July 14, 2014

“Prose = words in their best order; — poetry = the best words in the best order.”

Most of the best-known quotes by the British poet and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge come from his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) and Kubla Khan (1816).

But one of his most famous quotations is not something he wrote.

It’s a remark he made in a conversation that was jotted down by his nephew and son-in-law, Henry Nelson Coleridge. (The Coleridges were apparently a very close family.)

From 1822 to 1834, Henry took notes about things he heard Samuel say at gatherings of family and friends, knowing they could someday be important biographical records about the life of his famous father-in-law/uncle.

In 1835, a year after Samuel died, Henry published a two-volume collection that included his notes, under the title Specimens of the Table Talk of the Late Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

These volumes, usually referred to as Table Talk for short, include an oft-cited quote about prose and poetry that Henry recorded in print like this:

       “Prose = words in their best order; — poetry = the best words in the best order.”

According the Henry, Samuel Taylor Coleridge spoke those words on the night of July 12, 1827 during a wide-ranging conversation about a number of famous writers, including Sir Walter Scott, John Dryden, Algernon Sydney and Edmund Burke. (Presumably, Samuel said the word “equal” where the equal signs appear in Henry’s written version.)

Coleridge made this remark after calling Burke’s renowned essay A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful “neither profound nor accurate” and making a somewhat snarky comment about a poem by the Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto.

The complete quote, as recorded in Table Talk, is:

“I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose = words in their best order; — poetry = the best words in the best order.”

Some people find Coleridge’s definitions of prose and poetry to be quite profound.

Others may find them a bit pompous and question whether they actually make sense. (Who decides what the “best order” and “best words” are? And, why shouldn’t prose use the “best” words?)

Either way, Coleridge’s pithy comment about prose and poetry is certainly one of the most famous quotes linked to today’s date.

[Another famous quote from Table Talk is something Coleridge said about the actor Edmund Kean: “To see him act, is like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.” Click this link to read the backstory on that quote.]

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Related reading, listening and viewing…

July 10, 2014

“Afternoon Delight” – the song that created a new sex euphemism…

The Starland Vocal Band was among the many rock bands that ended up being a “one hit wonder.”

But their one hit — “Afternoon Delight” — not only became a popular song, it also embedded a new phrase into our language.

The single version of the song was released by RCA Records in April 1976.

It entered the Billboard Top 40 on June 5, 1976 and reached the official peak of pop music fame, No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, on July 10, 1976.

“Afternoon Delight” was written by band member Bill Danoff, a talented songwriter who had previously co-written another big hit with John Denver“Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

The lyrics of the catchy tune make it clear what “afternoon delight” is meant to suggest:

       “Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight
       Gonna grab some afternoon delight
       My motto's always been when it’s right, it’s right
       Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night
       When everything’s a little clearer in the light of day
       And you know the night is always gonna be there any way
       Sky rockets in flight!
       Afternoon delight. A-a-afternoon delight.”

The success of the song quickly turned “afternoon delight” into a popular sex-related euphemism.

The original meaning, as intended by songwriter Danoff, referred to having sex in the afternoon with one’s spouse or steady partner.

In the 1980s, “afternoon delight” became shorthand for an adulterous lunchtime affair with someone other than a spouse or partner.

As Danoff has explained in interviews, the real origin of the phrase actually had nothing to do with sex.

He got it from Clyde’s Restaurant in Georgetown (Washington, D.C.), one of his favorite local hangouts in the early 1970s.

Clyde’s used the phrase as the title of it’s happy hour menu.

The words stuck in Danoff’s mind and inspired him to turn it into a term for a different type of daytime pleasure.

If the lyrics of “Afternoon Delight” are still somewhere in the back of your mind, click the video link at right and sing along with Will Ferrell and the cast of the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). They did a great version of the song

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July 06, 2014

The day Leo Durocher said “Nice guys finish last.” (Or something like that.)

The famous sports quote “Nice guys finish last” has long been attributed to legendary baseball player and manager Leo Durocher. But for decades there has been a debate about whether he actually said it.

Most sources agree that the basis for the attribution comes from remarks “Leo the Lip” made on July 6, 1946, when he was managing the Brooklyn Dodgers.

That day, he was dissing the New York Giants and their manager Mel Ott to some reporters, during batting practice at the old “Polo Grounds” stadium. One of the reporters was sportscaster Red Barber. Another was Frank Graham, sportswriter for The New York Journal-American.

