phrase "speak truth to power"

What’s up with that?
Where does it come from, and why do important people, elected officials and mainstream newscasters, use it?
I may be out of touch, but it strikes me as malformed, even illiterate.
Does it have a respected source?

This website presents a paper called “Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence”, written in 1955. According to the paper:

Even without this source, I’m not understanding why this strikes you as a confusing phrase. Speak truth (i.e. that which is not popular or mainstream) to power (i.e. those who have the most control over what is popular or mainstream). What’s complicated or confusing about that concept?

The concept is fine. It’s the wording that’s odd. Like “speak to the issue”, another grating neologism.
Is there another phrase where “to power” means “to the powerful” or “to the powers that be”, etc?
It’s a phrase that seems unidiomatic. As you have confirmed by showing it being based on 18th century Friends. How many other phrases of theirs have entered the mainstream intact?

The phase alternately resonates and grates to me. The words *truth * and *power * are both abstract nouns, really rather similar as words go. That supports the grammatical validity of the phrase, IMO.

hmmm…I like the ring of the phrase. I guess different strokes for different folks.

Well, there’s Nietzsche’s “will to power” – dunno if that counts for you. To me, “speak truth to power” makes considerably more grammatical sense than “will to power” does, but neither phrase bothers me particularly.

I never thought the phrase was a real good one. “Power” rarely aggregates enough in one person for that person to embody it enough to be described by just one word.

And shouldn’t “Four score and seven years ago” have been “In 1776”?

That’s another overly-simplistic phrasing I dislike about it: it implies that all that you speak is the truth, (all of these are certainly implications in the phrase, but I don’t have to like its oversimplifications.)

I’ve never even understood what it was supposed to mean. Can someone provide a translation into normal English? I know the context that it’s used in, which is generally a political situation, but what would I say in order to “speak truth to power” about a given issue and to whom would I need to say it?

I always assumed it to mean that someone is speaking the hard, honest truth to those in control, so as to break them of their illusions.

To create an example, say a climatologist has found several key evidences of global warming but has not spoken out about it to the politicians. His friends could encourage him to “speak truth to power” in hopes of changing their minds.

That may not even be the best example, because I usually see it as a phrase being used when those in power are completely unaware of the truth, and are in need of enlightening. :stuck_out_tongue:

So, we might say that Cindy Sheehan was speaking truth to power when she camped out in front of Bush’s ranch demanding that he talk to her about bringing the troops home? (Let’s assume for the sake of this example that we agree she was speaking “truth”.)

One other thing… it seems to be a phrase used exclusively by the left in the US. Is this correct? I don’t think I’ve heard of a pro-life group, for instance, claiming that they were speaking truth to power.

Upon further reflection, it sounds like it means: That person just said something I agree with [to someone in authority to do something about it].