January 07, 2018

“We don’t need no stinking badges!” – the misquote that became a famous quote


“We don’t need no stinking badges!” is one of the few famous lines that is both a famous quote and a misquote.

It’s also the source of many variations about stinkin’ things we don’t need.

The evolution of this line began in 1927 with the publication of the novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a tale of greed, betrayal and madness written by the mysterious author and leftist/anarchist B. Traven (c. 1890-1969). 

The main characters are three American prospectors searching for gold in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains: Fred C. Dobbs, Bob Curtin and an old-timer named Howard.

In a scene later made famous by the movie version, the prospectors run into a group of shady-looking, heavily-armed Mexicans, who they suspect are bandits. 

Indeed, the Mexicans are bandits and the meeting ends up in a gunfight. But just before the shooting starts, the leader of the bandits tells the prospectors that they are federales — the local “mounted police.”

Dobbs says skeptically of that claim: “If you are the police, where are your badges?”

In Traven’s book, the bandit leader replies angrily (and colorfully):

“Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabron and ching’ tu madre!”

The answer given by the head bandido in the 1948 movie adaptation of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a bit different than that.

Most notably, it leaves out the English and Spanish profanities. (You can look up the meaning of cabron and ching’ tu madre on this web page.)

The famed film was released in the U.S. on January 7, 1948. Some sources say January 6th, but I believe that is either a local premiere date or simply wrong.

In the movie, Fred Dobbs is played by Humphrey Bogart and he asks the same question as in the book: “If you are the police, where are your badges?”

The bandit leader, called “Gold Hat” in the script and played by actor Alfonso Bedoya, responds sneeringly:

      “Badges? We ain’t got no badges! We don’t need no badges!
       I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!”

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre became one of the most highly-praised and popular movies ever made. So, it’s no surprise that Bedoya’s famous “no badges” lines spawned some humorous parodies.

What is unusual is that one of the parody versions became far better known than the lines in the original film.

In fact, many people mistakenly think it comes from the 1948 movie.

That renowned version is, of course:

       “Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!”

If you’re a Mel Brooks fan, you know those lines are in his hilarious movie, Blazing Saddles, which was released on February 7, 1974.

What you may not know is that the same lines were first spoken by Micky Dolenz in 1967, in the TV comedy show The Monkees.

Mickey says it in the episode titled “It’s A Nice Place To Visit” (the first episode of Season 2), which originally aired on September 11, 1967.

In that episode, Mickey and two of his Monkees bandmates, Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith, dress up as Mexican bandits to rescue their singer Davy Jones from a “real” Mexican bandit who has taken him prisoner.

Before they leave to save Davy, Nesmith says: “Wait a minute, don’t you think maybe we oughtta take something out with us, like a club card or some badges?”

Dolenz replies with a heavy Mexican accent (about 9 minutes in): “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”

I don’t know if Mel Brooks was a Monkees fan, but seven years later he made those words immortal by putting them in the script for Blazing Saddles.

In a now famous scene in that movie, the corrupt State Attorney General Hedley Lamarr, played by Harvey Korman, has a sheriff’s badge given to one of his Mexican bandit henchmen, played by Rick Garcia

Korman says to Garcia: “Be ready to attack Rock Ridge at noon tomorrow. Here’s your badge.”

Garcia contemptuously throws the badge on the ground and replies with a thick Spanish accent: “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”

Few people know those same words had been previously used in a Monkees episode.

But because of the huge popularity of Blazing Saddles, they became a famous movie quotation and sparked countless satirical variations based on the linguistic formula “We don’t need no stinking [fill in the blank].”

I’ve posted some of my favorite variations in a post on my Quote/Counterquote blog.

You can also click this link to see some recent examples from news stories and blogs — unless, of course, you don’t need no stinking examples.

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December 29, 2017

“Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”


On December 29, 1890, U.S. Seventh Cavalry troopers gunned down more than 200 Lakota Indians — including men, women and children — at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The Army initially called it “The Battle of Wounded Knee.”

In truth, it wasn’t a battle.

Today, it’s generally called what it really was — the Wounded Knee Massacre.

The famous quote that’s now associated with this tragic event is “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”

But those words were not originally written with the infamous massacre in mind.

They come from the poem “American Names,” written by American poet Stephen Vincent Benét and first published in the October 1927 issue of the Yale Review.

Benét’s poem is a patriotic ode expressing his love for American place names.

As he explained in the first verse:

        “I have fallen in love with American names,
       The sharp names that never get fat,
       The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,
       The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,
       Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.”

Books of quotations often include this first verse from “American Names” and the final verse, which contains the famous line about Wounded Knee.

They usually omit the fourth verse, which blithely drops the N-word:

       “I will fall in love with a Salem tree
       And a rawhide quirt from Santa Cruz,
       I will get me a bottle of Boston sea
       And a blue-gum nigger to sing me blues.
       I am tired of loving a foreign muse.”

