September 29, 2014

A man’s (and a girl’s) best friends...



THE ORIGIN OF “MAN’S BEST FRIEND”:

“The best friend a man has...is his dog.”
       George Graham Vest (1830-1904)
       American lawyer and politician
       These words are from Vest’s summation in the trial of a sheep farmer who shot and killed his neighbor’s dog, Old Drum. The trial was held at the Johnson County Courthouse in Warrensburg, Missouri on September 23, 1870. Vest’s client, the broken-hearted owner of Old Drum, had sued the farmer for compensation. Vest brought the jury to tears when he said:
 
      “The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith…The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.”
       The first six words of that paragraph, combined with the last three — “The best friend a man has...is his dog” — is traditionally credited as the origin of the dog-lovers’ saying we know today: “A dog is a man’s best friend.” (Sometimes given as “A man’s best friend is his dog.”)  You can read more about the Old Drum case in this post on my This Day In Quotes site.



THE MARX-FLAVORED VARIATION:

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
      Groucho Marx (1890-1977)
       Legendary American comedian
       This quip has been credited to Groucho since the 1970s. However, as noted in a post on the great Quote Investigator site, it doesn’t appear in his movies or written works and a similar joke was published in the February 1954 issue of Boys’ Life magazine, so he probably didn’t coin it.



THE INTENTIONALLY CREEPY VERSION:

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”
       Actor Anthony Perkins, as the character Norman Bates, in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film Psycho (1960)



THE UNINTENTIONALLY CREEPY VERSION:

“Whoever said, ‘A dog is man’s best friend’ must have been a single fellow. As helpful and useful as all of God's creation would be to man, none of these animals were socially, intellectually, or sexually compatible to man.”
       From “At The Beginning: A Study of Marriage” 
       An article posted on the Christian “electronic magazine” called “The Expository Files.” (Which are not related to The X Files…Or are they?)



THE GIRLS CLICHÉ IMMORTALIZED BY MARILYN:

“A kiss on the hand may be quite continental,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”

       From the song “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” written by songwriters Jule Styne and Leo Robin
       This great song comes from the 1949 Broadway musical Gentleman Prefer Blondes, which was adapted from the 1925 book Gentleman Prefer Blondes, written by Anita Loos. It was introduced by Carol Channing in the original Broadway production. But for many people, the most remembered and iconic version was performed by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.



THE COUNTERQUOTE TO THE GIRLS  CLICHÉ:

“Whoever said diamonds are a girl’s best friend never had a dog.”
       A dog-lovers’ quote of anonymous origin that has reached meme level status in the Internet.

       (The girls in the photo are my wife BJ and our dog Barbie Boo.)

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September 7, 2014

“Knowledge is power” – and everything most people know about that quote is wrong!


THE FLAWED TRADITIONAL ATTRIBUTION:

“Knowledge itself is power.” (“...ipsa scientia potestas est”)
       Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
       English philosopher and essayist
       Meditationes Sacrae, De Haeresibus (1597)
       Thousands of books and websites claim that Sir Francis Bacon coined or first recorded the saying “Knowledge is power.” In fact, that concept existed long before Bacon’s time and the Latin phrase “scientia potestas est,” which means “Knowledge is power,” probably did as well. Bacon used a version of it in his essay De Haeresibus (“Of Heresies”), one of ten essays in his book Meditationes Sacrae (“Religious Meditations”), which he wrote in Latin. 
       In one of Bacon’s typically long, run-on sentences, full of much religious and philosophical blah-blah-blah, the Latin words scientia (knowledge, science), potestas (power, strength) and est (is) are embedded in a famed parenthetical phrase. The full phrase is “nam et ipsa scientia potestas est.” This is generally translated as “for knowledge itself is power.” That’s not quite as pithy as “Knowledge is power.” Moreover, in the context of the sentence and Bacon’s points in the essay, it doesn’t actually have the literal meaning that has become a cliché. In the essay, Bacon was making an obtuse argument about atheists and other people who deny the will and power of God, including those dolts who give more weight to God’s knowledge than His power. (‘Cause, duh, God’s knowledge is itself power. Get it? I don’t.)
       Anyway, you are now armed with the power to impart some factual knowledge about this famous quote/misquote next time you hear someone wrongly claim: “As Francis Bacon said, ‘Knowledge is power.’”
       Personally, I like the following variations better...


