December 31, 2009

The Top Quotes of the Year in 2009

Below, in chronological order, are my picks for the top quotations of 2009 — the quotes that seemed to get the most attention during the past year in the news and elsewhere.

There were more than would fit into a top 10 list. So, I’ll call them The Top 10 Quotes of 2009 – Plus a Few.

“I hope he fails.”
Rush Limbaugh

Conservative talk show host
Comment about newly-elected President Barack Obama, on his radio show, January 16, 2009.

“I do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, no offense to anybody out there. But that’s how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman.”
Carrie Prejean
Miss USA beauty pageant contestant and winner (later fired)
Answer when asked by pageant judge Perez Hilton whether she believed in gay marriage, during the Miss USA contest, April 19, 2009.

“My hope is, is that as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what’s called ‘a teachable moment.’”

President Barack Obama

Comment to the press on July 24, 2009 about the uproar over his remark two days earlier that “The Cambridge police acted stupidly” when they arrested Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. President Obama’s use helped popularize the already existing term “teachable moment.”

“Obama...has a deep-seated hatred for white people...This guy is, I believe, a racist.”

Glenn Beck
Conservative talk show host
Commenting on President Obama’s comments about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, in a discussion on the FOX News Network, July 28, 2009.

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel.’”
Sarah Palin
Former Alaska Governor
Post on her Facebook site on August 7, 2009, which first brought attention to the term “death panels.” She then gave it even more exposure in an op-ed she wrote that was published in the Wall Street Journal on September 8, 2008.

“We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma.”
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley
Adding a new catchphrase to the rhetoric used to attack the Democrats’ health care plan, at a town meeting in his home state of Iowa on August 12, 2009.  Four days later, President Obama publicly scoffed at claims that he or the Democrats wanted to “pull the plug on grandma” or create “death panels.”

“You lie!”
Republican Congressman Joe Wilson

The instantly infamous words yelled by the South Carolina Congressman as President Barack Obama was addressing Congress on the health care plan, on September 9, 2009.

“I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.”
Musician Kanye West

His rude rant after grabbing the microphone from award winner Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards on September 13, 2009 (creating the much-parodied meme “I’mma let you finish”).

“I know it wasn’t ‘rape’ rape. I think it was something else, but I don’t believe it was ‘rape’ rape.”
Actress Whoopi Goldberg
Defending director Roman Polanski on ABC-TV’s show The View, on September 28, 2009, by attempting to portray his admitted rape of a thirteen year old girl in 1977 as, er, something else.

“If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly.”
Democratic Congressman Alan Mark Grayson

Remark by the Florida Congressman on the floor of the House on September 29, 2009, making “die quickly” the controversial Democratic counterpoint to “death panels,” “pull the plug on grandma” and “You lie!”

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”
British “Supermodel” Kate Moss
Her answer when asked if she had a motto, in an interview published by the “fashion Bible” Women’s Wear Daily on November 13, 2009, prompting righteous outrage from anti-anorexia groups.

“We have a social purpose...[I’m] doing God’s work.”
Lloyd Blankfein
Chairman and CEO of the investment firm Goldman Sachs
Defending himself and the financial industry, despite their role in creating the current financial crisis, in an interview published by The Sunday Times on November 8, 2009.

“The system worked.”
Janet Napolitano

Secretary of Homeland Security
Her comment in a CNN interview on December 27, 2009 about the Nigerian terrorist who managed to board a plane with explosives, but failed in his attempt to blow up a planeload of Americans on Christmas Day. Napolitano’s absurd assessment was quickly repudiated by President Barack Obama.


December 28, 2009

“Wise Latina” and “Too big to fail” – two top quotes of 2009 that were actually uttered years ago

Every year, a number of “quotes of the year” lists are published.

My favorite is the annual list issued by Fred R. Shapiro, editor of the excellent Yale Book of Quotations.

But my own picks for the top quotes of 2009 include some that are not on Fred’s list.

Two of them share an unusual characteristic. They were both made famous in 2009, but they are not new quotes.

In late May of 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor, a judge of Hispanic descent, to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

Republicans and conservative talk show hosts raised various objections and issues, hoping to prevent her confirmation by the Senate. The thing they dug up that seemed to get the most media attention was a comment Sotomayor had made eight years previously.

