November 24, 2012

“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” (“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”)


“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
(“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”)

Horace (Quintas Horatius Flaccus; 65-8 B.C.) 
       Roman poet 
       From his poem
“Dulce Et Decorum Est,” in Odes, Bk. III, No. 2 (35 B.C.)
       This is one of the two most famous quotations from Horace’s Odes. (The other is “Carpe diem.”) The Latin word decorum has been variously translated as fitting, honorable, glorious and becoming. In the poem, Horace muses on patriotism and cowardice, saying: 
  ”It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. 
       Yet death chases after the soldier who runs, 
       and it won’t spare the cowardly back 
       or the limbs, of peace-loving young men.” 
Before becoming a poet, Horace briefly served as a soldier in the army of Brutus, one of the assassins of Julius Caesar. Marc Antony and Octavian (later Augustus Caesar) defeated Brutus at the Battle of Philippi in 42 B.C. It seems a bit ironic, given Horace’s brave words in “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” that he threw down his shield and fled the battlefield during the Battle of Philippi to save himself from death. After Augustus declared amnesty for Romans who served in armies used against him, Horace became a clerk in the government treasury and a poet in his spare time. His Odes, published in four volumes between 23 B.C. and 13 B.C., are considered to be among the greatest works of classic Latin literature. 


“The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
       British poet and soldier in World War I
       In his poem
“Dulce et Decorum Est”
       Owen’s lines calling the patriotic quote by Horace “The old Lie” are nearly as famous as Horace’s original words. Owen volunteered for the British Army during World War I, but quickly became disillusioned by the horrors of The Great War, which included terrible carnage caused by modern guns and mustard gas. In the summer of 1917, Owens was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh to be treated for severe shell shock. While there, he wrote “Dulce et Decorum Est” and other moving poems that were published posthumously, years later. His famed “old Lie” lines come at the end of the poem, which describes the horrific effects of mustard gas on a fellow soldier: 
     “If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
       Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
       Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
       Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 
       My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
       To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
       The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
       Pro patria mori.”

On November 4, 1918, a few months after returning to active service, Owens was killed in action at the age of twenty-five — just seven days before the war ended.


“I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
General George S. Patton (as played played by actor George C. Scott)
In the 1970 film Patton (screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund North)
       This well known quote is from a speech Patton (Scott) gives at the beginning of the film, while standing in front of a giant American flag. The movie speech is based on
a real speech Patton gave to American troops before D-Day on June 5, 1944. However, the famous movie quote is not in the recorded version of Patton’s 1944 speech.


“Should America have gone to war after Pearl Harbor and should the French and British have decided to stop Hitler in 1939?...It is not sweet to die for one’s country. It is bitter. But it can be noble.”
Noel Annan (1916-2000)
       British educator, historian and critic 
       In his review of the book Wartime: Understanding Behavior in the Second World War by Paul Fussell (1989), published in the New York Review of Books, September 28, 1989. (Annan felt Fussell’s book had an overly simplistic, anti-war slant.)


“Years ago some one wrote...‘Tis sweet to die for one's country. The writer hereof, in this contribution to his country's warlike literature, begs leave to differ with the cheerful idiot who originated that assertion. It is not sweet to do any such thing. Of course the writer has not died for his country to any great extent, so that he speaks not from actual experience. Yet he has seen several others die for their country and they seemed not to like it a bit.”
       Major H.A. Muldoon
       A possibly fictional American Civil War veteran
       In the story
“The Gun Shy Warrior,” published in Camp-fire Sketches and Battle-field Echoes (1886)


“They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.”
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
       American novelist and journalist
       In his article
“Notes on the Next War,” published in Esquire magazine, Sept. 1935 
       Hemingway wrote this piece at a time when he opposed American involvement in the growing European tensions and conflicts created by Hitler and Mussolini. He said:
       “War is made or planned now by individual men, demagogues and dictators who play on the patriotism of their people to mislead them into a belief in the great fallacy of war when all their vaunted reforms have failed to satisfy the people they misrule. And we in America should see that no man is ever given, no matter how gradually or how noble and excellent the man, the power to put this country into a war which is now being prepared and brought closer each day with all the premeditation of a long planned murder. For when you give power to an executive you do not know who will be filling that position when the time of crisis comes.”
        By 1941, Hemingway had changed his mind and supported America’s involvement in World War II.

