July 30, 2020

Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable…

Every once in a while, I like to do a “guest post” here, using something I previously posted on my other quotation blog, QuoteCounterquote.com. I recently heard some news commentator use the phrase “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” on a cable news channel and wondered how many modern listeners are familiar with that old saying. In case you’re not, here’s a post that discusses to origins of those words and some notable uses and variations…


THE LINE THAT LED TO A FAMOUS MISQUOTE:

“Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us...comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable.”
        Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936)
        American journalist and humorist
        Dunne put this quote in the mouth of “Mr. Dooley,” the witty Irish character who was featured in Dunne’s popular newspaper column relating what Dooley said on various topics in a heavy Irish brogue. The line was first used in a column titled “Mr. Dooley on Newspaper Publicity,” published in many US newspapers on October 5, 1902 and reprinted in the book collecting Dunne’s columns, Observations by Mr. Dooley (1902). Dooley’s remark led to many other quotes about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
        The full quote as Dunne wrote it is:
        “Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, conthrols th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.”
        The plain English “translation” is:
        “The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted, afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead and roasts them afterward.”
        Dunne’s quote is often misquoted as “The duty [or job] of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Indeed, that version has become a kind of motto for defenders of the free press. Ironically, Dunne’s piece was not meant as praise of the press. It’s actually a negative jab at newspapers who Mr. Dooley thinks print far too much minutiae about almost everything and everyone and pokes into the private lives of citizens far too much.
        Mr. Dooley complains that, because newspapers regularly print gossip and photos about local citizens, “There are no such things as private citizens” anymore. Interestingly, many of his criticisms of newspapers sound similar to modern concerns about the internet and social media.


THE NEWSPAPER VERSION:

“Mr. Brady, it is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
        Actor Spencer Tracy, in the 1960 movie Inherit the Wind. Tracy, playing defense lawyer Henry Drummond, says the line to Fredric March, playing prosecuting attorney Matthew Harrison Brady.
        The film is an adaptation of the 1955 play of the same name, a fictionalized account of the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial.” Tracy’s famous line is not in the play, which was written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. The movie script based on the play was written by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith. I suspect the famous line was created by Young, who was blacklisted as a Communist sympathizer during the McCarthy era and hired (secretly) by the film’s director Stanley Kramer. Young didn’t coin the saying. As noted in a post on the Quote Investigator site, a filler item in 1914 a newspaper in Danville, Kentucky said: “Mr. Dooley says the duty of the newspapers is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” That was followed by many similar uses of this saying about newspapers that predate the movie Inherit the Wind, which premiered in London on July 7, 1960.


THE FAUX CLARENCE DARROW QUOTE:

“The most human thing we can do is comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
        Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)
        American lawyer and free speech activist
        It’s interesting that many internet posts and some books published in recent decades attribute this quote to Darrow, the defense attorney in the real life Scopes Monkey Trial. I couldn’t find any evidence that Darrow ever said or wrote such a line. I think it’s probably a faux quote created after the movie line in Inherit the Wind became famous.


THE FAUX WOODY GUTHRIE QUOTE:

“It’s a folk singer’s job to comfort disturbed people and to disturb comfortable people.”
        Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)
        American folk musician and liberal political activist
        This line is widely attributed to Guthrie in internet posts, but never with any specific source. As far as I can tell, he never actually said it.


THE CHRISTIAN VERSION:

“The business of the ministry is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
        Frederick W. Burnham (1871-1960)
        Pastor in Richmond, Virginia
        In an editorial published on March 11, 1944 in The Latrobe Bulletin, Burnham attributed this saying to an unnamed “young minister.” It’s an early version of many quotes that have applied the “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” concept to Christianity and Christian ministries.


THE ELEANOR ROOSEVELT APPLICATION:

“No woman has ever so comforted the distressed – or distressed the comfortable.”
        Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987)
        American author, Conservative Republican politician and US Ambassador     
        Luce used this line speech in which she praised Eleanor Roosevelt at and event honoring her on May 21, 1950. At that event, the left-leaning, Democratic widow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt received an award for her service to the poor and “underprivileged.” Back then, political opponents from different parties actually said some nice things about each other.


