Answer Man: Origin of 'It all depends on whose ox is being gored'

News-DemocratJuly 3, 2013 

Q. Can you tell me the origin of this common saying: "It all depends on whose ox is being gored"? It was used on two news programs just last week.

-- Joe Maul, of Waterloo

A. Sounds like you need to take the bull by the horns, grab your Bible and open it to Exodus 21:28-30:

"If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death ... but the owner of the bull will not be held responsible.

"If, however the bull has had the habit of goring and the owner has been warned but has not kept it penned up and it kills a man or woman, the bull must be stoned and the owner also must be put to death. However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is requested."

In 1521, Martin Luther apparently drew on these verses to make what many say was history's first use of "it depends on whose ox is gored."

Luther, you may recall, earned the wrath of the Catholic Church when he, according to legend, nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on Oct. 31, 1517. In a letter to his bishop, he assailed the sale of indulgences and further raised hackles by contending, among other heretical ideas, that man is saved by faith alone, not faith as proven through charity and good works.

For this blasphemy, Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X on Jan. 3, 1521, but he was given one last chance to recant at the Diet of Worms, which opened three weeks later. Luther, of course, refused to back down and during his defense reportedly said, "Most human affairs come down to depending upon whose ox is gored."

In other words, if your ox fights another person's ox, the consequences are going to be radically different depending on which one is gored. Substitute, say, "tax bill" or, in this case, "religious beliefs" for "ox" and you probably start to see the modern application. How people react to something depends on how they are affected by it. Urging followers to stop paying indulgences, for example, would have hit the church deep in the pocketbook.

Luther's idealism led to the Edict of Worms by Emperor Charles V, which declared, "We forbid anyone from this time forward ... to receive, defend, sustain, or favor the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves ... Those who help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work."

Luther, however, went on to write and preach for another 25 years to help launch the Protestant Reformation.

Q. I recently tried to buy a ticket for the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway in St. Louis via the Internet. But after I entered my ZIP, it tells me "No Dream Home Available." Why can't I buy tickets?

-- Barb W., of Shiloh

A. Oh, you can enter the giveaway, but the Internet isn't the ticket for anyone in Illinois.

When you find the map of the 30 homes being raffled across the country at, you should see a message in pink saying, "Internet sales are only available for residents in the state of a Dream Home." Because the home you're interested in is in O'Fallon, Mo., and you live in Shiloh, you'll get "No Dream Homes Available" when you type in your ZIP code. (The home in Peoria already was awarded.)

Apparently, it has to do with making sure the giveaway meets each state's picayunish legal requirements.

"Each state has its own parameters," a St. Jude spokeswoman told me. "Sometimes it's a real trip for us to make sure all the i's are dotted and t's crossed."

She remembered that when the giveaway began in 1991 in Louisiana, people had to call a number in Louisiana rather than the hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Fortunately, the rules have loosened somewhat as the hospital has gone on to raise $224 million through these giveaways.

So don't let the computer stop you. You can buy the $100 tickets for the Sept. 6 drawing of the 3,500-square-foot house and other prizes by phone or mail. For information, call toll-free (800) 667-3394. Just so you aren't surprised at tax time, the ticket price is not considered a charitable donation by the IRS, according to the St. Jude website.

Today's trivia

Singer Jenny Frost says she is omphalophobic. What unusual thing is she afraid of?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: We probably remember Gen. George Armstrong Custer best for his disastrous loss at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. But on July 3, 1863, he had what some historians call one of his finest hours. At the Battle of Gettysburg, he helped fend off what could have been a critical blow by Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, who was ordered to attack the rear of the Union Army. Losing 257 men in his brigade, he later wrote, "I challenge the annals of warfare to produce a more brilliant or successful charge of cavalry."

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or or call 239-2465.

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