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October 29, 2012

Things that would happen if God wanted it...


“If God wanted us to fly he would have given us wings.” 
A proverbial saying of anonymous origin 
       This familiar line is widely used
as either a serious comment or a joking remark about scientific and technological innovations or social actions and beliefs that go against tradition. It is sometimes given with meant or intended in place of the word wanted, or with man and him in place of us. The various formulations of the saying — and paraphrases of it — are employed to make or to mock pronouncements about the wisdom or acceptability of certain things.


“If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates worth voting for.” 
“The Dissenting Democrat” (pen name of a liberal progressive political blogger)
       This quote,
posted on the Dissenting Democrat’s blog, sums up the opinion of American voters who don’t particularly like the latest candidates from either major political party. The post says the line has been attributed to journalist Molly Ivins and to progressive political gadfly Jim Hightower. It’s essentially a variation of the better-known quotation “If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates,” a quip generally credited to comedian Jay Leno.


“If God wanted us to lose weight, He would have made celery a comfort food.”
Scott “Q” Marcus
       Blogger and self-described “THINspirational speaker”
       In a
post on the dieters advice site
       (Faux TIME cover from


“Surely if God had meant us to do yoga, he would have put our heads behind our knees.”
Rod Stewart
       British rock star
       One of the most widely-quoted lines from his recent book Rod: The Autobiography (2012)
       Stewart wrote that he came to this conclusion after someone tried to teach him a few fundamental yoga postures. “As I was attempting to master a beginner's level ‘balancing table’ position,”
he recalled, “I fell over into the fireplace.”


“Heterosexual marriage is just wrong. I mean, if God had meant men and women to be together, he would have given them both penises.”
Sean Hayes 
       American actor
       His quip, as
the character Jack McFarland, in the “An Affair To Forget” episode of the NBC sitcom Will & Grace. (Season 2, Episode 19)

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October 17, 2012

“I see dead people.” (The famous quote that gets reincarnated regularly.)


“I see dead people.”
Haley Joel Osment (playing the psychic young boy Cole Sear)  
       His famous line in the film The Sixth Sense (1999)
       The boy reveals his ability to see dead people to child psychologist Malcolm Crowe, played by Bruce Willis, in
a spooky scene that immortalized the soon widely-parodied phrase. When Crowe asks if he means dead people in graves or coffins, the boy shakes his head ‘no’ and explains: “Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead...They’re everywhere.”


“Mitt Romney doesn’t see dead people...The reality, to which Mr. Romney is somehow blind, is that many people in America really do die every year because they don’t have health insurance…The Romney-Ryan position on health care is that many millions of Americans must be denied health insurance…At the same time, of course, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are proposing trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. So a literal description of their plan is that they want to expose many Americans to financial insecurity, and let some of them die, so that a handful of already wealthy people can have a higher after-tax income.”
Paul Krugman
       American economics professor and political columnist
his October 14, 2012 op-ed column in the New York Times, titled “Death by Ideology”


“I’m assuming Paul Krugman DOES see dead people both the present and future deceased which makes him not only delusional but a delusional with the gift of clairvoyance. I won’t attempt to demean you with a rhetorical question: you’re not a doctor and while you may have a working knowledge of the future of healthcare in this country, to put it in its least offensive form, you’re deaf, dumb, and blind to the realities of the practice of medicine on a national scale.” 
Huffington Post reader “grkorbel”
       In a comment he posted about Paul Krugman’s
“Death by Ideology” op-ed


