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'Rolling Stones Gather No Moss'

FILE - A picture shows a balanced sculpture built during the European Stone Stacking Championships 2019 in Dunbar, Scotland, on April 21, 2019. (Photo by Andy Buchanan / AFP)
FILE - A picture shows a balanced sculpture built during the European Stone Stacking Championships 2019 in Dunbar, Scotland, on April 21, 2019. (Photo by Andy Buchanan / AFP)
'Rolling Stones Gather No Moss'
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And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

On today’s program, we will talk about the expression: A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Most of you probably know that a stone is the same thing as a rock. But what about moss?

Well, moss is a very soft, green plant. It has very small leaves and does not flower. It loves shade and water. So, moss grows well on wet ground, trees and rocks. In fact, rocks and stones that line shady creeks and rivers are often mossy.

Moss grows slowly and is a rootless plant. It spreads well over non-moving surfaces. In fact, to prevent moss from growing on stones in your garden, you can just move the rocks around, turning them over now and then.

Why? Because “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

Now, years ago this expression was covered in another Words and Their Stories. That story explained the expression’s connection to rock-and-roll. Writer Shelley Gollust explained that "a rolling stone gathers no moss" can be understood in a couple of ways.

It can mean that a person who never settles down in one place will not gather wealth or long-lasting relationships. The moss that slowly spreads across the rock represents the money and friends we make over time.

How does it feel?
To be on your own,
With no direction home,
A complete unknown,
Like a rolling stone.

But there is another way we use this expression.

Think about a rolling stone. It leads a carefree existence, on the move with no moss to worry about. People who are “rolling stones” live without the restrictions that come with responsibilities. They go where they choose when they choose. And, they don’t stay anywhere long enough to form attachments. Or moss.

A free spirit is also a term we use to describe such a person. They are not tied down with lots of traditional responsibilities.

A rolling stone could also be described as “nomadic,” often moving. Experts at the Merriam-Webster online dictionary define a nomad as a “member of a group of people who move from place to place.” Often nomads move around to find food.

However, these days we can use the word “nomadic” to describe anyone who moves around a lot.

Now, the rolling stone lifestyle has been explored in many songs including work by Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan.

One of the best came from The Temptations in 1972. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” is about a man who leaves his family. In the song the mother tries to explain the father her son never knew.

Papa was a rolling stone (my son, yeah)
Wherever he laid his hat was his home …

And that’s the end of this Words and Their Stories. Until next time … I’m Anna Matteo.

In the Comments Section, let us know how you view this expression. Is it good or bad be a rolling stone?

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. The first song used in this show is Bob Dylan singing "Rolling Stone" and the second is The Temptations singing "Papa Was a Rolling Stone."


Words in This Story

shadyadj. sheltered from the sun's light

creek n. a stream of water usually larger than a brook and smaller than a river

gather – v. something brought together

carefree – adj. having no worries or troubles

free spirit – n. a person who thinks and acts in an uninhibited way without worrying about normal social rules

nomadic adj. roaming about from place to place : characteristic of or being a nomad or group of nomads