Wit and Wisdom: Part II

Despite rumours to the contrary, the art of conversation hasn’t died.  It’s going on all around us — at 140 characters a second.  However, it’s ill; in fact, it’s in intensive care.  We don’t talk anymore because we don’t have to.  It’s a shame, but that’s the truth.  We communicate further, faster, to more people, more often, these days than at any other time in human history.  Unfortunately, it’s all without ever opening our mouths, although, sometimes the texting tongue is hard at work.  Wouldn’t it be the ultimate kick in the head to all the Fahrenheit 451 Doom Merchants (who’ve been predicting the end of books since the dawn of time) if we actually evolved beyond spoken language?  Could happen, but I doubt it.  We’d miss the sound, the cadence, the pause and that incredible nanosecond of recognition on the other person’s face.  Here are a few gems that might inspire you to help conversation get better.

Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)
Part of the famous Algonquin Round Table, Dorothy Parker had a wit that cut like a whip through warm butter and she didn’t care who got splashed.  She wrote for Vogue, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, as well as writing a regular review column called “Constant Reader.”  Parker also wrote plays and worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter, but it is her ability to turn a phrase inside, outside and upside down that we remember today.

This novel is not to be tossed lightly aside, but to be hurled with great force.
The best way to keep children home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant — and let the air out of the tires.
Brevity is the soul of lingerie
The only “ism” Hollywood believes in is plagiarism.
That woman speaks eighteen languages, and she can’t say “No” in any of them.
Money cannot buy health, but I’ll settle for a diamond-studded wheelchair.
She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B. (reviewing Katherine Hepburn.
Men seldom make passes/At girls who wear glasses

Will Rogers (1879 – 1935)
Interestingly enough, the social commentary of humorist Will Rogers is as biting and relevant today as it was seventy years ago.  Rogers, whose “cowboy philosopher” made him famous, always credited his success to simple observation.  He appeared in movies and wrote a newspaper column, but it was his stage show that was the most popular.  It would be interesting to hear what Rogers had to say about how little things have changed since his time.

Income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.
Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
Democracy is the form of government you have to keep for four years, no matter what it does.
I would rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the man who sold it.
Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.
The minute you read something you can’t understand, you can almost be sure it was drawn up by a lawyer.
I can remember way back when a liberal was one who was generous with his own money.
There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.

Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)
Although Samuel Langhorne Clemens is noted for his novels (which include two classics of American literature, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn)  he was also a popular public speaker.  In fact, after losing most of his money to bad investments in 1893, he literally talked his way out of debt by lecturing around the world.  Here are just a few examples of Mark Twain’s famous wit and some of his comic observations.

There is no distinctly American criminal class — except Congress.
Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
Water, taken in moderation, cannot hurt anybody.
If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.
The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.
An ethical man is a Christian holding four aces.
Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.
Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. (reply to the New York Journal which reported him dead)

Anonymous
Greater than Mark Twain or Will Rogers, greater even than the great Will Shakespeare himself, the greatest wit of all time is, of course, Anonymous.  Throughout history, Anonymous has effortlessly plucked wisdom from what seems to be thin air and shared it with the world.  Brilliant and unselfish, “Anon” (as he and she are affectionately called by friends) is, a genius for all time.

Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.
Under capitalism, man exploits man; under socialism, the reverse is true.
It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.
The people who think they know everything are very irritating to those of us who do.
If it wasn’t for the last minute, nobody would get anything done.
When you talk to God, you’re praying.
When God talks to you, you’re crazy.
Whoever said money can’t buy happiness didn’t know where to shop.
Happiness is a child whose father dies rich.

Internet (1972 – Present)
No greater democracy exists than the Internet.  Anybody — and I mean anybody — can be as smart or as stupid as they please, across the entire planet!  The witless wisdom of common humanity is on display 24/7 and nobody can stop it.  But, as a wise website once said, “Just because you can communicate doesn’t mean you have to.

Life is uncertain; eat your dessert first
I’ll be glad when they finally save the environment so I can go back to styrofoam cups.
Nobody ever bets enough money on a winning horse.
It’s like taking a broom and a cauldron to a witch hunt.
If you die with all the toys, you’re still dead.
Life is short: summer is shorter.
He’s got all of his marbles but some of them are square.
“Nouveau riche” is better than no “riche” at all.

Wit and Wisdom

Believe it or not, there was a time before “awesome” was the only acceptable response in the English language; a time when conversation was an art form and wit was its paint brush.  People talked to each other in those days; they didn’t just have face time.  I don’t harken back to the good old days; today (right now) is way more awesome than they ever were (despite the claims of most people over 35.)  However, sometimes, I miss the quips and jabs of a good conversation. Here are some dead people (except Yogi) who used words like magical tools that could turn a phrase — and sometimes even bend it.