COOLIO’S COUNTERQUOTE:

“If knowledge is power and power is knowledge, then
  how so many idiots be graduating from colleges?” 
       Coolio
       American rap musician, record producer and actor 
       A line in the lyrics of his song “The Winner” (on the Space Jam movie soundtrack)


CERSEI’S COUNTERQUOTE:

Power is power!”
       Cersei Lannister (played by actress Lena Headey
       A point she makes, menacingly, to Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (actor Aidan Gillen), in the the first episode of Season Two of HBO’s series Game of Thrones.
       In this intense scene, Baelish hints to Cersei that he knows she has an incestuous relationship with her brother and might use that knowledge to his advantage. “Prominent families often forget a simple truth,” he says. “Knowledge is power.”
       Cersei responds by telling her guards: “Seize him. Cut his throat.” The guards grab Baelish and prepare to carry out her order. As Baelish begins to panic, Cersei says almost flippantly: “Stop. Oh, wait. I’ve changed my mind. Let him go.” After they do, she glares at Baelish and tells him an even higher truth that applies in the world of Game of Thrones: “Power is power!”


THE KICK-BUTT COUNTERQUOTE:

“Knowledge is not power. It’s the implementation of knowledge that is power. It’s not what you know that matters, it’s what you do with what you know that matters.”
       Larry Winget
       American author and motivational speaker
       In his book Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get a Life: A Kick-Butt Approach to a Better Life  (2011)


A VERSION APPLICABLE TO FERGUSON?

“Knowledge may be power under some circumstances, but, in others, power rests on denial and studied displacement. This image of a smoothly functioning social order lends itself to the creation of the capacity for fascist self-delusion.”
       An observation in the book Ethnography in Unstable Places: Everyday Lives in Contexts of Dramatic Political Change
       Edited by Carol J. Greenhouse, Elizabeth Mertz, Kay B. B. Warren
       (Cartoon by Kevin Siers)

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August 12, 2014

“Carpe diem.” (This one’s for you, Robin…)



THE PLUCKY LATIN QUOTE:

“Carpe diem.” [Traditionally translated as “Seize the day.”]
      
Horace (Quintas Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 B.C.)
       Roman poet
       The famous phrase from Book I of his Odes (35 B.C.)
       “Carpe diem” is one of the two most famous quotations from Horace’s Odes. The other is:
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” (“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”) Although the usual translation of “Carpe diem” is “Seize the day,” Latin scholars have pointed out that the more accurate translation is “Pluck the day.”  
       In fact, the phrase does come at the end of a poem that uses several pastoral and harvest-related metaphors. So, “pluck” is probably closer to the original literal meaning. Below is a longer section of the poem, translated to English:
  
    “Ask not — we cannot know — what end the gods have set for you, for me;
            nor attempt the Babylonian reckonings Leuconoë.
       How much better to endure whatever comes, 
            whether Jupiter grants us additional winters or whether this is our last,
            which now wears out the Tuscan Sea upon the barrier of the cliffs!
       Be wise, strain the wine; and since life is brief, prune back far-reaching hopes!
       Even while we speak, envious time has passed:
            seize [pluck] the day, putting as little trust as possible in tomorrow!”  
       Regardless of variations in translation, the meaning of the poem and the famous phrase is clear. Live life to the fullest every day and take advantage of the pleasures and opportunities each day offers. Or, as Warren Zevon put it:
“Enjoy every sandwich.”



