December 31, 2012

The Top Quotes of 2012 – and some of the top “top quotes” lists of 2012…


Every December, various pundits, writers and media outlets publish lists of what they consider to be the the year’s “top” or “best” quotations — either in general or within a certain realm, such as politics, sports or movies.

Recently, I’ve been perusing some of the lists of quotes from 2012.

The one that’s most widely cited is the top ten quotes of the year list compiled by quote maven Fred Shapiro, associate librarian at Yale Law School and author of the authoritative Yale Book of Quotations.

Now in it’s seventh year, Shapiro’s list gets reprinted by hundreds of newspapers and thousands of websites.

His 2012 list includes several quotes by President Barack Obama and two by his Republican challenger in the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney.

In this case, Mitt actually won.

He gained the #1 spot on Shapiro’s list for what became one of the most infamous, clueless and damaging political quotations ever uttered:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims…These are people who pay no income tax…and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Romney made those remarks at a private fundraiser in Boca Raton, Florida on May 17, 2012. However, they didn’t hit the news until September 17, when a secretly-recorded video of what he said at the fundraiser was released by Mother Jones magazine.

When the story broke, it created a major political firestorm that the Obama campaign stoked to the max.

Romney’s “47 percent” gaffe is also cited by several lists of the top political quotes of 2012.

Many observers believe that quotation played a significant role in turning key swing voters against Romney, by making it appear (or maybe by making it clear) that he didn’t care about the opinions, votes or lives of nearly half of all Americans.

Shapiro’s list of the top 10 quotes of 2012 also includes another gaffe by Romney (“binders full of women”), three quotes by Obama (most notably his “you didn’t build that” quote), Missouri Senatorial candidate Todd Akin’s radioactive “legitimate rape” quote, South Korean rapper PSY’s “Oppan Gangnam style” video meme, a comment by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that popularized the term “fiscal cliff,” and several others that are primarily of interest to political junkies.

Fred left out what I would count as one of the top 10 quotes of the year, but it did make the #1 position in ESPN Playbook’s 2012 “Sports Quotes of the Year” list.

It’s the memorable response by Washington Nationals outfielder

Bryce Harper when a reporter implied that the 19-year-old rookie might take advantage of Canada’s lower drinking age when he played in Toronto and have a beer.

During a a press event on June 13, 2012, a Toronto TV reporter asked Harper: “You got a favorite beer?” 

Harper answered drily:

      “That’s a clown question, bro.” 

It quickly became a viral meme and a popular new all-purpose retort to stupid questions.

There are actually quite a few lists of the top sports quotes of 2012 online.

Some are for hard core fans of certain sports — like the lists of top quotes by and about golfer Tiger Woods or the top quotes by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish soccer star (i.e., star of the sport known as football in every country except the US).

As a movie buff, I was interested in reading the lists of top movie quotes of 2012. From what I can tell, almost none seem to have reached the level of being widely-repeated, long-lasting pop culture quotations.

There is one notable exception, mentioned in the list compiled by movie critic Chris Knight:

       “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

It’s a catchphrase from the hugely popular science fiction film The Hunger Games, based on the hugely popular novel by Suzanne Collins

Although you may not know that quote, millions of Hunger Game fans do and it’s cited on hundreds of thousands of websites. (Actually, it appears to be millions based on the Google search hit stats for the phrase.)

There are a number of lists of the “dumbest” or “stupidest” quotes of 2012 online. A large percentage of those are political in nature. So, whether you think the quotes they include are dumb or stupid depends largely on your political leanings.

I found many lists of top 2012 quotes by “celebrities.” They mostly include quotes by people from the realms of TV, movies, fashion or music and those “personalities” who are basically famous for being famous.

I guess such celebrity quote lists are of interest to people who know who the latest celebrities are and are fascinated by what “celebs” do and say. I don’t and am not. So, I quickly got bored reading those lists.

There are also some lists of 2012 quotes of interest to geeks and wonks. Having qualities of both, I found those more intriguing.

For example, there are two “Top Tech Quotes of 2012” lists I like: one on the New Yorker magazine site, complied by Nicholas Thompson and one on the C/NET website, compiled by Jonathan Skillings.

My favorite quote from Thompson’s is “Turn left into the water” — which he cites as the best line from a Tumblr page devoted to the epic failure of Apple’s map app.

My favorite from Skillings:

       “I'm safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!! #MSL.”