In a speech at the Berkeley School of Law on October 26, 2001, Sotomayor noted that gender and cultural background affect any judge’s view. However, she added:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Only a handful of people had ever heard of the quote until it was used in the debate over her nomination in 2009.

When conservatives claimed the quote showed Sotomayor was a reverse racist, it created a media firestorm.

Sotomayor was confirmed anyway. But the hubbub over her “wise Latina” remark made it one of the most notable quotations of 2009 — even though she’d said it years before.

The second notable quote that had a delayed rise to fame in 2009 is the phrase “too big to fail.”

It gained wide use during the past year to defend and deride the recent government bailouts of some of the country’s largest financial firms. But it was actually coined 25 years ago, during another government bailout.

In 1984, Continental Illinois — the seventh largest bank in the country at the time — faced insolvency due to overly aggressive lending policies.

The bank’s lobbyists and federal financial regulators warned that, if Continental were allowed to “fail,” it would threaten dozens of other banks and the entire economy.

Therefore, they argued, Continental should be bailed out with taxpayers’ money.

And, it was. Continental ultimately received $4.5 billion from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

On September 19, 1984, during Congressional hearings on the bailout, Congressman Stewart B. McKinney (R-Conn) observed wryly:

“Let us not bandy words. We have a new kind of bank. It is called too big to fail. TBTF, and it is a wonderful bank.”

Continental Illinois survived thanks to the government’s largesse. In 1994, it was acquired by Bank of America.

McKinney’s “too big to fail” also survived. But, but until, recently it was an obscure phrase known primarily to financial insiders.

In the most recent bank crisis, financial institutions received $700 billion from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), because they were deemed “too big too fail.” One of them was Bank of America.

The TARP funds first began to be disbursed by the Bush administration late in 2008. This year, as the Obama administration continued and expanded the bailout, the widespread use of “too big to fail” made it (in my opinion) one of the top quotes of 2009.


December 21, 2009

Yes, Ivory Soap is “99 44/100% pure.” And, yes – Marilyn really was an Ivory Snow Mom.

One of the most famous and long-lasting advertising slogans in history is the Ivory Soap slogan “99 44/100% Pure.”

As recorded in the U.S. Trademark Database, it was first used in commerce on December 21, 1882.

Ivory Soap was created by Proctor & Gamble in 1878. Previously, P&G sold a hard, dense yellow soap made from tallow.

Then, a new soap formula devised by James Gamble resulted in a white soap with some special characteristics. Bars made from it floated, instead of sinking like other soaps, and made an especially nice, creamy lather.

The famed slogan was inspired by lab tests. The tests were conducted to compare the new white soap to castile soaps, which were considered the standard of excellence at that time.

“One chemist's analysis was in table form with the ingredients listed by percentage. Harley Procter totaled the ingredients which did not fall into the category of pure soap — they equaled 56/100%. He subtracted from 100, and wrote the slogan ‘99-44/100% Pure: It Floats.’”

The Ivory Soap sold today is essentially the same soap created over a century ago.

But, since then, one additional “impurity” was added to the 56/100th of a percent.

Around 1970, a young, unknown actress posed as a mother holding a baby in a photo used on boxes of Ivory Snow laundry detergent.

Then, in 1972, the actress became world-famous as the star of the groundbreaking art house porn movie, Behind the Green Door.

Yes, the late, great Marilyn Chambers was indeed an Ivory Snow girl, or more precisely an Ivory Snow Mom.

Contrary to some stories, though Marilyn was a babe, she never was an Ivory Snow baby.

And, contrary to other stories, the baby Marilyn was holding in her Ivory Snow photo is not Brooke Shields — though Brooke did appear in some Ivory ads as an infant.

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Comments? Questions? Corrections? Post them on the Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Related reading, watching and listening…

December 05, 2009

Did Alan Greenspan’s “irrational exuberance” refer to the economy or his sex life?

Is it just me, or do profound statements by economic pundits seem a lot like predictions made by the Delphic Oracle or Nostradamus?

Their statements are murky enough to be interpreted in different ways and — eventually — something will happen that at least appears to confirm some part of what they said.

For example, on December 5, 1996, the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, Alan Greenspan, uttered the profound phrase “irrational exuberance.”

He was discussing potential issues facing our economy, or our monetary policy, or the stock market, or all three.

Or something like that.

