Fount of Wisdom
Kathryn Doyle writes:
I’ve heard or read this expression and it’s taken up residence in my subconscious. But I’m not finding it in Webster’s. Where did it come from? Is it font or fount or do I need to exorcize it? Ex. “Font of wisdom”or “Font of information.”
My immediate response was “fount, of course!”
Fount is a poetic form of fountain. The expression “fount of wisdom” immediately makes me think of this quotation from Alexander Pope:
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
Pope was writing for readers who knew their classics. Pieria is
a district of the Greek region of Macedonia just north of Mount Olympus, regarded as the home of the Muses in Greek and Roman mythology. Hence: of or relating to the Muses, or (by extension) poetry and learning; poetic. Pierian spring n. the fountain or source of poetic inspiration (usu. in figurative context). –OED
So, “fount of wisdom” is the only correct spelling for me, but the answer to Kathryn’s question is not so simple, as can be seen in these definitions:
fount: [fount] 1. a. A spring or source of water issuing from the earth and collecting in a basin, natural or artificial; also, the head-spring or source of a stream or river. Now arch. or poet. exc. fig.
font: font [fŏnt] 1. “basin,” O.E. font, from L. fons (gen. fontis) “fountain” (see fountain), especially in M.L. fons baptismalis “baptismal font.” 2. “typeface,” 1683, from M.Fr. fonte, fem. pp. of fondre “melt” (see found (2)). So called because all the letters were cast at the same time. (In England usually fount.)
Since even a “font of type” can be spelled as a “fount of type” in England, I don’t think that any hard and fast rule can apply.
Image and pronunciation can probably be allowed to prevail.
Do you see the figurative source of wisdom or information as a welling spring of water, or as a filled basin?
Are you saying the word with the /ow/ sound of fount or the short o of font?
I’ll stick with fount, but I’d hesitate to fault the speaker/writer who goes with font.
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