RIP, ROBIN. YOU WERE INDEED EXTRAORDINARY…

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
      
Robin Williams (1951-2014), as English teacher John Keating
       His advice to his students in the movie
Dead Poets Society (1989)
       This quote comes at the end of a great sequence in which Keating says to his students:
       “‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.’ The Latin term for that sentiment is Carpe Diem... Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Why does the writer use these lines?...Because we are food for worms lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold, and die. Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. [Old photos of previous students.] You’ve walked past them many times. I don't think you've really looked at them. They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Carpe. Hear it? Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”



STEVE ZAHN’S VERSION:

“Carpe poon, man.”
      
Steve Zahn (as the character Wayne)
       In the movie
Saving Silverman (2001), after seeing a good looking woman in a bar
       Thanks to fans of the movie, “Carpe poon” has now made it into the
Urban Dictionary



ERMA BOMBECK’S VERSION:

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.”
      
Erma Bombeck (1927-1996)
       American humorist
       Quoted as one of “Erma Bombeck’s 10 Rules To Live By” in
David Wallechinsky’s Book of Lists



SKYLER’S VERSION:

Question on a school test: “Define carpe diem.”
Skyler’s answer:
“Fish of the day.” 
       In the 
Shoe cartoon strip, by Jeff MacNelly, October 8, 2010



TEDDY ROOSEVELT’S VERSION:

“Get action. Seize the moment. Man was never intended to become an oyster.”
      
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt (1858-1919)
       26th President of the United States
       Teddy’s advice to his children, quoted in David McCullough’s book Mornings on Horseback (1981)

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August 9, 2014

The fine lines between stupid, clever – and various other things...


SPINAL TAP’S “SMELL THE GLOVE” PRINCIPLE:

“It’s such a fine line between stupid…and clever.”
       The legendary saying from the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap (1984) 
       This “quote” actually combines parts of consecutive lines spoken by two characters in the movie: Spinal Tap’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist, David St. Hubbins (played by Michael McKean) and the band’s bass player, Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer).
       In the scene, the band members and their manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra) are discussing the fact that the latest Spinal Tap album, Smell the Glove, had been criticized as sexist and banned by major retailers for featuring a photo of a greased, naked woman on all fours wearing a dog collar around her neck. Meanwhile, the album of a rival musician, Duke Fame, was selling well even though it had photos of several naked women on the cover. Ian explains that Duke is shown tied down and the women are whipping him in his album cover photo. Thus, Duke is the “victim,” so it’s not sexist.
       Ian notes: “If we had all you guys tied up, that probably would have been fine...But it’s still a stupid cover.”
       David muses: “It’s such a fine line between stupid and...”
       Derek finishes the thought and creates the famed “quote” by adding: “And clever.”
       David agrees: “Yeah, and clever.” 
       And, thus, the legendary saying was born.


THE CONGRESSIONAL VARIATION:

“There’s a fine line between irony and hypocrisy. I’m not sure our political leaders in Congress understand either one. But at least that makes for some fine comedy!” 
       From a July 31, 2014 post on The Center for Justice & Democracy’s PopTort.com site 
       The post was about the news that the U.S. House of Representatives had passed a resolution authorizing Speaker John Boehner to sue President Obama for what Republicans say has been inadequate enforcement of “Obamacare” – the health care program they oppose.
       (Cartoon by Steve Sack, political cartoonist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.)


THE CLIVEN BUNDY VARIATION:

“There’s a fine line between a folk hero and a scofflaw.”
       Editorial by the Nashua Telegraph, April 25, 2014
       Commenting on Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, who had about “15 minutes of fame” for publicly thumbing his nose at federal laws and regulations regarding grazing of private cattle herds on public lands and refusing to pay the fees required to use those lands.
       (Cartoon by Milt Priggee.)