“Bogus psychics and mediums…like TV’s ‘Miss Cleo’…might tell you, ‘I see dead people,’ but in reality, all they’re seeing is dollar signs.”
Duane Swierczynski
       American writer and editor
In his book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Frauds, Scams, and Cons


“I see dumb people…They’re everywhere.”
A popular humorous variation used on t-shirts, posters and thousands of Internet posts


“I see DREAD people”
T-shirt and poster slogan that uses a term associated with dreadlocked Rastafarians, like Bob Marley

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September 13, 2012

“The Powers That Be” — the Celebrity Quotes Edition


“The powers that be are ordained of God…Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” 
       Romans, 13:1-2
       This Biblical quote from Saint Paul’s “Epistle to the Romans” (usually just called Romans) is the origin of the English idiom “the powers that be,” a general term used to refer to the people or organizations who control something.
       “Powers that be” and many others familiar phrases from the Bible were coined by
William Tyndale (1494–1536). He was a feisty English Puritan who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English in the 1520s, a time when such a translation was considered heresy by the Catholic Church’s Powers That Be. The “Tyndale Bible” pre-dated and heavily influenced the King James Version created in 1611.


“The [Screen Actors] Guild was the healthiest, sanest and strongest guild in America, and now it’s run by complete loons and the opposition is made up of complete loons, so the Guild has destroyed itself, and in so doing, has achieved the Powers That Be’s greatest goal, which is to extract every illegal penny that they can from their own work force and deny them the ability of collective power.”  
       Richard Dreyfuss
       American actor
       In an interview on


“The powers that be in Washington, they've got it all wrong...We should not be working for our government. Our government should be working for us.”
Sarah Palin 
       Republican politician and commentator
a speech she gave in Wichita, Kansas on May 3, 2010  
       Providing a possible alternate explanation of why she resigned as Governor of Alaska


“The powers that be within it made a political calculation that we Democrats could raise corporate money and compete with the Republicans…The problem is, when you start taking those corporate checks, on the back is written the corporate agenda. So our party began speaking in different languages.” 
       Jim Hightower 
       Liberal political gadfly and former Democratic politician
an article about him in the Texas Tribune (April 16, 2010)


“Cable channels were built around the notion that as long as the male audience is drooling from one side of their mouth, then the other side of the body won't be able to work the remote. So, it is with a deep understanding of the powers that be, and the powers that eventually will be, that we celebrate cable’s newest ‘It’ girl, and PETA's latest pin-up, Olivia Munn.”  
       Reagan Alexander
       Online columnist and blogger
an article about Olivia Munn on

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September 1, 2012

“We have met the enemy…”


“We have met the enemy and they are ours.”
       Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819)
       American Navy officer
       The immortal message Perry sent
on September 10, 1813 to U.S. General William Henry Harrison about the Battle of Lake Erie. That day, American ships under Perry’s command defeated a British naval squadron and captured all of the British ships. After the battle, Perry scrawled a brief report to Harrison on the back of an envelope. It said: “Dear General: We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry.” The first sentence became one of the most famous U.S. Navy quotations in history.


“We have met the enemy and have learned nothing more about him. I have, however, learned some things about myself. There are things men can do to one another that are sobering to the soul. It is one thing to reconcile these things with God, but another to square it with yourself.”
       American PFC Robert Leckie (played by actor James Badge Dale
       Comment in a letter written to his stateside girlfriend 
       In the
HBO miniseries The Pacific (2010)


“We have met the enemy and he’s our friend...the friends, brothers, lovers in the counterfeit male-dominated Left. The good guys who think they know what ‘Women’s Lib,’ as they so chummily call it, is all about.” 
       Robin Morgan 
       American author, journalist and pioneering feminist
       In a 1970 editorial piece titled
“Goodbye to All That”
       Published in the January 1970 issue of the underground newspaper Rat: Subterranean News 


“We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint”
       Title of an article about a Pentagon PowerPoint diagram meant to portray the complexity of America’s strategy in Afghanistan. Published
in the New York Times on April 26, 2010. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal commented: “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”


“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
       Walt Kelly (1913-1973)
       American cartoonist
       First used for
his famous 1970 Earth Day poster


“I was stumbling around in a beautiful haze
When I met a little cat in black P.J.’s,
Rifle, ammo belt, B.F. Goodrich sandals...

