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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Great quotations, and who really said them

by Jamie Lutton


I like dictionaries of quotations. Even with Google, you can't find the quote unless you know it, or part of it in advance. One the things I have found out in my reading, however, is that a lot of sayings we know come from the Bible or we know are so and so, have been changed as they became popular.  
And many quotes are attributed to the wrong person; the internet sources do not always catch this error. 
When I was a kid, older people, at parties, or after a few drinks would edge up to someone, roll their eyes, and say "Come with me to the Casbah" to be funny-suggestive. This supposedly came from a steamy 1938 film Algiers with Heddy Lamar and Charles Boyer, but this exact quote is not in the film. On it's own, this corybantic phrase was popular for decades, but I have not heard it recently. If anyone has recently heard this phrase, let me know; my Dad was the last person I knew who would use it in fun with my mother, rolling his eyes at her..
"Hell Hath no Fury like a Woman Scorned" is not, after all from Shakespeare, but other playwright, William Congreve, in his play The Mourning Bride, written in 1697. This pithy "quote" has been worn down into a weak cliché. 
President Richard Nixon, who as we recall had to leave the White House in disgrace for ordering the Watergate break-in, really did say "I am not a Crook,"  but not in denying his involvement.  He said this when questioned about his finances by the press. ..the whole quote goes "And I think, too, that I can say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination because people have gotta know whether or not their President's a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I've got." 
This fine denial is now dropping out of common use.   Up till only a few years ago,  jokers would still make two peace signs with their hands, hold their arms high while hunching their shoulders and mutter "I am not a crook" to make others crack up. Now sadly falling out of use.
Emma Goldman as it turns out did not ever say "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revoluion". This pithy phrase was dreamed up by a anarchist t-shirt printer in the early 1970's, then went viral. The real quote is better, but does not fit onto a t-shirt. "I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things" 
It was not Mark Twain, nor even George Bernard Shaw who said "Wagner's music is much better than it sounds". It was Edgar Wilson "Bill" Nye, a popular American humorist and short story writer of the late 19th century, who is now generally forgotten.
Most places online swear that Lincoln did say "You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all the time, but you can not fool all the people all of the time." This quote has not been tracked down to it's original source, despite decades of looking for it. Like others, may have been fabricated after his death.
In the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, published first in 1843, Charles McKay collected all the popular sayings and slang of the time in the back of the book, with examples given. The only one that is still in common use, however, is "Does your mother know you are out?" This origianlly was directed to deflate the pretentions of young men who "smoked cigars in the street, and wore false whiskers to look irresistible' (page 624-625; chapter Popular Follies of Great Cities)) but now seems to be used by old men toward young, pretty women as a pick-up line. Also becoming obsolete.
A playwright  and reviewer of the 1920's and 1930's, George Kaufman, has had many of his sayings stolen from him by later misappropriation.. He is best known for writing The Man Who Came To Dinner and You Can't Take it With You. When he saw his co-author's Moss Hart's new home in the country, he said "This is what God would have done if He had money". This is usually thought to have been said about the Hearst estate by H.L. Mencken. 
Some are just good.Said to a bore "madam, do you have any unexpressed thoughts?" this is usually attributed to Oscar Wilde.  

A rant about Christmas, by Gerge Bernard Shaw that I find sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde, goes, "I am sorry to have to introduce the subject of Christmas. It is an indecent subject; a cruel, gluttonous subject; a drunken, disorderly subject; a wasteful, disastrous subject; a wicked, cadging, lying, filthy, blasphemous and demoralizing subject. Christmas is forced on a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press: on its own merits it would wither and shrivel in the fiery breath of universal hatred; and anyone who looked back to it would be turned into a pillar of greasy sausages."
There is an epigram written by Dorothy Parker in one of her columns in the 1930's about all the quotes that end up being attributed to Oscar Wilde "I never seek to take the credit/we all assume that Oscar said it."

The quote that I believe made the word "gay" jump from happy, or, as in "gay girl" meaning prostitute, to meaning  "homosexual man'' is the quote about Walt Whitman "He was a gay old pagan who never called it a sin when it was a pleasure", James Hunker in 1915 in his bookIvory, Apes and Peacocks, in chapter 2.  Walt Whitman said about himself "Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself (I am large; I contain multitudes)" in Leaves of Grass.
Words to live by.

And, for a good pun,  a 150 years ago, in 1863, the favorite novel of both the Union and the Confederate soldiers was Victor Hugo's epic novel Les Miserables, which had been translated into English in 1863. The soldiers of the Army of Northern Virgina  went so far as to call themselves 'Lee's Miserables'. 

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