That was the historic tweet by the Curiosity Rover when it landed in the Gale Crater on the surface of Mars on August 6, 2012.

As a kid in the 1950s, I wondered if there was intelligent life on Mars.

As I was reading some of the lists of the top political and celebrity quotes of 2012, I was reminded of the old joke about whether there’s any on earth.

Happy New Year from ThisDayinQuotes.com. And, good luck to all of us in 2013.

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Further reading, viewing and listening…

December 29, 2012

“Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.”


On December 29, 1890, about 500 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.

Since the publication of Brown’s book, the phrase “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee” has been inextricably 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.”

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

Personally, I prefer Dee Brown’s book and Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song. If you read his book and listen to her song, you may understand why some people view Benét’s gushingly patriotic poem as “pretty lies.”


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Further reading, viewing and listening…

October 17, 2012

True or false: Stephen Colbert coined the word truthiness? (Hint: you’re right!)


During the very first Colbert Report show on October 17, 2005, the witty faux Conservative media pundit Stephen Colbert unleashed the word truthiness on the world. (Click here to see the video on the Colbert Nation website.)

He introduced it like this:

“On this show your voice will be heard...in the form of my voice. ‘Cause you’re looking at a straight-shooter, America. I tell it like it is. I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em. I will speak to you in plain simple English.

And that brings us to tonight's word: Truthiness.

Now I’m sure some of the Word Police, the wordanistas over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word.’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true, or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don't trust books. They’re all fact, no heart.”

In that brilliant bit, Colbert captured the nature of much of today’s political rhetoric and punditry. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter what “the truth” is. Whatever is consistent with what you believe to be true is “the truth.”

For example, as a huge fan of Stephen Colbert, I believe he coined the word truthiness.

Oh sure, there are some elitist egghead language experts who have noted that the word truthiness already existed before Colbert uttered it and that uses of the word date back to the early 1800s.

Indeed, there’s a series of posts about this on the Language Log, a popular hangout for snooty linguists.

The so-called “facts” in those posts supposedly “prove” Stephen Colbert may have popularized the word truthiness but didn’t actually coin it.

The wordanista who started pushing this absurd claim appears to be Ben Zimmer, producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, language columnist for The Boston Globe and former “On Language” columnist for The New York Times.

As Colbert might say [loudly, while shaking his fist], “Damn you, Zimmer!”

Your nonsensical facts will never shake my belief in the truthiness of my belief that Stephen Colbert coined the word truthiness!

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Related reading and viewing…

September 13, 2012

“I can see Russia from my house!” The famous Sarah Palin quote that she didn’t actually say…


On September 13, 2008, actress Tina Fey took a break from her hit TV show 30 Rock to make a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, where she was formerly a writer and cast member.

At the time, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his running mate Joe Biden were in a seemingly close race with Republican presidential nominee John McCain and his recently unveiled pick for Vice President, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Ten days earlier, on September 3, Palin had given a rousing speech at the Republican National Convention that made her an immediate national celebrity. (The famed “Hockey Mom/pit bull/lipstick” speech.)

The following week, she was riding fairly high in public favorability and did a series of high profile media interviews.

One was with ABC’s Charles Gibson.

On the topic of foreign policy, he asked whether Alaska’s proximity to Russia gave her any special insights into Russian actions. Palin responded with a somewhat puzzling non-sequitur:

“They’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.”

Two days later, on September 13th, Tina Fey appeared in a sketch on Saturday Night Live in which she played Sarah Palin and SNL regular Amy Poehler played Hillary Clinton.

At one point in the skit, Poehler, as Clinton, made the intellectual-sounding comment that “diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy.”

Fey, looking remarkably like Palin, gave a response that mimicked Palin’s folksy style and satirically echoed the answer Palin used in the interview with Gibson.

With an engaging, Palin-like smile, she blurted:

“And I can see Russia from my house!”

It was a hilarious line and a great political sketch. The following day – and for days thereafter – it was the biggest thing on YouTube and in the media.

It got so much attention that many people assumed (and some still think) Palin actually said she could see Russia from her house.

She didn’t.

But, along with things Palin actually did say in the weeks after her Convention speech, Fey’s now legendary quote did help create skepticism about Palin’s qualifications to be Vice President.

After Obama and Biden won the election, that became a moot issue and Palin went on to become a professional politically-oriented media personality rather than a politician.

