Love thy neighbor but keep the fence


Neighbor is a simple word -–-no Greek, no Latin  no fuss. Neighbor is also a powerful word, its strength coming from its simplicity and Germanic origin. It is the modern  version of the Old English neahGebür, which meant a nearby farmer. Neah is seen in English nigh and modern German Nahe, both meaning “near.” Although nigh is not an everyday English  word, we could  write and understand:

The word neighbor has been a bona fide English word for nigh onto 1500 years

Gebür is related to the modern German Bauer which came into English through the Dutch word boor. Boor no longer means farmer but generally refers to a person of poor circumstance and unrefined manner.

Our relations with neighbors are so important that almost every language has several proverbs and sayings dealing with the subject. Here  are a couple I like,

Brothers, rivers, and priests are three bad neighbors (Sicily)

Judge a man not by the words of his mother, but from the comments of his neighbors.(Hebrew)

A recurring theme across the proverbs of many countries is the idea that a nearby neighbor may be more helpful to you than a distant relative in time of need. This Danish proverb is typical:

A good neighbor is better than a brother far off

If you assembled all the proverbs about neighbors in a particular language you would repeatedly find the word for  fence. Worldwide, there is much agreement with the thought that “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Whether they be physical, social, or imaginary maintain your fences. It’s easier to maintain them than to mend them


4 thoughts on “Love thy neighbor but keep the fence”

  1. Hi John,
    Loved this. It caused me to consider my neighbors…One without a fence, one with a fence and one with a high hedge. I get along fine with the first two. I have never spoken with the third (I’ve lived here for 21 years). The third neighbor uses the hedge to limit and restrict access, perhaps to provide protection, or at least the feeling of being protected.
    I then wondered how the word hedge, as in hedge fund related to my neighbors barrier. I found that a hedge fund also limits and restricts (in this case, types of investments) to protect.
    Thanks John!!

      1. Hi John, Thank you for you splendid article as always.
        He encontrado expresiones en español similares a las que describes como “Ni fraile ni río por vecino, ni viña junto al camino”
        Best regards from Europe

  2. Nacho Villalobos

    Thank you John. Interesting article. There’s a lot of similar expressions in Spanish, “ni río de vecino ni viña junto al camino” for example. Best regards from Europe.

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