J.K. GALBRAITH’S VARIATION:

“In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong.”
        John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)
        Canadian-born economist, public official, and liberal activist
        From his 1989 commencement speech at Smith College, Massachusetts, titled “In Pursuit of the Simple Truth.” (Because London’s Guardian newspaper reprinted the speech on July 28, 1989, that is the usual citation for the source, rather than the commencement speech.)

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Related reading, viewing and stuff…

July 12, 2020

“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.

Yes, it is a little strange that he was both Samuel’s nephew and son-in-law. Apparently, the Coleridges were a very tight knit family.

Anyway, from 1822 to 1834, Henry took notes about things he heard Samuel say at gatherings of family and friends, figuring they might someday be worthwhile 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 quotation by Samuel about prose and poetry.

Henry recorded it in written form like this, using an equal sign for the word equal:

       “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 saying that Edmund Burke’s popular essay “A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” was “neither profound nor accurate” and making an equally snarky comment about a poem by the Italian poet Ludovico Ariosto.

Samuel’s complete quote about prose vs. poetry, 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?

Nonetheless, Coleridge’s pithy comment about prose and poetry is one of the best known quotes from Table Talk.

Another is something Coleridge said about the actor Edmund Kean: “To see him act, is like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning.” You can read the backstory on that quote by clicking this link.

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Related reading, listening and viewing…

June 04, 2020

“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

Comments? Corrections? Email me or Post them on the Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Related listening and reading…

May 25, 2020

7 famous space-related quotes launched on the date May 25th…


By an odd coincidence, some famous space-related quotations from several different sources are linked to the date May 25th.

On May 25, 1977, Star Wars — a movie by the then little-known director George Lucas — was released in the United States.

Yeah, yeah…I know. It’s now technically referred to as Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.

But I saw it at my local movie theater when it first came out (several times) and I still think of it as the first Star Wars movie. I also still tend to think of it by its simple, original name.

As almost everyone on our planet knows, the opening crawl at the beginning starts with the famous words:

        “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...”

That same phrase was later used in the opening crawls in the five following movies in the Star Wars series.

Of course, Star Wars also coined the catchphrase “May the Force be with you” and various other quotes that are well known to science fiction fans.

Given the current fame of the words “May the Force be with you” it seems strange in retrospect that they are spoken only twice in the original film; first by the character General Dodonna (actor Alex McCrindle) and then, somewhat jokingly, by Han Solo (Harrison Ford).

Other popular quotes from that film include two lines by Obi-Wan Kenobi (actor Alec Guinness): “These are not the Droids you’re looking for” and “Use the Force, Luke!”

Another is the plea made by the holographic image of Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher): “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

On May 25, 1979, exactly two years after Star Wars debuted nationwide, the movie
Alien was released in the U.S.

It was by directed by another director who was little-known at the time: Ridley Scott.

The tagline on the posters and ads for Alien launched another famous space quotation:

        “In space no one can hear you scream.”

Exactly 16 years before Star Wars debuted and 18 years before Alien hit American movie screens, President John F. Kennedy announced a vision for space travel that wasn’t science fiction.

On May 25, 1961, in a speech before a joint session of Congress, he famously announced:

I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

Kennedy didn’t live to see it, but America succeeded in achieving his goal in 1969, when NASA’s Apollo 11 astronauts landed on and returned from the moon.

The last of America’s six manned lunar landing missions was in 1972.

Ever since then, some of us have continued to hope that our government would pursue new manned trips to the moon.

It hasn’t. And, it won’t in the near future. President Barack Obama threw cold water on that hope in a speech on April 15, 2010.

Obama announced his support for “robotic exploration of the solar system” and kept open the option of future manned missions to Mars.

But he essentially told us to forget about new manned missions to the moon during his tenure in office.

“I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon,” said Obama. “But I just have to say pretty bluntly here: We’ve been there before.”

Ironically, Obama gave this speech at the John F. Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida.

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Related reading and viewing…

April 29, 2020

“Preserve, protect and defend…"


The oath an American president recites upon taking office includes the famous promise to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Interestingly, one of the first decisions a new president makes is which version of the presidential oath to take.