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Related viewing, reading and listening…

September 08, 2012

To boldly split infinitives that no man has split before…


You may have had English teachers who tried to repeatedly make you believe that you need to strictly avoid using split infinitives — such as “to repeatedly make” or “to strictly avoid.”

However, as explained by the authoritative Oxford Dictionaries site: “There’s no real justification for their objection, which is based on comparisons with the structure of Latin. People have been splitting infinitives for centuries, especially in spoken English.”

And, if you’re a fan of Star Trek (like me) you know that people will boldly be splitting infinitives long into the future.

This was first revealed to us on September 8, 1966.

On that night, the original Star Trek series debuted on NBC-TV.

That’s when we first heard William Shatner, as starship Captain James T. Kirk, speak the famed introduction used at the beginning of the show’s opening credit sequence:

“Space – the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Of course, those last nine words became a famous TV catchphrase. And, “to boldly go” became the most famous split infinitive in modern history.

To English teachers who are willing to publicly agree that it is silly to always avoid using a split infinitive, I say “Live long and prosper.”

To those who still think it’s wrong to ever split an infinitive, I say: Hab SoSlI’ Quch!

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Related viewing, reading and listening…

August 28, 2012

When the whole world was (and wasn’t) watching…


On August 28, 2010, conservative talk show host Glenn Beck held a controversial media event and “rally” for his Tea Party followers in Washington, D.C.

Because Beck had made racially insensitive remarks in the past, the most noted aspect of his event was that it was being held on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

That stirring address, on August 28, 1963, capped the historic “March on Washington” organized to support equal rights for black Americans.

It includes lines found in many books of quotations.

One of the most frequently cited is King’s inspiring vision of a colorblind future America:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The end of King’s speech, which used familiar phrases from the patriotic anthem “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and the traditional Negro spiritual “Free at Last,” is also frequently cited:

“When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’”

The March on Washington was heavily covered by the media. It was one of the most important civil rights events in modern history and Martin Luther King, Jr. was America’s most prominent civil rights leader at the time.

His speech was broadcast live on television that day. The whole world was watching.

Coincidentally, it was another event exactly five years later that made the phrase “the whole world is watching” a famous quotation in itself.

In late August of 1968, thousands of people who opposed the Vietnam War gathered in Chicago to take part in protests timed to coincide with that year’s annual Democratic National Convention.

On August 26th, the Chicago police beat and arrested protesters at one of the scheduled rally events.

The next morning, Rennie Davis, a protest organizer and leader of Students for a Democratic Society, talked about the police violence with his colleague Don Rose.

Rose was press secretary for the umbrella anti-war group, the National Mobilization Committee To End the Vietnam War.

In a 2008 interview published in the great activist magazine In These Times, Rose recalled that Davis said to him: “Jesus, this is really bad, what can we say?”

Rose answered: “Oh, tell them the whole world is watching and they’ll never get away with it again.”

Davis and other protest leaders liked the phrase “the whole world is watching” and it began to spread among the protesters by word of mouth.

When Chicago police began brutally beating and arresting hundreds of people on the night of August 28, 1968, the crowd noted the presence of TV news cameras and began chanting:

       “THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING! THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING!”

Indeed, the whole world was soon seeing shocking images of what was later called “a police riot.”

It became an infamous historic event. And, the words “the whole world is watching” became an immortal catchphrase still used at civil protests in countries throughout the world.

Flash forward to Glenn Beck’s media event on August 28, 2010. It drew some moderate media coverage, especially from FOX-TV, which featured Beck as a talk show host at the time.

But, contrary to what some of Beck’s fans and critics anticipated, the only thing that was newsworthy about his event was that nothing really newsworthy happened. Moreover, nothing Beck said in the speech he made that day was deemed quoteworthy.

In fact, his event already seems largely forgotten, along with whatever he said.

Since then, Beck’s show on FOX has since been canceled and his “15 minutes of fame” seem to be ticking away. When all fifteen are gone, some people may think of the words of that old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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Related reading, listening and viewing:

August 17, 2012

The origins of “Rum, sodomy and the lash” – Churchill’s alleged quip about British naval tradition…


Many books of quotations include a caustic quote attributed to Winston Churchill (1874-1965) in which he supposedly called British naval tradition nothing but
“rum, sodomy, and the lash.” (Sometimes given as “rum, buggery and the lash,” using the old British slang term “buggery” to refer to homosexual sex.)