He said, ‘We’re campin’ down the pass
And smelled you people blowin’ grass,
And since by the smell you’re smokin’ trash
I brought you a taste of a special stash
Straight from Uncle Ho’s victory garden.
We call it Hanoi gold.’

So his squad and my squad settled down
And passed some lovely stuff around.
All too soon it was time to go.
The captain got on the radio, said: 
‘Hello, headquarters. Hello, headquarters?

We have met the enemy
And he has been smashed!’”
       Tom Paxton
       American singer/songwriter 
       From his song "Talking Vietnam Potluck Blues"
       Originally released on his 1968 album Morning Again. (Also on
The Best Of Tom Paxton.)

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August 12, 2012

“All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening.”


“All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening.” 
       Attributed to
Alexander Woollcott (1897-1943)
       American journalist, drama critic and member of the
Algonquin Round Table
       This famous dry witticism
is widely credited to Woollcott, sometimes with the last three words in the order “...illegal, immoral, or fattening.” It does not seem to have appeared in his written works, though some sources wrongly claim it’s from his piece “The Knock at the Stage Door,” first published in the September 1922 issue of The North American Review. (It isn’t.)
       Woollcott biographer Howard Teichmann says Woollcott used the line in conversations, presumably with his fellow Algonquin Round Table members. But documentation of a specific oral or written use remains elusive. Thus, most books of quotations simply note that the saying is “attributed” to Woollcott. Some give the December 1933 issue of Reader's Digest as a citation for his use. However, as noted by authoritative sources like The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, it was just listed in a set of quotes in that issue and attributed to Woollcott without any specific source. 
W.C. Fields may have helped popularize the saying by uttering a version in the 1934 film Six of a Kind. Playing the character Sheriff “Honest John” Hoxley, he grouses to a woman who asks him why he drinks so much: “According to you, everything I like to do is either illegal, immoral or fattening.” Another early use in film came in the 1939 movie Love Affair. In that, actress Irene Dunne says to Charles Boyer: “The things we like best are either illegal, immoral or fattening.” (Thanks to my fellow writer and retro culture buff Dan Leo for the tip on Irene’s quote.)
       Since the 1930s, the notion that things people like are either illegal, immoral or fattening has taken on proverbial status. It is now commonly used or varied without an attribution to Woollcott or any other source.
      The juxtaposition of the words illegal and immoral was not new when Woollcott used it. As far back as the early 1800s it was common — especially in law-related contexts — to use
phrases such as “illegal, immoral, or contrary to public policy” and “illegal, immoral, against public policy, or prohibited by statute.” In fact, I suspect Woollcott may have been parodying this older formulation.


“It’s not like it’s illegal, immoral or unethical. I think they’re going to find this was not the bogeyman they’re making it out to be.”
Kenneth Reichel
       Mayor of Madison Lake, Minnesota
Commenting on the fears of some local townspeople who opposed allowing the “World’s Largest Bikini Parade” to be part of the town’s venerable July 28 Paddlefish Days parade. Opponents worried that having women (and a few men) marching down the street in itsy-bitsy bikinis would not be “in keeping with a family tone.” As it turned out, the event proceeded without inflicting any major moral casualties, but (alas) failed to set a record for the number of bikini-wearing marchers in a parade.


