November 22, 2011

“The shot heard round the world.”


“The shot heard round the world.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
       American poet, essayist and lecturer
       This famous line is from Emerson’s poem
“Hymn Sung at the Completion of the Concord Monument.” It comes at the end of the first verse:
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood, 
              Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, 
              Here once the embattled farmers stood 
              And fired the shot heard round the world.”

       Emerson wrote the poem in 1836 for a ceremony to celebrate the completion of a monument to the American “Minutemen” who fought at
the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. These skirmishes between rebellious Americans and British troops on April 19, 1775 are generally regarded as the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
       That morning, some 700 British Army regulars were marching through Lexington toward Concord to confiscate an illegal weapons arsenal stored there by the Massachusetts militia. When the “Redcoats” got to Lexington, their way was blocked by about 80 local militiamen. British Major John Pitcairn ordered the Americans to disperse, which they actually began to do. Then, suddenly, someone fired a shot. Nobody knew who it was. But, when it rang out, both sides started firing at each other and the American Revolution was underway. 
At the official dedication of the Concord Monument on July 4, 1837, Emerson’s poem was sung to the tune of a hymn called “The Old Hundredth,” a.k.a. “The Old 100th” or “The Old Hundred.” (Hence the use of the word “hymn” in the title.) His memorable phrase “the shot heard round the world” created a phrase formula that has since been used to refer to various other things that generate wide attention or notoriety. For example…


“The divorce heard round the world.”
Perez Hilton
       American celebrity news blogger and “television personality”
Hilton’s description of “reality star” Kim Kardashian’s divorce from NBA player Kris Humphries, ten weeks after their offensively lavish, apparently made-for-TV wedding brought joy to the hearts of millions of celebrity-obsessed people — and to the pocketbooks of TV shows and tabloid magazines and websites that cover such stuff.


“The brain fart heard round the world.”
       Jon Stewart
       American comedian and host of The Daily Show
       Stewart’s description
(on The Daily Show) of Rick Perry’s “oops moment” during the November 9, 2011 Republican presidential candidate debate, when Perry said he would abolish three federal agencies if elected but was unable to name all three. Some commentators called it “the oops moment heard round the world.”


“The blooper heard round the world.”
       TIME magazine, October 18, 1976
       TIME’s description of the major gaffe by President Gerald Ford during the October 6, 1976 presidential debate with Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter, when Ford claimed “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” In fact, the Soviet Union clearly dominated a number of countries in Eastern Europe at the time, including East Germany, Yugoslavia, Rumania and Poland. The remark made Ford seem clueless about international politics. He later admitted he’d misspoken. Carter won the election.

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November 16, 2011

“Crime does not pay.”


“Crime does not pay.”
       Proverbial saying popularized in the 1930s
Some sources say “Crime does not pay” was coined by Chester Gould, creator of the Dick Tracy comic strip, which debuted in 1931. In fact, although its high-profile use as Tracy’s motto certainly helped popularize the saying, Gould didn’t coin it. Nor did the old time radio show The Shadow, which started airing in 1930 and ended episodes with the famous lines: “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay!” If you search historic news archives, you’ll find uses of “crime does not pay” in news stories prior to the 1930s. The earliest examples I found were from the 1880s and I suspect it was probably already proverbial before that. However, it does seem that this cautionary moralistic saying became more widely used as a cultural catchphrase in the Thirties. In addition to being featured in Dick Tracy and The Shadow, “Crime Does Not Pay” was the title of a series of short-subject films and a spinoff radio show that were popular in the mid- to late-1930s.


“You been reading a lot of stuff about ‘Crime don’t pay.’ Don’t be a sucker! That’s for yaps and small-timers on shoestrings. Not for people like us. You belong in the big-shot class. Both of us do.” 
       James Cagney, as gangster Rocky Sullivan
       Lines spoken to actress Ann Sheridan in the 1938 film
Angels With Dirty Faces


“They say that crime doesn’t pay, but it’s a living, you know. Oh, yes, it’s a living...If it wasn’t for crime, the democratic process would grind to a halt.” 
       Leo McKern, as the irascible British barrister Horace Rumpole
the “Play for Today” episode of the British television series Rumpole of the Bailey. (That ep was first aired December 16, 1975.)


“Crime does not pay – enough.”
       Motto of the
Mystery Writers of America association since it’s founding in 1945
       Credit for the motto is generally given to American mystery writer, editor and amateur magician
Clayton Rawson (1906-1971), one of the four founding members of the organization. (The others were novelists Anthony Boucher, Lawrence Treat, and Brett Halliday.) The Mystery Writers of America is the group that presents the Edgar Awards in various categories of mystery writing each year (named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe).


“If you’re young and tattooed, crime does pay.”  
       Kenneth Partridge 
       New York-based music journalist and critic
       His summation of the moral of the story told in the music video for
Britney Spears’ song “Criminal,” in one of his posts on the AOL Music blog. The video features Spears and her heavily-tattooed boyfriend Jason Trawick playing what Britney described as “a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.” After robbing an unlucky small grocery store owner at gunpoint (with Britney brandishing the gun) they return to their hideaway to take a shower that’s steamy in more ways than one. Suddenly, the local coppers surround the place and shred the walls with machine guns. But, unlike the real Bonnie and Clyde, the amorous young thieves in the video manage to survive the hail of bullets and escape. Who says crimes against logic (and music and acting) don’t pay?

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