Here, from the speech he gave that day at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., is the first part of the paragraph in which Greenspan’s famous two-word quote appears:

“Clearly, sustained low inflation implies less uncertainty about the future, and lower risk premiums imply higher prices of stocks and other earning assets. We can see that in the inverse relationship exhibited by price/earnings ratios and the rate of inflation in the past. But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade?”

OK, I believe Greenspan’s oracular mumbo-jumbo must mean something to economic experts and bankers. (You now, the guys that helped create the economic mess were in today — and made money doing it twice: first when they created the mess and then when taxpayers bailed them out.)

But if Greenspan is so damn smart and prescient, why didn’t he do something to prevent the Dot-com bust, and the mortgage and banking crisis, and the other economic messes that happened or began to develop while he was Chairman of the Fed, from 1987 to 2006?

And, speaking of irrational exuberance, the year after Greenspan coined that term, at the age of 71, he married TV journalist Andrea Mitchell — who is 20 years younger than him.

I predict that future scrutiny of the inverse relationship exhibited by the Greenspan/Mitchell age ratio could someday give new asset values to Greenspan’s famed term.


November 24, 2009

The “pearl of great price”: an allegory for people who don’t want to win the lottery

Every once in a while, there’s a news story about somebody who won millions in a lottery and ended up being miserable as a result.

I remember one from a few years ago that sounded like a Shakespearean tragedy.

It was about a Pennsylvania man, William “Bud” Post, who won $16 million in the state lottery. After he won, people came out of the woodwork to try to con him and take advantage of him. His brother hired a hit man to try to kill him, so he could inherit the money.

Over time, Bud’s money was drained away by bad investments. He got in trouble with the law for firing a shotgun at a debt collector and eventually went bankrupt. He died at age 66, after telling a reporter “I was much happier when I was broke.”

Somehow, such stories still don’t make me NOT want to win the lottery.

Back in high school, I had a similar reaction to reading John Steinbeck’s famous cautionary novel about sudden wealth, The Pearl.

The title of this tragic novel, first published on November 24, 1947, is thought to be inspired by a famous Bible quotation, Matthew 13:45-46. It’s from one the parables of Jesus, in which he says:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

In Steinbeck’s novel, The Pearl, the son of a poor, but relatively happy Mexican pearl diver is stung by a scorpion. The pearl diver and his wife are too poor to pay a doctor for medical care and fear their son may die. But then the man finds a large, valuable pearl that makes him “wealthy.”

This saves his son’s life – in the short term. But it also makes him a target of con men and thieves. He gets in trouble with the law for killing one of them. Then, he takes his wife and son on the run to escape retribution. But in the end they are caught and the son is shot and killed. The pearl that originally had such great value ends up having a great price.

In a previous post here, I noted that, as a snotty high school kid, I wasn’t really moved by Thornton Wilder’s novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. But today, as a 59-year-old married man, father and grandfather, I am.

I can say the same thing about Steinbeck’s novel The Pearl. I definitely appreciate it more now.

But I’d still kinda like to win the lottery.


November 14, 2009

Lee Atwater and the Republican Party’s “big tent.”

In November of 1989, the first year of George H. W. Bush’s presidency, there were two closely watched gubernatorial elections — one in Virginia, the other in New Jersey.

The Democratic candidates won both races. And, in both campaigns, the candidates’ positions on abortion played a role.

The winning Democrats, Douglas Wilder in Virginia and James Florio in New Jersey, were pro-choice. Their Republican opponents, J. Marshall Coleman and Jim Courter, were anti-abortion.

This led to speculation that the Republican Party’s hardline position against abortion would be a problem in the 1990 mid-term election, allowing the Democrats to gain seats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

On November 14, 1989, reporters asked the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Lee Atwater, what he thought.

Atwater had helped design the winning presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He was a master and pioneer of the use of political “wedge issues” like abortion and crime.

It was Atwater who created the notorious “Willie Horton ad” that played a key role in Bush’s victory over Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988, by making Dukakis seem soft on criminals.

When asked what the November 1989 gubernatorial election meant for Republicans, Atwater gave a much-quoted answer that helped popularize the political term “a big tent.”

“Our party is a big tent,” Atwater told reporters that day. “We can house many views on many issues. Abortion is no exception.”

Some language reference books say that Atwater coined the phrase “a big tent” that day.

But, although his use is the most famous and gave the term wide familiarity, it had been used previously in politics by both Republicans and Democrats.

