December 31, 2013

What were the “top quotes” of 2013?

I recently looked through a couple dozen lists of “top” and “best” quotes of 2013 and came to a disappointing conclusion.

In terms of truly memorable quotations that generated new idiomatic expressions and catchphrases or that will show up in future books of quotations, the year 2013 was pretty much a bust.

Browse through some of the lists of the supposed top or best quotes of 2013 at this link yourself and you’ll understand why I say that.

For example, as far as I can tell from the lists of the “top” or “best” political quotes of the year, no politician said anything in 2013 that will be cited by large numbers of history or quotation books years from now.

And, what line from a movie released in 2013 do you remember and hear people using regularly, the way people remember and make quips with lines like “May the Force be with you” or “I’ll be back” or “You can’t handle the truth”? If there were any, they’re not in the lists of the top or best movie lines of 2013 that I’ve seen.

Similarly, can you think of a catchphrase from a TV show that debuted in 2013 that has embedded itself in our language? Anything that will become as familiar as lines like “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” or “To boldly go where no man has gone before” or “Well isn’t that special?” I’m guessing not.

So, what are the top quotes of 2013?

The most widely-published annual list of “top quotes” is the one released by Yale University librarian Fred Shapiro, editor of the authoritative Yale Book of Quotations. It gets reprinted by thousands of newspapers and websites.

Shapiro has been issuing his list of the top quotes of the year since 2007. As he explained in a video on the Yale News website, his choices aren’t simply based on whether a quote has become “famous.” He says he also picks quotes that he views as historically important or revealing of the spirit of the times.

Even given those broader parameters, I think he had a lot better options to pick from in previous years.

You can read Shapiro’s complete 2013 list

at this link.

His number one quote of the year is a comment President Barack Obama made about the Affordable Health Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) at a news conference on November 14, 2013:

“With respect to the pledge I made that if you like your plan you can keep it: the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate.”

With respect to Fred, that may be a historic admission but it’s not a very memorable quotation.

It’s a comment on a famous promise Obama repeated in various ways in 2009 and 2010, usually summarized as “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

The most cited version is probably the one in his speech to the American Medical Association on June 15, 2009, in which he used the word period at the end for emphasis:

“If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period.”

That statement wasn’t given much notice in 2009 but, ironically, it did become a famous quote in 2013.

When Obamacare began to be implemented this past year, opponents of the plan discovered that some Americans would not actually be able to keep their existing health care plans if those plans didn’t meet certain minimum quality criteria in the law’s fine print.

So, during 2013, Republican politicians and pundits gleefully (and endlessly) reminded everyone that Obama had previously said if you like your health care plan, you could keep it. actually dubbed it “The Lie of the Year” for 2013 — even though Obama didn’t say it in 2013.

Indeed, there is only one quotation on Fred Shapiro’s list of the top quotes of 2013 that I think will likely be considered a “famous quote” in the future. It’s actually famous already, in the sense of being familiar to most reasonably aware people and frequently cited, mocked and satirized.

But it was also uttered prior to 2013.

It’s the oft-parodied remark made by Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association, at a press conference on December 21, 2012:

     “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Shapiro included it on this year’s list because it was uttered after he issued his 2012 list in mid-December of last year.

So, I’m guessing that in his list of the top quotes of 2014, Fred may include a few that were uttered shortly after he issued his 2013 list.

One is now paraphrased as “Santa is white.”

That’s the shortened version of some immediately controversial and widely-covered remarks made by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly on December 11, 2013.

Responding to an article she’d read which said the constant depiction of Santa Claus as a white man makes some black children feel uncomfortable and excluded, Kelly opined:

     “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. But this person is maybe just arguing that we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is...Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure; that’s a verifiable fact – as is Santa, I want you kids watching to know that.”

Kelly later said her remarks were intended to be humorous, but nobody really believed it. And, mentions of “Santa is white” quickly became — and will likely remain — a popular target of scorn and satire by Liberals and comedians in the future.

There were some other politically-incorrect statements by another TV celebrity that came to light after Shapiro’s issued his list of top quotes for this year.

Yep, I’m referring to the remarks that Phil Robertson, star of the Duck Dynasty reality TV show, made about homosexuals and African Americans in an interview in the January 2014 issue of GQ magazine, which actually hit newsstands and made news in December of 2013.

As you’ve probably heard (unless you’ve been living off the grid somewhere), Robertson compared homosexuality to bestiality. He also suggested that homosexuals won’t get into heaven.

