4/12/10 What Would Scooby Do?
"Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig." —Robert Heinlein
Many a quote or old saying involves animals and trying to get them to do things. Often the futility of getting dumb beasts to do things they can't or won't do. Though it might not be the beast is so dumb, rather trying to get said creature to behave against its nature is foolish. Take for instance these two old saws...
You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
I'm fairly sure you can't teach a dog no matter its age to sing, like a pig or a person. At least not well, in key, or with the right lyrics. Though I have seen dogs howl along to music, though I wouldn't classify such vocalizations as singing. Which recalls the story of Dr. Johnson's reaction to certain dog tricks...
"The question the spectacle of a dog walking on its hind legs brings to mind is not how well is it done, but why."
3/25/10 Material World Weary
"Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like." —Will Rogers
Sound like someone you know? Would that be someone in the mirror? Is it an impressive mirror? Did you really want that mirror? Did you buy it with a credit card? Are objects in the mirror bigger or smaller than they appear? What's with all the dumb questions?
I suppose there is a larger lesson here, but I'm not sure what. Maybe buying stuff is more fun than owning stuff. Once the novelty wears off it's just stuff underfoot you have to clean or store or whatever. Why do you think there are so many yard, rummage and garage sales? Just a way of trying to get back a bit of money we shouldn't have spent on things we don't want which don't impress anyone any more.
Consider how many folks have closets, cabinets, and attics jam-packed with stuff they don't use or need or maybe even want any more. Now-a-days people store so much junk in the garage they can't get the car in there. We have an entire industry based on owning more stuff than we have places to put it, self storage.
Face it, this is the age of junk drawer overflow. And all that dusty old detritus isn't going to turn heads at Antiques Roadshow, is it? Still, we buy more and hold onto it all because, as my pack-rat grandpa used to say, "It might come in handy some day." Sure, if you can find it or get to it even if you know where it might be in there somewhere.
In the end, junk was once goods that became no good.
3/9/10 Afraid of Fear
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." — FDR
Would that be phobophobia? Probably not. Anyway a phobia is an irrational fear. A well-grounded fear, something truly dangerous and possible, wouldn't be a phobia. Fear of getting blown to itty-bitty pieces in a war zone wouldn't be kablammophobia or whatever, but an all too real possibility.
Still, does FDR's bromide hold any water? Did folks in the early 30s have no reason to fear unemployment, bankruptcy, failing banks, deflation, the rise of Nazi Germany or the looming threat from militarist Japan? The quote sounds clever and pithy, might make a good bumper sticker or look swell emblazoned on a t-shirt, but does it hold up to scrutiny very well?
Sure, there is something in not getting carried away with irrational fear, which I gather is what he was getting at. But saying "the only thing we have to fear" is where he goes overboard. Perhaps he might have said, "Our biggest fear is fear itself." With that I can get on board without going overboard.
Then again, he could have said, "Don't fear fear." Though interpreted another way, if fear is the only thing to be feared he might have said, "Fear fear." Which sounds like the opposite of "Don't fear fear" though it's sort-of making the same point. Anyway, "fear fear" just sounds dumb. Though not as dumb as what he might have said...
"Don't fear fear, fear fearing fear."
That's all I have on fearing fear, I fear.
2/15/10 We Are What We Are We Are
Here's an old saying or cliche or whatever-it-is you've likely run across, though probably not used yourself except in jest:
Woe is me.
Maybe I don't know my three Rs to a T, but doesn't "woe is me" sound rather tinny to the ear? The whole reverse-wise ordering of the words in the sentence is strange, like the way Yoda might say, "Jedi am I" instead of "I am Jedi". Still, I don't think he'd say, "Jedi is me." Should it be "woe am I"?
This reminds me of 'Toys R Us', which perhaps should be 'Toys R We'. As in reverse "we are toys" as opposed to "us are toys".
Rephrase the original wording in more conventional order and you get, "me is woe". Does that sound right? Try it this way, "I am woe". That's seems better, but does it really work that way, or make sense? I mean, can I be woe, what's that mean?
Then again, I might be woe in the same way I am me, which doesn't reverse to "me am I" very well at all. Or consider it this way, I am Terry Colon is like saying Terry Colon is me, which sounds perfectly OK. So I guess if you mean woe as in all woe or woe itself, "woe is me" works after all.
As Emily Litella would say, "never mind". If that doesn't satisfy as an ending, just keep in mind what Ronnie Barker used to say...
"If you enjoyed watching the show only half as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you, then we enjoyed it twice as much as you."
1/27/10 Like Taking Candy Out of the Mouths of Babes
Mixed-up metaphors are sometimes surprising, sometimes puzzling, and sometimes pretty darn funny. While Art Linkletter might have thought kids say the darnedest things, adults can say things even darnedier.
"I've gone where the hand of man has never set foot." — Samuel Goldwyn
"A zebra does not change its spots." — Al Gore
Mixing up metaphors isn't limited to the famous. Everyday people commit slips of the tongue, too. Such as the following gem overheard in a clothing store.
"Those pants fit you like a glove."
I admit these might not be true mixed metaphors, but they're close enough for jazz, as my piano teacher used to say. In any case, I think they're amusing enough so the reader got their money's worth free of charge.