In 1975, for example, Democratic House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill told a reporter: “The Democratic Party is a big tent. We are widely diversified.”

During the 1980 presidential election, the Republican National Chairman at the time, Bill Brock, urged the party to embrace a “big tent” strategy. That year, Ronald Reagan won in a landslide over President Jimmy Carter and Republicans gained control of the Senate — the first time Republicans controlled one of the Houses of Congress since 1954.

Lee Atwater died from a brain tumor less than two years after making his own, more famous “big tent” remark.

Before he died, he said he regretted the divisive wedge issue style of politics he helped create. In a widely-noted article published in the February 1991 issue Life magazine, Atwater wrote:

“My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood.”

After writing those revelatory words, Atwater passed away on March 29, 1991 at the age of 40.

If he were still alive, it would be interesting to hear what he’d say about the current state of political “discourse.”

For further reading and viewing, I highly recommend the book Bad Boy: The Life And Politics Of Lee Atwater by John Brady and the documentary Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story.

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Comments? Corrections? Post them on the Famous Quotations Facebook group.

November 13, 2009

Jefferson’s bloody “Tree of Liberty” quote still fertilizes freedom and fanaticism

One of the signs held by a gun-toting protester against the Democratic health care proposal earlier this year said “IT IS TIME TO WATER THE TREE OF LIBERTY!”

This is a shorthand reference to an oft-used and abused quotation by Thomas Jefferson:

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Jefferson made this remark in a letter to Col. William Smith, dated November 13, 1787.

It was part of a what he said in the letter about Shays’s Rebellion, a brief uprising of poor farmers and revolutionary war veterans in western Massachusetts that reached a head that year.

They were mad as hell about the crushing taxes they were forced to pay and the laws that let the government confiscate their property if they couldn’t pay those taxes.

As a symbol of their protest, they designated certain trees as liberty trees,” like those used during the Revolution to hang tax collectors working for the British Crown. They demanded changes in the tax laws, they had guns – and they were prepared to use them.

The Massachusetts state government reacted forcefully to put down this threat to their power, with encouragement from Founding Fathers like Samuel Adams. In the rebellion’s most significant “battle,” dozens of protesting farmers were killed or wounded by the state militia. Hundreds were eventually put in prison. Some were executed.

Thomas Jefferson was in Paris at the time. From that distance, he adopted a philosophical view of Shay’s Rebellion.

In his letter to Col. Smith, Jefferson did not justify the rebellion. In fact, he said it was “founded in ignorance.”

But then, Jefferson went on to say the part that people who are mad as hell about something love to quote:

“What country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms...The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

Protesters against “Obamacare” are fans of Jefferson’s “tree of liberty” quote.

So was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people by blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, as an anti-government “protest.” When arrested, McVeigh was wearing a t-shirt that had a picture of a tree of liberty dripping blood, and the words: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Indeed, for over two centuries now, Jefferson’s “tree of liberty” quote has been used by various people who think it somehow justifies what they believe and do.

And, I expect it will be for years to come.

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For further reading and viewing, check out Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle by Leonard L. Richards and the recent DVD A Little Rebellion. There’s also an interesting discussion of Jefferson’s “tree of liberty” quote on the American Creation blog.

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November 07, 2009

Is Nixon’s November 7, 1962 rant a “teachable moment”?

Long before dogged news coverage of the Watergate scandal helped force Richard M. Nixon to resign as President in 1974, he disliked the press.

In fact, throughout his long political career, Nixon felt the media generally had a liberal bias and an unfairly negative attitude toward him.

He disliked the way the press failed to fully embrace his anti-communist fervor in the late 1940s, when he was a Congressman and member of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

He was annoyed by some of the coverage he got as Vice President under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.

He thought the press was unfair to him in his unsuccessful campaign for President against John F. Kennedy in 1960.

And, in 1962, after Nixon lost the race for Governor of California to Democrat Pat Brown, he was convinced that slanted press coverage was a factor in his loss.

On November 7, 1962, the morning after that election, Nixon held a press conference in which his ire at the press infamously overflowed.

Most people know this frequently quoted part of what he said that day:

“You won't have Nixon to kick around any more because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

But that quote is just the short sound bite from what Nixon said that day – a famous quotation with no context.

If you’re interested in politics and the media, you should read the entire transcript of what Nixon said, especially since it has some ironic relevance to recent political events. (The transcript is posted on the venerable Language Log. There’s also a video excerpt on YouTube.)