Specifically, when asked what he thought was sinful, Robertson is quoted as responding:

     “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Robertson also managed to offend African Americans in his GQ interview, saying:

     “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

The Duck Dynasty patriarch’s comments generated a ton of press and controversy.

I don’t know if they’ll show up in future editions of Bartlett’s or the Yale Book of Quotations. But given the attention they generated, I will be surprised if Fred Shapiro doesn’t mention them in his next annual list of top quotes.

Happy New Year from This Day in Quotes!

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Related reading…

December 26, 2013

How the 1965 Watts riots led to a new holiday – and added a new word to our language…

Kwanzaa is a Swahili word that entered the American lexicon in 1966.

It’s the name of the African-American holiday celebration that starts on December 26 and lasts for seven days.

Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and Chairman of the Department of Africana Studies at California State University at Long Beach.

After the terrible 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, Karenga wanted to find a new way of bringing African-Americans together as families and as a community.

His research on traditional African “first fruit” harvest ceremonies gave him the idea for Kwanzaa. And, on December 26, 1966, he organized and launched the first Kwanzaa celebration.

Karenga took the name from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means “first fruits.”

He then mixed together and adapted several African traditions to devise the week-long Kwanzaa celebration — becoming one of the few people in history to establish a whole new holiday tradition.
Today, Kwanzaa is observed by millions of people of African descent in America, Canada and other countries.

Since Kwanzaa is a cultural, rather than a religious holiday tradition, many of them celebrate both Christmas and Kwanzaa.

On each night of Kwanzaa week, families join together to light one of the seven candles on a special candleholder (called the Kinara), and discuss one of Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba) that Dr. Karenga designated as important to honoring their shared African heritage and strengthening family and community bonds.

In English, those seven principles are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, economic cooperation, purpose, creativity, and faith.

I’ve heard some people scoff at Kwanzaa.

And, I know that – like many other leaders at the forefront of black activism during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s – Dr. Karenga has a controversial past (see the Wikipedia entry about him).

But it’s hard to dispute the fact that the principles he designated for African-Americans to focus on during Kwanzaa are worthy values for any family or cultural group to think about and celebrate.

Happy Kwanzaa!

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Related reading and listening…

December 25, 2013

The American Christmas classic by a Russian-born Jewish songwriter that ended the Vietnam War…

I like odd facts and there are a number of them about the song “White Christmas.”

First off, this American Christmas classic was written by the Russian-born Jewish songwriter Irving Berlin (who also wrote the classic American anthem “God Bless America”).

Berlin’s original name was Israel Baline. His family emigrated to America in 1893 to escape violent pogroms against Jews and settled in New York City.

By the age of 20, the young immigrant was on his way to becoming one of the greatest songwriters in modern history, under his Americanized name. 

Berlin wrote “White Christmas” sometime in the late 1930s.

Bing Crosby introduced it publicly on his NBC radio show, The Kraft Music Hall, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1941.

But the song first gained true national fame the following year, when it was sung by Crosby in the film Holiday Inn, a musical full of Irving Berlin songs that was released in the US on August 4, 1942.

In the fall of 1942, Decca issued the first recording of Crosby singing “White Christmas.”

It became a huge hit and a sentimental favorite of American troops and their families during World War II.

The recording of the song we’re most familiar with today, however, is not the 1942 version.

By 1947, the Decca master of Crosby’s 1942 recording had been used to make so many records that it was literally worn out.

So, on March 19, 1947 Crosby recorded the song for Decca again, with John Scott Trotter and his orchestra.

That version of “White Christmas” went on to become the best-selling single of all time, with estimated sales of more than 50 million copies.

In total, over 100 million copies of 78rpm records, 45rpm singles and albums with Bing’s various renditions of the song have been sold, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

In 1975, “White Christmas” also had a bizarre role at the end of the Vietnam War.

By April of that year, the United States had pulled most of its troops out of Vietnam and the North Vietnamese were closing in on Saigon.

As part of secret preparations for the evacuation of all remaining American personnel, the American embassy distributed a 15-page booklet to US civilians who were still in the city. It included a map showing where evacuation helicopters would be landing.

A page inserted into the booklet said:

“Note evacuational signal. Do not disclose to other personnel. When the evacuation is ordered, the code will be read out on American Forces Radio. The code is: THE TEMPERATURE IN SAIGON IS 112 DEGREES AND RISING. THIS WILL BE FOLLOWED BY THE PLAYING OF ‘I’M DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS.’”

The final panicky evacuation of Saigon is now inglorious history — and the fact that “White Christmas” played a role in it is one more odd thing about the song.

OK, now please sing along with Bing, without panicking:

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the tree-tops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow...”

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