The earliest source commonly cited for this quip is the diary of former British diplomat, politician and author Harold Nicolson (1886-1968).

In a diary entry dated August 17, 1950, Nicolson recorded some anecdotes about Churchill.

One involves a version of the “rum, sodomy, and the lash” quote.

But the version Nicolson wrote about that day included “prayers” in the litany. His diary entry says:

…when Winston was at the Admiralty, the Board objected to some suggestion of his on the grounds that it would not be in accord with naval tradition. ‘Naval tradition? Naval tradition?’ said Winston. ‘Monstrous. Nothing but rum, sodomy, prayers and the lash.’

This is why some books of quotations give the alleged Churchill quote as “rum, sodomy, prayers and the lash.”

The source commonly cited for the shorter version of the naval tradition quip is a book of reminiscences by former British Vice-Admiral Peter Gretton (1912-1992). According to an anecdote in Sir Peter Gretton, Former Naval Person: Winston Churchill and the Royal Navy (1968), Churchill said it shortly after he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911.

With his new authority, Churchill had ordered the British fleet to convert from coal to oil and was mothballing older ships in favor of smaller, faster ones.

A disgruntled Admiral indignantly told Churchill he was scuttling the tradition of the Royal Navy. Gretton wrote that Churchill answered:

       “Don’t talk to me about naval tradition. It’s nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash.”

Despite these oft-cited anecdotes, it appears that Winston Churchill never said any version of the naval tradition quote.

According to a post on the website of the Churchill Centre and Museum in London, Churchill told his personal assistant Anthony Montague-Browne that he never uttered such words.

Montague-Browne confirmed this to Richard Langworth, one of the most respected Churchill biographers.

In his great book about Churchill quotations and misquotes, Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations, Langworth says that Montague-Browne personally told him that he had asked Churchill about the quote.

According to Montague-Browne, Churchill responded: “I never said it. I wish I had.”

Langworth notes that “rum, sodomy and the lash” is similar to “rum, bum and bacca” — a catchphrase from an old saying about the, er, pastimes of British sailors, dating back to the 1800s:

     “Ashore it’s wine, women and song; aboard it’s rum, bum and concertina.” (Bum = a man’s rear end; bacca = tobacco.)

At any rate, it seems that attributing a quotation about rum, sodomy and the lash to Winston Churchill is nothing but an old British naval tradition.

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Related reading and listening…

April 27, 2012

“Like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.”


The British stage actor Edmund Kean was like the James Dean of his time.

He gained celebrity and fame at a young age.

His performances were fiery and highly innovative at the time, especially the new twists he gave to well-known characters in plays by Shakespeare.

For example, instead of playing Shylock in The Merchant of Venice the traditional way, as a comic villain, Kean’s Shylock seemed intelligent, intense and dignified.

Almost every biography of Kean mentions a famous quote about him by the British poet, critic and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

On April 27, 1823, Coleridge said in a conversation:

       “To see him act, is like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.”

This comment, recorded by Coleridge’s son-in-law, was included in the book Table Talk, a collection of spoken remarks by Coleridge that was published in 1835, the year after he died.

The “flashes of lightning” line is usually the only part of the what Coleridge said about Kean that is quoted and it is generally assumed to be a complimentary remark about Kean’s electrifying acting style.

In fact, if you read the rest of what Coleridge said about Kean, you realize that he wasn’t actually giving Kean a glowing review.

“Kean is original,” Coleridge acknowledged, “but he copies from himself. His rapid descents from the hyper-tragic to the infra-colloquial, though sometimes productive of great effect, are often unreasonable. To see him act, is like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning. I do not think him thorough-bred gentleman enough to play Othello.”

It’s hard to know with certainty what Coleridge meant by the analogy “like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.” But in context, it seems to suggest that he thought Kean’s acting was not consistently illuminating or fathomable.

By the time the quote was published in Table Talk in 1835, Kean was beyond caring about Coleridge’s opinion or anyone else’s.

He died in 1833 at age 46, apparently burnt out by a rock star lifestyle that involved mass quantities of alcohol and wild sex.

According to legend, when Kean was on his deathbed someone asked him how he felt and he responded: “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.”

He may not have actually said that. But it sure is a great exit line.

[Another famous quote by Samuel Taylor Coleridge from Table Talk is “Prose = words in their best order; — poetry = the best words in the best order.” Click this link to read the backstory on that quote.]

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