Benét’s seemingly nostalgic use of the old racial slur “blue-gum nigger” and other lines in the poem indicate that he was enamored with the romantic sound of many American place names and was oblivious to (or didn't care about) any potential negative connotations they might have.

The poem’s mention of Wounded Knee is simply as one of those good old American place names, which Benét deems superior to “foreign” names.

In the last verse he suggests that the spirits of American soldiers killed in Europe during the First World War could not find peace in their burial grounds over there.

Speaking in the voice of a dead American soldier, Benét ended the poem with these lines:

        “I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
       I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
       You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
       You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
       I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
       Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”

It was long after the publication of “American Names” that its final line became associated with the Wounded Knee massacre.

That literary connection was made in 1970, when American historian and novelist Dee Brown used Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee as the title of a groundbreaking book that tells the history of the American West from the Indians’ perspective.

Buffy Sainte-Marie singingAfter the publication of Brown’s book, the phrase “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee” became forever linked to the massacre that took place at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890.

It has also been used to poetically encapsulate a broader sense of loss, sadness and outrage over the historic mistreatment Indians in North America.

Perhaps the most poignant use was by the great Canadian Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie.

In 1990, she wrote a song titled “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” which comments on the continuing abuse of Indians and Indian rights by governments and big corporations.

The chorus goes:

      “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee
       Deep in the earth
       Cover me with pretty lies
       Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”

You can read the full lyrics of Buffy’s deeply emotional song here and see a video of her performing it live by clicking this link or the photo of her at right.

“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” was originally on her album Coincidence and Likely Stories (1992) and is also included on her compilation album Up Where We Belong (1996).

I think it’s one of the greatest protest songs ever written, by one of the greatest of the many great singer/songwriters who started out in the 1960s folk music scene.

I understand that Stephen Vincent Benét is considered to be a great poet and that many people like his poem “American Names.”

Personally, I am moved far more by Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and by Dee Brown’s book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

If you listen to that song and read that book, or watch the HBO adaptation of the book, you will have a better understanding why some people view Benét’s gushingly patriotic poem as “pretty lies.”

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December 24, 2017

“Silent Night” – the origin and evolving words of the famous Christmas carol...


In 1818, during the annual Christmas Midnight Mass at the St. Nicholas Church at Oberndorf, Austria, the song we know as “Silent Night! Holy Night!” (or just “Silent Night”) was performed in public for the first time.

Most sources say this happened on Christmas Eve, the night of December 24, 1818, though some say it was after midnight on December 25.

The lyrics of the song were written in German by Joseph Mohr (1792-1848), an Austrian Catholic priest who sang tenor during the song’s debut.

The church organist, Franz Gruber (1787-1863), wrote the music.

During that first performance of the song, Gruber accompanied Mohr and the choir on guitar. According to legend, he played a guitar because a mouse had chewed on and damaged the bellows of the church organ.

The original German title of the song — “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” — is taken from the opening line of the first verse:

      “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
       Alles schläft; einsam wacht
       Nur das traute heilige Paar.
       Holder Knab im lockigten Haar,
       Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
       Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!”

Today, the familiar English version of this first verse that most of us know is:

      “Silent night! Holy night!
       All is calm, all is bright.
       Round yon virgin mother and child,
       Holy infant so tender and mild.
       Sleep in heavenly peace,
       Sleep in heavenly peace.”

However, it wasn’t until the 20th Century that this version became standard. And, although it’s the only one most people are aware of today, there have actually been many different English translations.

A literal English translation of the German words of the first verse is something like this:

      “Silent night! Holy night!
       All are sleeping, alone and awake
       Only the intimate holy pair,
       Lovely boy with curly hair,
       Sleep in heavenly peace!
       Sleep in heavenly peace!”

The most famous English version of the song was written by American Episcopal Bishop John Freeman Young (1820-1885) and first published in 1859.

Young made up his own words for the middle part of the first verse and for most of the other two verses (of the original six) that he “translated.”

His English adaptation became the one that’s best known. But it wasn’t the first.

According to the authoritative, amazingly detailed history of the song on The Hymns and Carols of Christmas site, an American named J. F. Warner created what is believed to be the oldest English version of Mohr’s German lyrics in 1849.

Warner titled the song “Silent Night! Hallowed Night!”

That makes sense since “hallowed” is one of the possible translations of the German word Heilige. (It can also be translated as awed, blessed, devout, righteous, sacred, saintly, solemn — or holy.)

Warner’s lyrics for the rest of the first verse (and other verses) are, if anything, even more creative “translations” than Young’s.

He started his version of the song this way:

      “Silent night! halllow’d night!
       Land and deep silent sleep,
       Softly glitters bright Bethlehem’s star,
       Beck’ning Israel’s eye from afar,
       Where the Saviour is born,
       Where the Saviour is born.”