That’s because the paragraph in the Constitution that includes the presidential oath gives the president a simple, but potentially significant, choice of words.

That paragraph, in Article II, Section 1, says:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: — “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The option to either “swear” or “affirm” partly reflects the fact that some Founding Fathers were devout Christians and some weren’t. Thus, if the religious term “swear” didn’t fit a president's philosophy, he could say “affirm.”

On April 30, 1789, at his inauguration ceremony in New York City, George Washington became the first person to take the presidential oath.

Washington was a Christian. He chose to use the word “swear,” as every president except one has since then.

The exception was Franklin Pierce, who decided to say “affirm.”

Most presidents have also taken their oath while placing their hand on a Bible. However, nothing in the U.S. Constitution requires that.

It’s a tradition started by George Washington, who recited the oath with his hand on a Masonic Bible at his inauguration.

Although Masonic Bibles have since gone out of style, most presidents have sworn their oath with their hand on a Bible. I suspect this is partly to honor tradition and partly to avoid any controversy.

However, there have been some notable non-traditionalists.

John Quincy Adams took the oath with his hand on a book of law.

Theodore Roosevelt decided not to use a Bible or any other book when he recited the oath at his inauguration.

There has long been a debate about whether George Washington also started the tradition of saying “So help me God” after reciting the presidential oath.

Prof. Peter R. Henriques, author of the book Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington, wrote an interesting article about this debate that’s posted on the History News Network.

He concluded there’s no proof Washington actually said “So help me God.” 

Apparently, the first American president to do so was Chester A. Arthur, at his inauguration in 1881.

That’s essentially the only thing Arthur ever said that might be considered a famous quotation. Unfortunately for him, Washington is the one who usually (and probably wrongly) gets credit for it.

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Related reading…

March 28, 2020

“England’s green and pleasant land”


If you’re not British, you may only be vaguely aware of the song “Jerusalem.” But the tune and lyrics are very familiar to the people of England.

It is England’s unofficial national anthem, like “God Bless America” is in the United States.

Some Brits have urged that “Jerusalem” be made the official national anthem of England.

The song was first performed on March 28, 1916, during World War I, at a patriotic “Fight for Right” concert at Queen’s Hall in London.

Its melody was composed that year by Sir Hubert Parry, one of England’s most famous composers.

The lyrics are more than a century older than the music.

They come from the preface English poet and artist William Blake wrote for his epic poem Milton, which was first published in late 1810 or early 1811.

The first two paragraphs of Blake’s preface are an obtuse rant that criticizes, among other things, the “Hirelings in the Camp, the Court, & the University: who would if they could for ever depress Mental & prolong Corporeal War.”

The second part of the preface, written in verse, are the words used as the lyrics for the song “Jerusalem”:

“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold;
Bring me my arrows of desire;
Bring me my spear; O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.”

The first and last lines of the song are widely known and often quoted, as is the phrase “dark satanic mills” — a poetic expression of Blake’s opinion about the smoke-belching, labor-abusing factories of the Industrial Revolution.

The song also helped popularize the phrase “chariot of fire”, which Blake took from the King James Version of the Bible.

The idea of using Blake’s verses from the preface to Milton as song lyrics was suggested to Parry by English Poet Laureate Robert Seymour Bridges.

Bridges envisioned the song as a moving piece of musical propaganda, part of the patriotic, pro-war “Fight for Right” movement designed to help revive public support for Britain’s involvement in World War I. 

Hubert Parry had a somewhat different vision for how his song would be remembered.

His wife, Elizabeth, was involved in the women’s suffrage movement and he strongly supported giving women the right to vote.

With Hubert’s blessing, the song was adopted as an inspirational anthem by British women’s suffrage groups, who won their fight for women’s voting rights in 1918.

On March 13, 1918, Parry staged a highly visible performance of his song at London's Albert Hall to celebrate the culmination of the “Votes for Women” campaign.

Later, “Jerusalem” became a general, patriotic British anthem.

And, although it is not technically a Christian hymn, it is often sung as one at many churches in England.