I particularly suggest the transcript of Nixon’s November 7, 1962 rant as recommended reading for President Obama and his team, because their recent attacks on Fox News seem eerily Nixonian to me.

I don’t say that because I believe Obama will be creating an “enemies list” or tapping reporters’ phones or doing other evil Nixonian things like that.

I say it because, to me, the attacks on Fox News seem as petty and counterproductive as Nixon’s “last press conference.”

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to November 7:

“She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.”  - American politician Adlai Stevenson’s famous comment to the press when he learned about the death of Eleanor Roosevelt on November 7, 1962. He was adapting an old Chinese proverb that was also used as the motto of the Catholic humanitarian group, the Christopher Society, in the form: “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.”

“It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” - The title of the classic movie comedy that spawned the linguistic formula of four repeating adjectives: “It's a —, —, —, — , [something].” The film, with it’s all star cast of great comedians, had its world premiere at the Hollywood Cinerama on November 7, 1963.

October 20, 2009

“Enquiring minds want to know.” No use in inquiring why.


There’s a tipping point at which a famous phrase becomes a cliché.

The well known ad slogan for The National Enquirer supermarket tabloid – “Enquiring minds want to know” – passed that point long ago.

The Enquirer trademarked the slogan in 1981.

According to the information filed in the U.S. trademark database, it was first used by the gossipy tabloid on October 20, 1981.

During the rest of the 1980s, the slogan was heavily used in print, radio and TV ads and soon became a pop culture catchphrase. (Check out this funny example of a vintage Enquirer TV ad on YouTube.) 

Interestingly, the word “tabloid” was originally a trademarked name for a type of pill made by Burroughs, Wellcome and Co., a British pharmaceutical company founded in 1880.

The company’s “tabloid” combined several different ingredients in one pill.

The editors of the Westminster Gazette liked the term and, in 1902, decided to use it as a name for their newspaper. Burroughs, Wellcome sued the Gazette for trademark infringement but lost – thus paving the way for the term to evolve into its current form.

The term is still applied in publishing parlance to newspapers printed in the tabloid format, rather than the  broadsheet style.

But in popular usage it now tends to be associated with sensationalistic, celebrity-obsessed publications like The National Enquirer and The Star.

Of course, in recent decades, the tabloid “rags” inspired the broader field of “tabloid journalism” in magazines and on TV and the internet. Online, the TMZ site is one of the best-known examples.

Apparently, enquiring minds do want to know, as much or more than ever.

And, people still remember and repeat The National Enquirer’s famed ad slogan – even though it is usually misquoted as “Inquiring minds want to know.”

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to October 20:

“It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.”  - Winston Churchill’s famous quotation about quotations, from his autobiographical book My Early Life, which was published on October 20, 1930.

“Big girls don't cry.” - The well known song title and lyric by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, released as a single on October 20, 1962

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Comments? Corrections? Questions? Email me or post them on my Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Related reading and listening…


October 17, 2009

OCTOBER 18 - Nigel Rees’s “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter will soon be available by email

I’m departing from my usual format in today’s post to mention a great quotation resource that’s being made available online to quote buffs.

The venerable “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter, which has been published in printed format for 18 years by the eminent British quotation expert Nigel Rees, is now available exclusively in electronic format.

Rees is Britain's most eminent and prolific quotation expert. He’s written over 50 books on quotations and related subjects, like clichés and epitaphs. He’s also the host of BBC’s long-running “Quote…Unquote” radio quiz show and has hosted and been a guest on many other British radio and TV shows.

Until recently, The “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter was available mainly by snail mail. It was distributed here in the United States thanks to another esteemed language maven, Robert Skovgard, creator of The Executive Speaker Newsletter and a nationally known speechwriting expert.

Recently, Skovgard sent out an email to American subscribers announcing that, with the next quarterly issue in January 2010, The “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter will become a free, electronic-only publication, delivered as an emailed PDF attachment.

You can view a sample issue and and sign up to get the newsletter via email by visiting the “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter website.

The only cost is a small, one-time $5 set-up fee. That incredibly reasonable payment can be made online or arranged by phone.

I’ve been a fan of Nigel Rees’ books and a subscriber to the “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter for years. It’s a terrific and entertaining source of information about quotations.

