16 at 12:06

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    Try looking it up. – MetaEd Jul 31 '16 at 3:12
  • @MετάEd I did but I get the generic answer and usually just explain the first part of the phrase "United we stand", but if you look it up, there isn't any extensive explanation on the "divided we fall" part. That's why I'm asking it here. I wouldn't even have posted it if I am satisfied with what I found out. – chest_nut Jul 31 '16 at 3:20
  • If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately. Some versions replace that first 'hang' with 'stand'. The second refers to hanging from a gallows. – Wayfaring Stranger Jul 31 '16 at 3:36
  • @chest_nut You should always include information like that -- your research efforts and what you found and why it didn't answer your question -- in your post. Please edit your post. – MetaEd Aug 1 '16 at 16:55
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I don't think divided we fall is about our state after we have fallen, or about how we fall. I think it's about why we fall, and about our state before the fall.

This aphorism, United we stand, divided we fall, shows an admirable parallel structure. Understanding the first half helps us understand the second half, and vice versa.

Now, I see there's a work of art out there that takes only the second half as its title, but I don't advise interpreting the second half independently of the first. The two halves support each other and stand together. Separate the two halves, and the structure falls down.

I paraphrase as follows:

*If we stick together we will stand like a sturdy house or fortress; but if we split into two groups then we will fall down into a ruin. *

You can look it up here.

  • Thank you Wino. Yes, i did read that wiki. So is it only me that's reading the whole thing wrong? "Divided we fall" - we fall dividedly versus we fall if we are divided. Maybe I'm just over analyzing things. lol – chest_nut Jul 31 '16 at 3:37
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    @chest_nut, By itself, divided we fall, if not recognized as half of a famous adage, might possibly be heard as a double-entendre. Is that your point? I'm picturing scores of bisected bodies falling from a height. But I think this is ruled out by the clear reference to the aphorism, with its parallel first half. – Wino Rhino Jul 31 '16 at 4:30
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    Is the question really how does divided we fall differ from divided, we fall? – Wino Rhino Jul 31 '16 at 4:33
  • Thank you Wino. For some reason, I don't know why I couldn't tag you. But I do get it now. Just didn't pay much attention to the contextual structure of the phrase. Thank you! – chest_nut Jul 31 '16 at 9:39
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I would expand the pithy phrase as follows:

If we as a group remain (or become) united, we will endure - if we are divided from each other, we will be vanquished.

You might have even more trouble with the punning expression of the same sentiment by Ben Franklin:

"We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

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