For decades, “Jerusalem” has also been sung by audiences at the end of the “Last Night of the Proms,” the final concert in the series of annual “Henry Wood Promenade Concerts” presented by the BBC.

The song is also frequently sung at cricket and rugby games, like the “Star-Spangled Banner” is sung at American baseball games.

In recent years it has become popular with environmentalists for the lyrics invoking the ideal of a “green and pleasant land.”

It’s also said to have been a favorite of an earlier brand of nature lovers in the so-called “Naturist Movement” (i.e., nudists), due to a legend that a visitor to William Blake’s home once found him and his wife sunning themselves nude in their garden.

Hundreds of recordings of “Jerusalem” have been made over the decades. Many have been posted on YouTube.

My personal favorite is the version by Billy Bragg, on his 1990 album, The Internationale.

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March 03, 2020

“It ain’t a fit night out for man or beast!”


I have a nostalgic fondness for one the most famous movie quotations uttered by the great comic actor W.C. Fields: “It ain’t a fit night out for man or beast!”

As a kid growing up in Dayton, Ohio in the 1950s, I often heard my father and his old World War II Army buddies say those words to each other on snowy or rainy nights.

Every time they said it, they’d chuckle.

I’d chuckle, too.

But at the time I didn’t actually know where they got the line or why it was funny to them.

It wasn’t until my college days that I saw the W.C. Fields movie that popularized the line — The Fatal Glass of Beer and realized they were quoting him.

That famous Fields two-reel “short subject” was first released to movie theaters nationwide on March 3, 1933. My Dad and his friends had seen it and other Fields films at local movie theaters in Dayton when they were young.

It was produced by Mack Sennett, the Canadian-born Hollywood mogul who produced many classic silent and early “talkie” comedies from 1911 until the mid-1930s, including the Keystone Cops films, and films by legendary comedians like Fields, Charlie Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckle.

If you’ve seen The Fatal Glass of Beer then you know the line “It ain’t a fit night out for man or beast” is used repeatedly in it for comic effect.

If you haven’t seen the film, you can watch it on YouTube and other sites. It’s a classic! 

The movie is set in the Yukon during winter.

W.C. Fields plays a local prospector named Mr. Snavely, who lives in a remote, rustic cabin with his wife.

Six different times in the movie, Fields opens the cabin door, looks out, then intones: “It ain't a fit night out for man or beast.”

Every time he does, a gust of wind blows a cloud of snow into his face.

The audience can see that it’s obviously a bucketful of fake snow being thrown at Fields from off screen. It’s clearly hokey, as intended.

The Fatal Glass of Beer was, in part, a send-up of earlier, badly-produced films and vaudeville shows.

It also mocks the moralistic tone of some early movies and older anti-drinking temperance shows.

The title of the film comes from a faux temperance song Fields sings during the first few minutes, at the request of his friend, a local Canadian Mountie played by Richard Cramer.

Fields accompanies himself by seeming to play what the Mountie calls a “dulcimer.” It’s actually a zither and Fields strums it while wearing thick furry mittens and singing off-key.

The song, credited to vaudeville comedian Charlie Case, tells the tale of a young country boy who goes to the big city and visits a bar, where a group of rowdy city boys talk him into drinking “the fatal glass of beer.”

That single drink immediately causes the poor boy to have delirium tremens, go wild and crazy and break a Salvation Army worker’s tambourine.

The moral of the song, as given in the lyrics, is don’t drink alcohol and “Don’t go ‘round breaking people’s tambourines.”

Yes, the song and movie are as kooky as that sounds. It’s almost as surreal as a Monty Python skit. Indeed, I view it as a forerunner of the kind of creatively wacky humor the Pythons are known for.

The Fatal Glass of Beer wasn’t a big hit when it came out. But it eventually became a cult classic, giving my father and millions of other people a funny line to say when the weather is nasty.

By the way, Fields says “man or beast,” not “man nor beast.” The latter is a common misquote.

As I recall, my late father said it correctly. I think he was as much of a W.C. Fields fan as I eventually became.

This one’s for you, Dad.

RELATED POST: “Any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad.”

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W.C. Fields – further reading and viewing…

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