Wilson Mizner (1876 – 1933)
These days, very few people have heard of Wilson Mizner, mainly because many of his business practices were either disreputable or illegal.  Mizner tried his hand at nearly everything to make money — including writing, gambling, speculating on Florida real estate, and marrying one of the richest women in America.  It’s strange that Mizner’s underside look at life both gave him his scathing wit and keeps him largely ignored.

Those who welcome death have only tried it from the ears up.
Don’t talk about yourself; it will be done when you leave.
If you steal from one person, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.
Life’s a tough proposition, and the 1st hundred years are the hardest.
A critic is a person who surprises the artist by informing him what he meant.
A fellow who is always declaring he’s no fool usually has his suspicions.
The gent who wakes up and finds himself a success hasn’t been asleep.
He’d steal a hot stove and come back for the smoke.

W.C. Fields (1879 – 1946)
On screen, William Claude Dukenfield portrayed a somewhat obnoxious drunk whose mean-spirited attitude generally got him into trouble.  In real life, he was exactly the same.  It’s been said that the only difference between W.C. Fields on screen and off was that off camera he drank less.  Yet he was very popular, both with his fans and his friends, because he was funny and had an acid wit that he plied, not like a rapier but a broadsword.

Start every day with a smile and get it over with.
A blonde drove me to drink, and my one regret is that I never thanked her.
If a thing’s worth having, it’s worth cheating for.
If, at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.  Then quit.  There’s no use being a damn fool about it.
Mae West is a plumber’s idea of Cleopatra.
Anyone who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad.

Samuel Goldwyn (1882 – 1974)
In the Golden Age of Hollywood’s powerful studio moguls, Samuel Goldwyn was one of the most powerful.  He ruled MGM with an iron hand and produced such film classics as Wuthering Heights and Guys and Dolls.  Today, however, Goldwyn is most remembered for his ability to recognize what ordinary people wanted to see at the movies — that and his absolute butchery of the English language that resulted in such famous “Goldwynisms” as these:

Anyone who goes to see a psychiatrist should have his head examined.
Include me out.
A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
All this criticism – it’s like ducks off my back.
Directors are always biting the hand that lays the golden egg.
So, how did you love the picture?
I am willing to admit I’m not always right, but I’m never wrong.
I don’t want yes-men.  I want you to disagree with me–even if it costs you your job.
The most important thing in acting is sincerity.  Once you’ve learned to fake that, you’re in.

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)
In Britain, where eccentricity is considered normal, Oscar Wilde was considered eccentric.  His outrageous dress and behavior made him one of the most flamboyant figures of the Victorian Era, and his success as an author made him a public one, as well.  Unfortunately, a conviction on morals charges cut his career short.  Although much of his writing is ignored today, his gigantic, entertaining wit has made him immortal.

I am not young enough to know everything.
Experience is the name everyone gives to his mistakes.
Men always want to be a woman’s first love; women like to be a man’s last romance.
A cynic is a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.
Ambition is the last refuge of a failure.
Duty is what one expects from others.
I must decline your invitation owing to a subsequent engagement.

Mae West (1892 – 1980)
It has been said that Mae West out-Gaga-ed Lady Gaga fifty years before that child was even born.  In the days of movie censorship, West’s on-screen persona of a sexually avaricious female, bubbling over with double entendres, frequently got her into trouble.  She was sexy when it was still against the law and was once arrested for it.  Even though West was the original “blonde,” off screen she was intelligent and witty and wrote much of her own material.  Here are some of her wittier moments, both on and off screen.

He who hesitates is a damned fool.
It’s better to be looked over than overlooked.
To err is human — but it feels divine.
Whenever I’m caught between two evils, I take the one I’ve never tried before.
He’s the kind of man who picks his friends — to pieces.
Are you happy to see me or is that a gun in your pocket?
It ain’t no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any.
It’s not the men in my life but the life in my men that counts.

Yogi Berra (1925 – )
Lawrence (Yogi) Berra was part of the mighty New York Yankees team that dominated baseball in the early 50s.  He was named Most Valuable Player in the American League 3 times.  He hit 358 home runs (long before steroids) and anchored the Yankees behind the plate.  Yet Yogi Berra will be remembered for something more than his athletic accomplishments — his amazing use of the English language.  Yogi Berri could certainly turn a phrase.

It’s not over ’til it’s over.
If the people don’t want to come out to the park, nobody’s gonna stop them.
I want to thank all the people who made this night necessary.
Better make it four pieces.  I don’t think I can eat eight. (on being asked how he wanted his pizza cut)
No wonder nobody comes here — it’s too crowded
You can observe a lot just by watching.

Yeah, Yogi!  You sure can!