It’s also engagingly interactive. Subscribers can submit queries on quotes they’re curious about – and can submit facts they may know about the quotes Rees and his readers are trying to track down.

If you enjoy reading and learning about quotations, I have two words for you about the “Quote…Unquote” Newsletter email subscription option: GET IT!

Also, do yourself a favor and buy some of Nigel’s books. They’re all fun to read and full of interesting facts and trivia.

Here are some of the famous quotes and phrases linked to October 18:

“We must love one another or die.” - The well known line from the poem “September 1, 1939” by W.H. Auden (1907-1973). First published in October 18, 1939 issue of The New Republic. This quote was featured here in a recent post.

“If you've seen one city slum you've seen them all.” – One of the infamous quotes by Spiro T. Agnew (1918-1996), President Nixon’s ill-fated V.P. Spoken by Spiro in a campaign speech in Detroit, Michigan on October 18, 1968.

October 16, 2009

OCTOBER 16 - Castro said “History will absolve me,” but it doesn’t seem likely

On October 16, 1953, Fidel Castro made a four-hour speech, but it wasn’t one of his long stem-winders to his followers.

It was a speech he gave as a prisoner, while being tried in court for leading a small group of rebels in an attack on the Moncada military barracks in Cuba on July 26th.

The remarks Castro made during his trial included his famous quotation: “History will absolve me.” (“La historia me absolver.”)

The Moncada Barracks attack was an attempt to start an insurrection against the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. It failed at the time and the men involved were either killed or captured by Batista’s soldiers. But it turned out to be the beginning of the “Cuban Revolution.”

The historical record makes it pretty clear why the revolution happened. Fulgencio Batista was a ruthless dictator. And, he got rich taking cuts and bribes from the U.S. corporations that ran most of Cuba’s major industries and from the American mobsters who ran most of the hotels and casinos in Havana. Meanwhile, most Cubans were poor, uneducated, ill-housed and disenfranchised.

In his remarks at his October 16, 1953 trial, Castro reviewed the many political crimes of Batista and his illegitimate presidency. The entire speech is famous among Marxists, but most books of quotations just give the “History will absolve me” line.

Batista made the mistake of not executing Castro after he was found guilty at the trial. Instead, Fidel was put in prison and then – in an even bigger blunder – Batista allowed him to be released in 1955, thinking he was no longer a serious threat.

The following year, Fidel, his brother Raul Castro, and Che Guevara began organizing disgruntled Cuban peasants into a growing revolutionary army. A few years later they succeeded in driving Batista out of the country (along with the American corporations and the mob).

For a brief time, it seemed like a victory for the Cuban people and potentially for democracy, since Castro had pledged to restore a democratic government.

Then, of course, Castro became a Communist, made himself the semi-godlike ruler of the country and brutally crushed any dissent.

History may absolve Castro for ousting the ruthless dictator Batista. But I doubt if any honest historical accounts absolve Castro for becoming a ruthless dictator himself.

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to October 16:

“I shot an arrow into the air, It fell to earth, I knew not where.” - The well known and often parodied lines from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Arrow and the Song,” which he composed on October 16, 1845.

“Believe it or not.” - In 1918, artist and sportswriter Robert Ripley started publishing an illustrated feature about sports accomplishments and oddities in the New York Globe. He called it Champs & Chumps. After a while, he started including stories about non-sports-related oddities. Eventually, Ripley abandoned the sports angle entirely and, on October 16, 1919, his feature was retitled with the famed phrase we know today – Believe It or Not.

October 09, 2009

OCTOBER 9 - The Greeks had a phrase for it: “Know thyself.”

On October 9th in the year 28 B.C., the Temple of Apollo at Delphi was dedicated.

An inscription on the temple said: “Gnothi seauton.” In English, that’s the famous quotation “Know thyself.”

The quote is generally attributed to The Seven Sages of Greece,” a.k.a. the “Seven Wise Men,” though the words are sometimes attributed to the Greek philosopher Thales or the Greek statesman Solon.

Thales and Solon were two of the “Seven Sages,” a group of 6th century B.C. deep thinkers that also included Periander, Cleobulus, Chilon, Bias, and Pittacus.

In today’s This Day in Quotes post, I’m including the Know Thyself” video I made for my Quote Counterquote blog. Hope you like it... 

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to October 9:

“Better living through chemistry.” - The well known and oft-parodied advertising slogan for the DuPont company, first made famous by its use on the DuPont-sponsored radio show Cavalcade of America, which debuted on October 9, 1935.