“The familiar saying ‘Everything I do is either illegal, immoral, or fattening’ might be modified to include ‘or causes cancer.’ So many substances have been indicted by laboratory tests on animals that it is possible that a sort of complacency could be developing in the minds of the public.”
C. Ray Asfahl
       Industrial safety expert
       In his book Industrial Safety and Health Management (2009)


       Sign posted on the website


“It’s neither illegal nor immoral to ask somebody for money. It’s neither illegal nor immoral to threaten to expose somebody’s theft. But it’s both illegal and immoral to ask somebody for money, threatening that if you don’t get the money, you’ll expose their theft.”
Andrew Bailey
       Philosophy professor at the University of Guelph, Ontario 
       A logic puzzler noted in his book
First Philosophy (2012). Bailey goes on to explain: “This is a paradox only if you accept the principle that if it’s not illegal (or immoral) to do X, and it’s not illegal (or immoral) to do Y, then it’s not illegal (immoral) to do X and Y. But that’s clearly a false principle.” Got it?

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August 2, 2012

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” (Though Mae West and others put it somewhat differently.)


“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
       English poet 
       The famous saying created by line 525 of his poem An Essay on Criticism, Part II (1711)
       An Essay on Criticism was Pope’s first major work. Although the title calls it an “essay” it’s actually written as a poem, in the rhyming heroic couplet format.
       “To err is human; to forgive, divine” is one of three well-known quotes from the poem. The others are
“a little learning is a dangerous thing” and “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
       Pope didn’t coin the phrase “to err is human.” That’s the traditional English translation of the ancient Latin proverb
“Errare humanum est.” However, by adding “to forgive, divine” he created a famous quotation that is still commonly used, adapted and spoofed today.
       The usual meaning ascribed to Pope’s version is that every human can make a mistake, so we should forgive those that do, just as God is said to show his divine mercy in forgiving sinners. The line comes at the end of
the stanza reprinted below, which discusses (in an amazingly obtuse and flow’ry way) how writers sometimes overly praise or harshly criticize other writers:  
If Wit so much from Ign’rance undergo,
          Ah let not Learning too commence its Foe!
          Of old, those met Rewards who cou’d excel,
          And such were Prais’d who but endeavour’d well:
          Tho’ Triumphs were to Gen’rals only due,
          Crowns were reserv’d to grace the Soldiers too.
          Now, they who reached Parnassus’ lofty Crown,
          Employ their Pains to spurn some others down;
          And while Self-Love each jealous Writer rules,
          Contending Wits becomes the Sport of Fools:
          But still the Worst with most Regret commend,
          For each Ill Author is as bad a Friend.
          To what base Ends, and by what abject Ways,
          Are Mortals urg’d thro' Sacred Lust of praise!
          Ah ne’er so dire a Thirst of Glory boast,
          Nor in the Critick let the Man be lost!
          Good-Nature and Good-Sense must ever join;
          To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine

       By the way, the use of the word humane above is not a typo. When An Essay on Criticism was published in 1711, that was the common spelling used for the word human.


“To err is human, but it feels divine.”
Mae West (1893-1980)
       American stage and movie star, playwright and pioneering Celebrity Sex Goddess
       This quip is
widely attributed to West. No specific source is given. However, it does sound like one of her sassy zingers and it’s mentioned in biographies about her (such as Mae West: It Ain't No Sin), so she may have actually said it.


“The tendency to err is human but to err on the safe side is just being intelligent.” 
Commander Walter L. Taylor (1876-1952)
       Quoting a naval saying
in an article published in Vol. 65 of the Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute (1939)
       Taylor said this was a variation of the mariners’
“General Prudential Rule.”


“To err is human. To blame it on someone else is politics.”
Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978)
       American Democratic politician; U.S. Vice President 1965-1969 under Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson 
       This quote is
widely attributed to Humphrey, sometimes beginning with the words “We believe that…” Documentation of when he said it is elusive. So, although it’s certainly true, it may not be a true quotation.


“To err is human, but to be paid for it is divine.”
H. James Harrington
       American author, engineer, entrepreneur and “consultant in performance improvement”
       In his book of advice for corporate managers,
Total Improvement Management (1995)

See more uses and abuses of “To err is human…” in this previous post…

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