Graham’s column, published the following day, used the headline “Leo Doesn’t Like Nice Guys.” It also noted what Durocher said about “nice guys” — which does not include the famous quote.

Graham reported that Red Barber had asked Durocher “Why don’t you be a nice guy for a change?”

According to Graham, Durocher replied:

“Nice guys! Look over there. Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott? Or any of the other Giants? Why, they’re the nicest guys in the world! And where are they? In seventh place! Nice guys! I’m not a nice guy – and I’m in first place.” After pacing up and down the visitors’ dugout, the Dodger manager waved a hand toward the Giants’ dugout and repeated, “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place.”

In his excellent book The Quote Verifier, quotation expert Ralph Keyes says: “When Graham’s original column was reprinted in Baseball Digest that fall, Durocher’s reference to nice guys finishing in ‘seventh place’ had been changed to ‘last place.’…Before long Leo’s credo was bumper-stickered into ‘Nice guys finish last.’”

Over the years, some books of quotations have given Durocher credit for the “bumper sticker” version of the famed quote, while others cite it as “attributed” or as a paraphrase of what he said.

Durocher himself helped confuse the facts. Initially, he denied saying “Nice guys finish last.” But after it became famous, he embraced it. He even used it as the title of his autobiography (first published in 1975). And, in that, he gave a possibly revisionist version of what he said on July 6, 1946, which differs from what sportswriter Graham originally reported.

Here’s Durocher’s recollection from his book:

[T]he Giants, led by Mel Ott, began to come out of their dugouts...I called off his players’ names as they came marching up the steps behind him, “Walker, Cooper, Mize, Marshall, Kerr, Gordon, Thompson. Take a look at them. All nice guys. They’ll finish last. Nice guys. Finish last...Give me some scratching, diving hungry ballplayers who came to kill you...That’s the kind of guy I want playing for me.”

So, was Durocher’s version correct or was Graham’s? I don’t know, but I’ll add a couple of other pieces to the puzzle, based on my own recent Internet searches of newspaper archives.

In an article published on August 12, 1946 in the Uniontown, Pennsylvania Morning Herald, sports editor Jimmy Gismondi wrote that Dodgers fans “back up their manager [Durocher] when he leaps from his dugout to scream at an ump. ‘Nice guys don’t win pennants,’ the Dodger fans say. And sometimes we think they’re right. How’s Mel Ott doing these days?”

I also found an Associated Press article dated August 13, 1946, written by AP Sports Editor Frank Eck. In it, he said: “Brooklyn fans like their baseball rough. They remember when their heroes were second division duds six straight years in the thirties. But now they have a rough and tumble group to cheer and they love Durocher for saying: ‘Nice guys don’t win pennants.’”

So those articles clearly suggest that “Nice guys don’t win pennants” was a saying commonly used by Durocher and Dodgers fans at the time.

Then I found two news stories from 1948 commenting on a recent article Leo Durocher had written. Durocher’s article was published in the April 1948 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. The title of the article was “Nice Guys Finish Last.”

Was that title chosen by Durocher based on a quote he coined — or was it created by an editor at Cosmopolitan, who may be the real coiner of the line that Durocher later claimed as his?

I don’t know the answer to that either. If you do, please shoot me an email or put a comment on the Famous Quotations Facebook page. You’ll be clearing up a longstanding quotation mystery.

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Related reading…

June 24, 2014

“Don’t Bogart that joint, my friend…”

On June 24, 1968, ABC Records released the self-titled first album by The Fraternity of Man, a California-based rock band whose members included former Mothers of Invention guitarist Elliot Ingber and a young, 17-year-old singer and songwriter named Larry Wagner.

The album wasn’t a big hit. But it included a humorous, country-flavored song that coined a new slang term.

The song’s lyrics were written by Wagner, who was nicknamed “Stash” by the band. The music was written by Ingber.

They titled the song “Don’t Bogart Me.”

Today, it’s more commonly (though mistakenly) referred to as “Don’t Bogart That Joint.”

That phrase, from the song’s chorus, became a slang term meaning “don’t keep holding onto that marijuana joint — pass it on and let other people have some.” 

Initially, awareness of the song and the Bogart term was primarily limited to “Hippies” (a name coined by San Francisco journalist Michael Fallon in 1965).

That changed in 1969, thanks to actor Dennis Hopper, one of the pot-smoking hipsters who knew the song.

Early that year, Hopper was engrossed in editing the new film he’d created with his friend and co-star Peter Fonda — the seminal counterculture classic Easy Rider.

