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Wednesday, 03 May 2017 14:23

Need I say more? The power of wit

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When verbally attacked and left speechless by an assailant, who among us has not long afterwards pondered the mot juste that might have left our assailant gasping for breath on the canvas, that perfect riposte that would have left us the winner standing in the ring?

Some of us have contemplated as well our last words. Let’s say you’re careening down a country road near Waynesville, North Carolina. You’re doing 50 on a 35 mile per hour road, you hang a curve, and suddenly a concrete truck is rushing straight at you on that narrow highway. What are your last words? Do you quote Stonewall Jackson: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees?” Or do you just scream “S**t” as your final farewell to earth before heading off to shake hands with Saint Peter? I am reasonably and ashamedly certain what I would say. (Please accept my regrets ahead of time, Pete).

Then there are the dinners and parties. There you are listening to someone drone on about local real estate property searches. Wouldn’t it be great fun simply to quote Oscar Wilde, apropos of nothing: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars?” Who knows? By quoting Wilde, or by tossing off some other random favorite epigram, you might change the direction of the entire evening, and your own life, forever. If nothing else, the conversation might switch to something more enlivening, as in whether that cheese, egg, and vegetable dish served by your winsome hostess was a frittata or a quiche.

Perhaps we should all stuff ourselves with aphorisms, maxims, quotations, and apothegms, using them like banners to impress our acquaintances, brandishing them like sabers to cut down our enemies, and presenting them like bouquets of roses to win the affections of friends and lovers. 

Yet how few of us do so! In my personal library, for example, are several collections of venerable quotations and humorous maledictions — Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations; Woods’ A Treasury of the Familiar; Phillips’ What They Said; Bryne’s The 2,548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said; and a few other volumes I am too lazy to track down. Do I open these treasure houses, remove some of the gems stored within, and through memorization enrich myself by making these beauties my own? Nope. I browse these vaults from time to time, but never commit to memory the silver and gold they offer. 

Some of you reading my words may be wiser or more ambitious than I. Below are a few maxims or aphorisms or whatever you wish to call them to help you get started at building your own hoard of epigrams. All of these beauties come from The 2,548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said, a deceptive title that should read “The 2,548 Best Humorous Things Anybody Ever Said.” Here you are:

• The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf. Will Rogers (Tax season is upon us as I write these words. I agree with Will: the IRS has made us a nation of con artists and CPAs.) 

• Some guy hit my fender, and I said to him, “Be fruitful and multiply,” but not in those words. Woody Allen (I should practice this one in preparation for my encounter with that cement truck.) 

• A cucumber should be well-sliced, dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out. Samuel Johnson (Witty, but I like cucumbers. Besides, Johnson was mistaken on other occasions as well. In his famous dictionary, he wrote that oats were a grain which in England were given to horses and in Scotland to men, to which a Scot supposedly replied: “Yes, and that is why in England you have such fine horses, and in Scotland we have such fine men.”)

• Old people shouldn’t eat health foods. They need all the preservatives they can get. Robert Orben (Agreed. Remember too, old folks, that for centuries sailors used wine, rum, and whisky as preservatives, sometimes even storing human bodies in casks of alcohol until they could reach shore. So raise a glass in those trembling fingers and warble out “Bottom’s up, buckos!” at the nursing home!)

• When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it. Clarence Darrow (This remark mirrors my opinion regarding most of the presidents of my lifetime.)

• If a writer has to rob his mother he will not hesitate; the “Ode On A Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies. William Faulkner (If you know any writers, I’d take Faulkner’s epigram to heart. Beware of divulging deep confidences, for writers truly are a band of thieves. Open yourself to us, and we pull up the truck and start hauling parts of you away.)

• I knew I was an unwanted baby when I saw that my bath toys were a toaster and a radio. Joan Rivers (Thank you, Ms. Rivers. I have long wondered why I associate English muffins and classical music instead of a rubber duckie with bathing.)

• All God’s children are not beautiful. Most of God’s children are, in fact, barely presentable. Fran Lebowitz (Fran always tells it as it is. So does the large mirror in my bathroom.)

• He who laughs, lasts. Mary Pettibone Poole (Words of wisdom for nearly every situation, funerals excepted. And even funerals may be occasions for mirth. I am, of course, thinking of my own demise. Laugh as you will. To those of you laughing with me, bottom’s up. To those of you laughing at me, well, be fruitful and multiply.)

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