“The Iceman Cometh.” - Title of the play by American playwright Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953) that led to many other “[The something] Cometh” variations – such as "The Diceman Cometh," title of a 1989 performance video by comedian Andrew Dice Clay. O'Neill’s famous play premiered at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York City on October 9, 1946.

A&E Remembers Patrick Swayze 1952-2009

September 26, 2009

SEPTEMBER 27 - Remember when we used to “Fly the friendly skies?”

Several airline advertising slogans have become memes in our culture even though the airlines that used them no longer exist. For example...

“It’s the only way to fly!” – The famed ad slogan used by Western Airlines, starting in 1956, which became a familiar saying.

“If you've got it, flaunt it” - The ad slogan used by Braniff Airways, starting in late 1968 or early 1969. It was apparently inspired by the famous line said by Zero Mostel in Mel Brooks’ great 1968 comedy movie, The Producers: “That's it baby, when you got it, flaunt it! Flaunt It!”

“I'm [Name]. Fly me.” (e.g., “I’m Cheryl. Fly me.”) - The suggestive ad slogan used by National Airlines in the 1970s.

Another famous airline ad slogan that’s still quoted is “Fly the friendly skies of United.”

According to the U.S. Trademark Database, “Fly the friendly skies of United” it was first used in commerce by United Airlines on September 27, 1965.

It was created by legendary American ad man Leo Burnett, who also created such cultural icons as the Jolly Green Giant, the Marlboro Man, Charlie the Tuna and Tony the Tiger.

In the vintage United Airlines TV ads and print ads that used the slogan, it looked like it would be a pleasure to fly in those comfy seats, being taken care of by those happy, friendly ladies-who-were-still-called-stewardesses-not-flight-attendants.

“Fly the friendly skies” was the airline industry’s longest running marketing message. It was finally retired in 1997.

United replaced it with the unmemorable one-word ad slogan “Rising” (which didn’t make it into the quotation books).

Unlike the airlines that had the other famous ad taglines I mentioned, United is still flying. In fact, despite various rocky financial periods it’s one the biggest surviving airlines.

However, given the high-security, delay-ridden, pay-for-all-extras, cattle-car experience of air travel today, United’s “Fly the friendly skies” slogan is now generally cited in jest or derision.

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to SEPTEMBER 27:

“It ain’t over till it’s over.” – One of the famous “Yogiisms” by baseball player and manager Yogi Berra (b. 1925), commenting on the 1973 National League pennant race when the New York Mets lost 8-5 to Montreal on September 27, 1973.

“The Silent Spring.” - Title of the groundbreaking book that became an environmental rallying cry, written by American biologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964) and released on September 27, 1962.

September 22, 2009

SEPTEMBER 22 - “Slowly I turned…”

September 22 is the anniversary of the most widely known version of an old vaudeville routine – the “Slowly I turned” shtick.

In this classic comedy bit, the name of a certain place causes a husband to recall how his wife ran away with another man and how he took his revenge on the wife-stealer when he found him.

The Three Stooges made “Niagara Falls” that place in their short film Gents Without Cents, which was released on September 22, 1944.

Today, most people know what comes after “Niagara Falls,” even if they never saw that Stooges film:

“Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch...”

As he says these words the husband gets so worked up he starts demonstrating on an innocent listener how he smacked, poked, punched and otherwise took his revenge on the wife-stealer. When the poor listener is reeling from the blows, the husband suddenly realizes what he’s doing, stops and apologizes.

Ah, but then, the listener accidentally mentions the place name again – triggering another “Slowly I turned” rant and another beating.

In Gents Without Cents, the Stooges do a stage show in which Moe and Larry both get triggered by “Niagara Falls” and Curly is the recipient of their smacks, pokes and punches.

Other comedians, such as Joey Faye and Abbott and Costello, did their own versions of the routine before and after the Stooges, using other trigger words.

But, for some reason, the Three Stooges’ Niagara Falls version is the one that has stuck in our language and brains. Along with those eloquent words: “Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk!”

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to SEPTEMBER 22:

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” - The famed words of Nathan Hale before he was hung as a rebel spy by the British on September 22, 1776. Hale was a school teacher before the American Revolution and was probably inspired by a line he knew from Joseph Addison's play, Cato (1713): “What pity is it, That we can die but once to serve our country!”

“Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!” – The most quoted line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Building of the Ship,” which he composed on September 22, 1849.

September 18, 2009

SEPTEMBER 18 - Was Lincoln a Great Emancipator or a Great Obfuscator?

An Abraham Lincoln quotation that is often noted in modern, clear-eyed accounts of his life comes from one of his debates with Stephen Douglas, during their 1858 contest for an Illinois Senate seat in Congress.

At the time, white male voters were the only voters and most were racist. So, Douglas had been doing his best to scare them into thinking Lincoln was an unqualified abolitionist and an advocate of “mixed race” marriage.

In the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate, held on September 18, 1858, Lincoln responded. He said:

“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.”

Lincoln went on to say: “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.”

How does this now oft-cited quote square with the old traditional image of Lincoln “The Great Emancipator” who “freed the slaves” with his Emancipation Proclamation?

Well, in a nutshell, the Civil War wasn’t really a war to free the slaves. And, the Emancipation Proclamation was a wartime strategy employed by Lincoln. It only “freed” slaves in Confederate states, to encourage them to leave their Southern masters and hopefully disrupt the Southern economy and war effort.

In the Northern states, slavery wasn’t legally abolished until the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1865.

Lincoln’s pandering speech to voters on September 18, 1858 doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great man. It just means that he was complex – like real people and real politics really are. 

It’s a fitting time to read more about this great and complex man, since 2009 is the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to SEPTEMBER 18:

“Bring ‘em Back Alive.” - Wildlife collector Frank Buck’s signature catchphrase, which he used as the title of a best selling book copyrighted on September 18, 1930.

“Hit the road, Jack, and don't you come back no more...” - The hit song by Ray Charles (written by Percy Mayfield) which entered Billboard’s Top 40 music chart on September 18, 1961.

“Men Behaving Badly.” - The title of a British TV sitcom that ran from 1992 to 1998. It was creeping into American vernacular, but was fully embedded in our language here when an Americanized version of the show started airing on September 18, 1996.

September 14, 2009

“Danger, Will Robinson!”

In addition to being a fan of old TV westerns, like Have Gun – Will Travel, I’m also a fan of vintage science fiction shows. Even the bad ones, if they’re bad enough to be good.

One of my favorite so-bad-it’s-good-bad science fiction series is Lost in Space, which debuted on September 15, 1965.

This campy show popularized several catchphrases – including the series title itself.

Prior to 1965, the phrase “lost in space” had been used occasionally. (I checked in But the series is what made it a common term.

Lost in Space was a variation of the classic Swiss Family Robinson castaway story.

The premise is set up in the debut episode. The Robinson family has volunteered to be first American space pioneers sent via spaceship – from the "desperately overcrowded" Earth of the year 1997 – to establish a colony on a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri.

There’s the father, Professor John Robinson (actor Guy Williams), his wife Maureen (June Lockhart), their curvaceous teenage daughter Judy (Marta Kristen), and their two younger kids, Penny (Angela Cartwright) and Will (Billy Mumy).

The other crew members are spaceship pilot Major Don West (Mark Goddard), who has the hots for Judy, and a Robbie-like robot who is just called The Robot.

The day they are set to leave Earth in their saucer-like ship, its vital controls are sabotaged by the evil (but snarkily funny) scientist, Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris). He’s working for some unnamed “foreign power” that wants to beat the USA in the space colonization race.

In the process of doing his dirty work, Smith accidentally traps himself on board when the craft takes off. Then, because of his handiwork, the ship goes into an uncontrolled hyperdrive that sends it into some unknown sector of the universe.

After that, the Robinsons, Major Don, Dr. Smith and the robot have 82 more episodes worth of campy castaway adventures, which typically involved dealing with some hokey-looking aliens on cheesy-looking sets. (You can watch them all on Hulu, if you can take it.)

Throughout the series, the robot regularly used two catchphrases that are still heard today: “Does not compute” and “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to SEPTEMBER 15:

“Keep the home-fires burning.” - Song title and lyric by Ivor Novello, copyrighted on September 15, 1915.

“Live long and prosper.” - Vulcan greeting first heard on the Star Trek episode “Amok Time,” which was first aired on September 15, 1967.

“You're out of order! You're out of order! The whole trial is out of order!” - Al Pacino in the 1979 movie ...And Justice for All, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on September 15, 1979.

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