Another early English translation that preceded Young’s was written in 1858 by Emily E.S. Elliott. She titled her version of the song “Stilly Night, Holy Night.” Elliott’s lyrics also bear little relation to the original German.

Since then, twenty or so other English versions of “Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!” have been created, each with its own unique lyrics.

But at some unknown turning point in the 20th Century, for some unknown reason, Rev. Young’s became the standard.

There’s a good chance you’ve been hearing — and possibly singing — his words this Holiday season.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy Everything Else from ThisDayinQuotes.com!

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December 17, 2017

“Strange but true” — there are quotes by Lord Byron you probably didn’t know you knew…



Although Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron) is one of the most famous of all English poets, few of us can recite a lot of lines from his poems.

Thanks to some popular modern biographies, Ken's Russell's movie Gothic (1986), the BBC drama Byron (2003), and other movies and TV shows, many people are aware that Byron had an outrageously wild personal life.

It was a life crammed full of sex (including affairs with both male and female lovers and probably his own sister), drugs (opium in particular) and rocky relations with the British Establishment, which he repeatedly poked in the eye with his scandalous lifestyle and radical liberal politics)

As memorably summed up by one of his many lovers, Lady Caroline Lamb, Byron was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”

In fact, I’d guess more people are familiar with Byron’s proto-rock ‘n’ roll star reputation than his poetry.

There are some lines from Byron poems which are familiar to almost everyone.

The best-known is “She walks in beauty, like the night,” the opening words of his poem “She Walks in Beauty” (published in 1815).

Another bit of verse written by Byron popularized two idiomatic expressions you undoubtedly know and have probably used, though you may not know they come from one of his poems.

On December 17, 1823, Cantos XII, XIII and XIV of Byron’s epic satirical poem Don Juan were first published.

Canto XIV contains the lines:

“‘Tis strange — but true; for Truth is always strange;
       Stranger than fiction.”

Those words by Byron are generally credited as the origin of the sayings “strange but true” and “truth is stranger than fiction.”

So, while few people know it, they are paraphrasing a quotation by Byron when they use those phrases — both of which could aptly be applied to aspects of Byron’s personal life.

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December 11, 2017

“Greed is good!” – the famous movie misquote and it’s real life inspiration

Michael Douglas Greed is Good Wall Street (1987)


On December 11, 1987 Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street was released in U.S. theaters.

The movie stars Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, a mega-rich, ethically-challenged Wall Street investor who specializes in corporate takeover schemes.

Gekko has no pangs about taking over, gutting, and reselling companies regardless of the impacts on employees and local communities.

In fact, he’s proud of his takeover record, as he explains in the memorable speech he gives that includes the line usually misquoted as “Greed is good,” a shortened version of what Douglas actually says.

That now familiar saying is partly based on an actual speech given by the real-life Wall Street investor and money manipulator Ivan Boesky.

On May 18, 1986, Boesky gave the commencement address at the UC Berkeley’s School of Business Administration.

At the time, Boesky was a widely admired financial wizard who was riding high.

One of the things he told the students was this proto-Gekko quote.

     “Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.”

Boesky was feeling a tad less good the following year, when he was convicted of filing false trading records and sentenced to three years in prison, after also paying a record $100 million to settle a conviction for insider trading.

Boesky’s rise and fall and his infamous Berkeley quote were part of Oliver Stone’s inspiration for Wall Street.

Gekko clearly echoes Boesky in the scene in which he calls greed good.

Ivan Boesky, Greed is all rightIn that scene, he’s speaking to a meeting of shareholders of the company Teldar Paper, which he wants to take over.

To encourage them to approve his takeover big, he tells them he has studied the company and found that the current management is wasting money and shortchanging shareholders.

Then he says:

“I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them. The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you.”

The Teldar shareholders like what Gekko says and give him a standing ovation.

And, despite the fact that Gekko is a slimy character who is ultimately goes to prison for insider trading involving another company, and despite the financial scandals and meltdowns that happened before and after Wall Street was released, there are many people who like and essentially agree with the philosophy he expresses in that speech.

It’s fits the Ayn Randian “enlightened self-interest” creed of hard core advocates of business and opponents of “over-regulation” – a subset of people who have increasingly dominated American politics.

The end of Wall Street is somewhat uplifting. Gekko goes to jail and Bud Fox, the young protégé who initially helped him in a crooked takeover scheme (played by Charlie Sheen), blows the whistle on Gordon and redeems himself.

If Gekko existed in real life, he’d probably view the current push to reduce the regulation of businesses and financial markets as uplifting.

Indeed, events of the past few years might remind many people of something else Gordon Gekko says in Wall Street

He explains to Charlie Sheen’s character:

“The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth, five trillion dollars...We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now you’re not naive enough to think we’re living in a democracy, are you buddy?”

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