Water finds its own level

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Water finds its own level

Post by Archived Topic » Fri Sep 03, 2004 11:03 am

I am working on the interpretation of a poem by Shara McCallum. She uses the expression, "Water finds its own level" repeatedly. I am unfamiliar with this expression and wondered if you might help me understand what it means and how it is generally used. Thanks.
Jeanne Allegra
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Water finds its own level

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Sep 03, 2004 11:17 am

This refers to the fact that water under gravity & atmospheric pressure will fill any container (or a dug trench) to a uniform level. This behavior has been used by builders since ancient times to level structures.
If for example you want to level a deck fill your garden hose and a pitcher(with a helper holding the other end),detach from spigot. Hold one end at proper height, raise or lower other end(adding water as it spills) till water is at brim of both ends. At this point both are perfectly at the same level.
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Water finds its own level

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Sep 03, 2004 11:32 am

Jeanne, The Anonymous donor gave a good example of the consequences of a basic principles of physics (hydraulics) with respect to a liquid at equilibrium in a vessel of arbitrary shape. 1) the pressure is the same at all points having the same elevation and pressure and only depends on the depth of the liquid at that elevation. If there were pressure differences at the same elevation they would produce forces which would drive them to zero. As a consequence, any height differences at the surface will produce pressure differentials that will always force those surfaces to a state of equilibrium in which all are at the same level. Or as more succinctly put by one of my students many ears ago, “doesn’t that just mean that water runs downhill?” – I love it! And thus we have. “water seeks its own level.”

Notwithstanding the above brilliant technical explanation (<:), and the previous very nice leveling-with-a-hose example, this is not how the phrase is/has been generally used. It is mainly used figuratively as an adage, although it does, of course, derive from the physical principle and may still be used in that sense. The figurative adage was very common when I was growing up and you would often hear it as a form of disapproval for the person or crowd that someone was hanging around with – but I haven’t heard it in years. I was, nevertheless, very surprised when I found that it showed up in but one of the phrase/proverb/adage/sayings sources that I checked.
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Random House Dictionary of America’s Popular Proverbs and Sayings

WATER SEEKS ITS OWN LEVEL / WATER FINDS ITS OWN LEVEL / WATER WILL FIND ITS OWN LEVEL, ETC: People tend to rise or sink to their level of competence [[or comfort]]; we usually find ourselves among people who are much like ourselves. [[ “birds of a feather flock together”]]. The proverb was first attested to in the United States [[but its origin may be earlier and elsewhere?]] in the 1778 “Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York.”

1941: “No Tammany man can rise above the local machine. . . . People elsewhere would say that water cannot rise above its own level and that the level in New York is contemptibly and irretrievably low.”—Robert Moses [[NYC Commissioner of Parks 1934-1960]], quoted by Robert A. Caro in ‘The Power Broker’

1993: “My wife wants to live in Soho [[meaning south of Houston Street, an expensive section of Manhattan]], and I don’t blame her. The old saw still holds true, ‘Water seeks its own level.’ The only problem [is] I can’t afford it.”—Overheard at a neighborhood clean-up rally [[by Greg Titelman author of this proverbs and sayings dictionary]]

[[“The old adage that "water seeks its own level" seems to hold true in the world of show business. Those whose attitude doesn’t fit into the mold of the people around them, seem to work themselves out of the show.”]] (from a show biz website)]]

note: [[ ]] indicates items I have inserted
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Ken G – May 8, 2003


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Water finds its own level

Post by Archived Reply » Fri Sep 03, 2004 11:46 am

That next to last line in the first paragraph should read ‘many YEARS ago’ and not ‘many EARS ago,’ which is sentimental feedlot talk for the good old days! But honest – I was never trying to teach physics to cows!

Ken G – May 8, 2003





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