1/9/10 Joke Quotes
"There are three kinds of math students. Those that can add and those that can't." — anonymous
Is that really a quote or a joke? Or is it both? I would say many short jokes and funny lines that make the rounds are quotes. I mean, when we tell a joke aren't we just repeating what someone else said? Only rarely are these gags attributed. I imagine that's mainly because nobody knows where they came from to begin with.
These often get mangled in the retelling so they become misquotes, though the gist of the joke is still there. If not I guess they're misjokes. While word for word retelling is important for quotes, not so much for jokes. Sometimes lines are changed deliberately to adapt a joke, or adopt-a-joke as it were. In this way we can take an innocuous general joke and aim it at a particular target. As in this variation of where we began...
"There are three kinds of economists. Those that can add and those that can't."
While a lot of jokes are quotes, reverse-wise a lot of quotes are jokes. Which is why we like and remember them in the first place. Not unlike rhyming, humor is a mnemonic device. Isn't it easier to remember a funny line or story than just any old line or story? One supposes funny rhymes would be the easiest to remember. As in these two from Ogden Nash...
"Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker."
"The cow is of the bovine ilk. One end is moo, the other milk."
12/10/09 Mum’s the Word
"Needless to say, it goes without saying."
Now, I suppose I should explain. But if it's needless to say... why bother?
Funny thing is when people use either of these phrases they go ahead at say what goes without saying or is needless to say anyway. Yet nobody gives them any guff for it though it really makes little sense to preface what you're about to say by saying it doesn't need saying.
Perhaps what they're really saying is what they're about to say is obvious, so obvious it shouldn't need saying, but you're so dumb they'll say it because you wouldn't know the obvious if it bit you on the ass. Though I can't say how or if the obvious could actually chomp your buttocks.
If none of this makes sense to you, I wouldn't be surprised. I'm a bit mixed up myself. Which is my feeble segue to a parting quote...
"As confused as an infant in a topless bar."
10/31/09 Less is More
"Can you tone down the subtlety?" — Studio executive to director Harold Ramis.
Now, Hollywood bigwigs have been straining the English language for a long time. Most famously by Samuel Goldwyn who is purported to have uttered the likes of...
"In two words, impossible"
Whether he actually said all the things he's supposed to have said is debateable. As Yogi Berra cautioned the public about many quotes attributed to him, "I never said half the things I said."
9/17/09 Election Returns
"Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods."
This cynical gem is credited to our favorite curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken. Though writing almost a century ago his observations of political claptrap and folly are just as pertinent, and impertinent today. At least it would seem as he's still being quoted by wags and wonks of every stripe to this day.
Below are a couple more examples. Like some are wont to say, the more things change the more they stay the same.
"Civilization, in fact, grows more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary."
"The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule."
9/1/09 Like What You Want
"You can have any color you like. As long as it's black."
This is what Henry Ford said about his offering of the Model T in black and nothing but. Luckily for him, and for customers, people like black. They may prefer red, blue, green, brown or something else but they like black, too. Notice he didn't say you can have any color you want, but any color you like.
One wonders, why did the Model T come only in black. Was Ford arrogant and indifferent to customer demand? Actually, it had to do with Ford's business model and the state of paint technology at the time.
Back then there weren't a lot of specialized automotive paints like today and they didn't bake the paint finish. Black auto paint air-dried more quickly than other colors of the day. On a hot, dry summer day that's no issue. In a Detroit winter, that's another story.
Ford's business model was mass-producing cars at lower costs. Only the black paint available then dried quickly enough to keep assembly lines moving along without huge storage facilities for paint drying. This reduced costs.
So we ask again, was Ford indifferent to customer demand? Not really. When customer demand is for cheap and reliable, variety of color is of less concern. That's what customer preference is about. Prefer cheap, get a Ford. Prefer colorful, buy a Rolls.
"You can't be consistent all the time."
I can't attribute this quote. It was overheard by someone in some office somewhere. I think the speaker was explaining some slight mistake seriously and not shooting for humor, irony, or a paradox at all. Which only goes to show sometimes the best laughs are delivered by accident.
Such as in the case I recall from years gone by when someone, also explaining some mistep, mixed "I'm only human" with "Nobody's perfect" and uttered this gem...
"Oh well, nobody's human."
6/30/09 Fool’s Gold
"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools." —Herbert Spencer
If fools don't learn from their mistakes, have you helped or hurt by saving them from themselves time and again. Might it encourage them to ever greater folly? Sometimes it takes tough love to straighten out the misdirected. Or as Shakespeare put it, "you have to be cruel to be kind."
Maybe bailing out failure, overpaying and risky investing might seem to many a necessary evil, but perhaps we'd better not to make a habit of it or... read the quote again. To put it another way, can you say moral hazard?
5/19/09 Say what again, Sam?
People often like to quote, misquote or paraphrase from the movie Casablanca. "Round up the usual suspects." "We'll always have Paris." "This could be the start of a beautiful friendship." "I'm shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here." And of course, "Play it again, Sam."
But my favorite quote comes from Humphrey Bogart's character, Rick, when asked by the young bride-to-be, "What kind of a man is Inspector Renault?"
"He's a man like any other man, only more so."
I assume this came from one of the Epstein brothers who wrote much of the best dialog for this Warner Brothers classic.