ERMA’S OBSERVATION:

“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt…How do you know laughter if there is no pain to compare it with?”
       Erma Bombeck (1927-1996)
       American humorist, newspaper columnist and author 
       From her book If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1985)


BLANCHE’S OBSERVATION:

“There is a fine line between having a good time and being a wanton slut.”
       Actress Rue McClanahan (1934-2010) as the character Blanche Devereaux
       In an episode of the TV series The Golden Girls


THE FISHING VERSION:

“There’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like an idiot.”
       Steven Wright
       American comedian
       A widely-repeated joke Wright used in his stand-up comedy routine in the early 1990s. It now appears on posters, t-shirts and other items and hundreds of Internet graphics and posts.


THE GARDENING VERSION:

“There’s a fine line between gardening and madness.”
       Actor John Ratzenberger, as the character Cliff Clavin
       In an episode of the TV series Cheers 
       This one is for my wife Barbara Jo, a certified Master Gardener who spends much of her time maintaining the amazing subtropical botanical garden she created in our front and back yards – and for all those other avid gardeners out there who will understand why the joke is funny.

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July 12, 2014

“The rich are different”… The real story behind the famed “exchange” between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.


If you’re a quotation buff, you’ve probably heard of a legendary exchange about “rich people” that supposedly took place between the American novelists F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) and Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961).

Fitzgerald is usually quoted as saying either “The rich are different from you and me” or “The rich are different from us.”

Hemingway is quoted as responding: “Yes, they have more money."

In fact, this quote-counterquote repartee never actually occurred. But it is based on things written by Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

Here’s how it became a legend…

In 1925, Fitzgerald wrote a short story titled “The Rich Boy.” In 1926, it was published in Red Book magazine and included what became a very popular collection of Fitzgerald's early short stories, titled All the Sad Young Men.

The third paragraph of the story says:

     "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different."

Clearly, that’s not a favorable view of rich people.

But years later, Ernest Hemingway, who had a sometimes-warm, sometimes-acrimonious relationship with Fitzgerald, decided to mock those lines from “The Rich Boy” in his short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”

Hemingway’s original version of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was printed in the August 1936 issue of Esquire magazine. In a passage in that original version, Hemingway wrote:

     “The rich were dull and they drank too much, or they played too much backgammon. They were dull and they were repetitious. He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The very rich are different from you and me.’ And how some one had said to Scott, Yes, they have more money. But that was not humorous to Scott. He thought they were a special glamorous race and when he found they weren't it wrecked him as much as any other thing that wrecked him.”

Understandably, Fitzgerald was shocked and offended.

He expressed his dismay to Hemingway in a letter. He also complained to Maxwell Perkins, the editor who oversaw publication of both writers’ novels and story collections at the Charles Scribner’s Sons book company.

Hemingway responded with what Fitzgerald described as a “crazy letter,” a rambling diatribe that offered no real explanation or apology.

Perkins tried to smooth things over between his two prized writers and used his editorial power to fix the source of the problem when Scribner’s reprinted “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” in the 1938 anthology of Hemingway stories, The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories.

In the version of the story in that book, the name “Scott Fitzgerald” was changed to “Julian.” It has appeared that way in most subsequent reprintings.

Unfortunately for Fitzgerald, he made the mistake of writing a cryptic entry in a personal notebook that cemented the legendary version of his “exchange” with Hemingway into literary history.

The entry said simply: “They have more money. (Ernest’s wisecrack.)”

After Fitzgerald died in 1940, his friend, the noted critic and book reviewer Edmund Wilson, compiled a collection of his essays and unpublished writings in a book titled The Crack-Up. It was published in 1945. Wilson included various entries from Fitzgerald’s notebooks in the anthology.

One of them was the brief note about “Ernest’s wisecrack.”

Wilson decided to add an explanatory footnote for that entry in the book. He wrote:

     “Fitzgerald had said, ‘The rich are different from us.’ Hemingway had replied, ‘Yes, they have more money.’”

Then, the famous literary critic Lionel Trilling repeated what he called this “famous exchange” that “everyone knows” in a review and essay about The Crack-Up, published in The Nation.

After that, many other articles and books cited this “exchange” as if it were an actual conversation between Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

And thus a famous quote-counterquote myth was born.

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