As he edited the movie, Hopper chose some of songs he’d recently been listening to for the soundtrack.

One of them was the Fraternity of Man’s “Don’t Bogart Me.”

When Easy Rider premiered in the US on July 14, 1969, the song and it’s drug-related slang term were launched into worldwide fame.

Soon, millions of people who had never heard the 1968 Fraternity of Man album were familiar with the phrase “Don’t Bogart that joint.”

The use of “Bogart” as a verb eventually became an idiom used in association with things other than just a marijuana joint.

Indeed, today, you get thousands of, er, hits if you Google “don’t Bogart” -joint (using the minus sign to find uses that do not include the word “joint”).

There are various theories about why Humphrey Bogart’s last name came to be used as a verb that was originally tied to smoking something.

The one that makes the most sense to me is that, in many of his classic films, Bogart often has a lit cigarette hanging from his lips but is not actively smoking it. He’s just letting it burn and turn to ashes.

Bogie may or may not have liked the way his name was used in the song. But somehow, in my mind, I can imagine him and Dennis Hopper in the afterlife gleefully singing “Don’t Bogart Me” together.

And, thinking about that makes me want to sing along. If you want to join us, click the video link at right. Here are the lyrics…

Don’t Bogart that joint my friend
Pass it over to me
Don’t Bogart that joint my friend
Pass it over to me

Roll another one
Just like the other one
You’ve been hanging on to it
And I sure would like a hit

Ro-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ll another one
Just like the other one
That one’s just about burnt to the end
So, come on and be a real friend.

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June 18, 2014

A good date for badass “fighting words” quotations...

By an odd coincidence, a number of famous war-related quotations were uttered on the date June 18.

On June 18, 1757, at the Battle of Kolin, Prussian King Frederick the Great urged his hesitant troops to attack the larger Austrian army by shouting:

       “Rascals, would you live forever?”

Thousands of those rascals didn’t live much longer. The Prussians were defeated and nearly 14,000 were killed or wounded. 

On June 18, 1798, at a dinner in Philadelphia honoring future Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall, a group of U.S. Congressmen were discussing a recent demand made by the government of France.

French vessels had been plundering American ships in a piratical manner. French foreign minister Talleyrand informed American officials that the attacks would be stopped if the United States paid him $250,000 and gave France 50,000 pounds sterling and a $100 million loan. 

As toasts were made at the Congressional dinner, South Carolina Congressman Robert Goodloe Harper sent his own defiant reply to the French with this toast:

      “Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.”

Harper’s famous quote is sometimes attributed to South Carolina politician Charles C. Pinckney, who denied saying it.

Seventeen years later, it was a French leader’s turn to utter famous words of defiance.

On June 18, 1815, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s Imperial Guard, led by General Pierre Cambronne, was surrounded by combined British and German forces at the Battle of Waterloo.

When asked to surrender, Cambronne reportedly replied:

       “The Guard dies but never surrenders.”

The French lost at Waterloo, ending Napoleon’s reign as Emperor. And, historians have questioned whether Cambronne actually uttered those famous fighting words. Some reports claimed he simply said “Merde!” (“Shit!”)

On June 18, 1901, German Emperor and King of Prussia Wilhelm II (dubbed “Kaiser Bill” by British and Americans), gave a rousing speech to the North German Regatta Association.

In that speech, he famously used the phrase “a place in the sun,” a German nationalistic phrase first given notoriety by German Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow. In 1897, von Bulow had defended Germany’s right to a colonial empire by saying that Germans “demand our own place in the sun.”

“Kaiser Bill” consciously echoed those words in his speech on June 18, 1901, saying:

“We have conquered for ourselves a place in the sun. It will now be my task to see to it that this place in the sun shall remain our undisputed possession.”

Flash forward to World War II, when some other famous fighting words were uttered on June 18th.

In the spring of 1940, Adolph Hitler’s Nazi troops invaded and conquered France, setting up a puppet government under Marshal Philippe Pétain.

French General Charles de Gaulle, and other “Free French” forces refused to recognize Pétain’s “Vichy” government and vowed to fight on.

In exile in London, de Gaulle made a radio address on June 18, 1940, famously saying:

      “France has lost a battle. But France has not lost the war!”

On that same day, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave one of his most memorable speeches in the House of Commons.

After discussing the fall of France and the recent evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk, Churchill noted that Hitler now had England in his sights.

“I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin,” Churchill said. “The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war.

If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

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Further reading about war-related quotations

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