UK Two Pound Coin

Standing on the shoulders of giants

For a long time I have had a web page about the origin of the inscription on the outer edge of the UK two pound coin “Standing on the shoulders of giants”, so I have recorded the most important information from that older page here before removing it.

The quote is generally attributed to Sir Isaac Newton, the famous physicist, mathematician and more, who wrote in a letter to his colleague Robert Hooke on 5th February 1676:

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”

The phrase is understood to mean that if he (Sir Isaac Newton) has been able to discover more about the universe than others then it was because he was working in the light of discoveries made by fellow scientists either in his own time or earlier. There is some suggestion that the phrase may have also had a sarcastic undertone as some historians report that Robert Hooke began to disagree with many of Newton’s theories and Hooke himself was reportedly of quite short height.

Whilst the exact phrase above is attributed to Sir Newton, the main idea to which it refers can be traced back many centuries earlier, at least to Bernard of Chartes who died around the year 1130. The following is attributed to him:

“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more than they do, indeed even farther; but not because our sight is better than theirs or because we are taller than they. Our sight is enhanced because they raise us up and increase our stature by their enormous height”

My thanks to Alan Williams for leaving a note about the quote from Bernard of Chartes in my old guestbook.

12 thoughts on “UK Two Pound Coin”

  1. I am sure that at some time I read that Newtons real quote was that Hooke had done something by standing on the shoulders of giants, implying that he had plagiarized some work from Newton. Have you ever heard of this? I can’t seem to find the reference to tht information any more though.

  2. It’s Chartres, not Chartes.

    And it’s Sir Isaac, not Sir Newton.

    Bernard’s surname was Sylvestris; a 12th century French Platonist philosopher, per Webster’s Biographical Dictionary.

  3. Sorry about the Seneca/Lucan misstep: Lucan allegedly attributes it to Didius Stella (the Spanish theologian Diego de Estella, who wrote a book on St. Luke?. Burton’s version does, too.

  4. i use this phrase often when lecturing advanced it security at seminars, i always believed the phrase read.. i can see further than the common man by standing on sholders of giants, this gives it a much deeper meaning for me than a sly poke at hooke, who i believe to be on of the greatest men
    of all time.

  5. my be the comment, means , he got his knowledge from .,standing on the shoulders of giants that the people have forgot.

    ie. thoth, and all the other egyptian manuscripts he read.

  6. Yeah, I was wondering about that inscription myself.

    However, I still cannot comprehend why it is engraved on the British £2 coin.

  7. Sir Isaac Newton was consulted and indeed given the responsiblity of ensuring fraud was minimised..There was rampant forgery of money at the time and Newton designed better methods of Circumventing the problem he came up with the idea of serating the edge of the coin which made it rather hard to forge the coins. Hence they rewarded Newton by inscribing his famous aphronim on the £2 coin ” standing on the shoulders of giants”.

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