November 27, 2019

“I’m mad as hell” — the misquote of a movie line that is itself a misquote!

During almost every recent election season, political commentators seem to talk about “angry voters” of one kind or another.

These disgruntled voters are usually said to be angry about certain current events or something politicians did or didn’t do.

During the last presidential election, I even saw one story that claimed “angry voters are now angry at the angry voters.”

In many stories about angry voters — and in online posts made by angry voters — a common quote used is: “I'm mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

When a source is given for that quote, it’s usually cited as a line actor Peter Finch says in the movie Network, which premiered in New York City on November 27, 1976.

Finch does say something very close to that in the movie.

But the commonly-heard “I’m mad as hell” version is not the actual movie quote.

Network was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet.

In addition to Peter Finch, the superb cast includes Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duvall, and Ned Beatty.

What Finch actually says in the movie, as network news anchorman Howard Beale, “the mad prophet of the airwaves,” is:

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

He says the line several times in Network, using the words “I’m as mad as” and “take this” — NOT “I’m mad as” and “take it.”

You can confirm what Finch says by watching the movie or by viewing the scene in which he first unleashes his frequently misquoted line on YouTube.

There’s also an excellent in-depth summary of Network on the AMC website. (It uses the word “gonna” in place of “going to,” though to my ears and in the script, Finch clearly says “going to”).

If you didn’t know Network was released in 1976, you might think the glorious rant Finch gives in it is a commentary on more recent times.

He starts out by saying: “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad.”

After warming up a bit more by citing a list of bad things, he delivers his call to action:

“So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

Ironically, in Chayefsky’s original script, Howard Beale is supposed to say “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

But when the scene the line is first used in was filmed, Peter Finch spontaneously said, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” 

Director Lumet decided to keep the line as Finch spoke it, thus creating a movie quote that’s often misquoted, but which is itself a misquote of what was written in the script.

If you’re interested in misquotes, you can read about some others I’ve discussed in past posts by clicking this link, or by buying books like Ralph Keyes' The Quote Verifier and Nice Guys Finish Seventh, Garson O'Toole's Hemingway Didn't Say That, Elizabeth Knowles’ What They Didn't Say, or They Never Said It by Paul F. Boller and John George.

In the meantime, if you’re as mad as hell about the what’s happening in your community, your state, or in the US, get out and vote, damnit!

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November 16, 2019

Two famous quotes launched by Captain John Paul Jones…

The quotation most people associate with American Navy Captain John Paul Jones is “I have not yet begun to fight.” 

According to legend, Jones said that defiant line during a naval battle with the British on September 23, 1779 when a British officer asked if he was ready to surrender.

Some historians and quote mavens like Ralph Keyes have questioned whether Jones uttered those exact words.

The claim that he did was made a half a century after that battle and other accounts give different responses by Jones.

However, he did say something like it, and the backstory on the legendary version of his answer involves other famous words Jones definitely did say — in writing.

In the fall of 1778, during the height of the American Revolution, Jones was in France trying to get a new warship to use in the fight against the British.

The French government offered him a heavy ship named the Neptune they had captured, but Jones deemed it to be too slow.

So, he wrote a letter to French aristocrat Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont.

De Chaumont was an influential member of the court of King Louis XVI who had been instrumental in arranging various types of French support for the rebellious Americans.

In a letter dated November 16, 1778, Jones told the French nobleman: “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way.”

It had long been common to talk about getting someone or something “out of harm’s way,” meaning to remove them from some kind of danger.

But John Paul Jones is generally credited with the first recorded use of the phrase “in harm’s way.”

By the early 1800s, it became a common figure of speech, meaning “in the path of danger.”

It’s most often used to refer to men and women in the military, who are sent “in harm’s way” during wartime.

Not long after Jones wrote his letter to Monsieur Chaumont, the French government gave him a frigate named the Bonhomme Richard.

On September 23, 1779, Jones and the crew of the Bonhomme Richard fought their famous battle off the coast of England against the British war ship Serapis.

At one point, the Bonhomme Richard seemed to be sinking. The commander of the Serapis, Royal Navy Captain Richard Pearson, asked Jones if he would strike his flag and surrender.

That’s when Jones gave his possibly apocryphal reply: “I have not yet begun to fight.”

After lashing the Bonhomme Richard to the Serapis and fighting ferociously, the Americans won the battle and the crew of the Serapis surrendered to them.

In 1962, James Bassett’s bestselling World War II novel, Harm's Way, helped make the term taken from Jones’s letter more widely known than ever.

In 1965, the novel was adapted into the epic movie In Harm's Way, further enhancing the use and recognition of the phrase.

I haven’t read the novel, but I have seen the movie. If you haven’t, you should.

It was produced and directed by Otto Preminger and stars John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Patricia Neal, Tom Tryon, Paula Prentiss and Dana Andrews.

In Harm’s Way is justifiably considered one of the greatest war movies ever made. And, as you now know, its title comes from the most famous words John Paul Jones definitely said.

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October 20, 2019

Spiro Agnew vs. the “effete intellectuals” and “nattering nabobs”…

Nowadays, Conservative provocateurs like Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter get lots of media attention for coming up with snarky, quotable insults aimed at Liberals.

But the way was paved for them decades ago by Republican politician Spiro Agnew (1918-1996), the former Governor of Maryland who became Vice President of the United States under President Richard M. Nixon in 1969.

Agnew unleashed one of his most famous zingers on October 19, 1969.

He was speaking that day at a Republican fund-raising dinner in New Orleans.

Four days earlier, opponents of the Vietnam War had organized a major anti-war demonstration, the October 15th Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam.

Hundreds of thousands of people participated in moratorium events in the United States and Europe.

Agnew was a staunch defender of the Vietnam War, so naturally he had to take a swipe at the protesters.

He characterized them as people who “overwhelm themselves with drugs and artificial stimulants.”

He went on (and on and on) to say:

“Education is being redefined at the demand of the uneducated to suit the ideas of the uneducated. The student now goes to college to proclaim rather than to learn. The lessons of the past are ignored and obliterated in a contemporary antagonism known as ‘The Generation Gap.’ A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” 

Other Conservatives and the press especially loved that last sentence. And, soon, the pithy core of it was compressed into the phrases still used today: “effete intellectual snobs” and the shorter version “effete intellectuals.”

Spiro uttered a number of other catchy, insulting names for Liberals during his four years as Vice President.

Two others that are still cited are “the nattering nabobs of negativism” and “the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.” 

Most of Agnew’s catchy phrases as Vice President were written for him by Nixon’s speechwriter William Safire, who went on to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for The New York Times. (I was a big fan of Safire’s “On Language” column in the NYT and highly recommend his many excellent books about the origins of famous quotations and phrases.)

Agnew’s verbal attacks on Liberals made him a darling of Republicans until 1973, when his past caught with him.

That year, he was charged with taking bribes and evading taxes during his tenure as Governor of Maryland.

He resigned as Vice President on October 10, 1973, as part of a plea deal to avoid jail time.

It was quite a scandal at the time. But, hey – at least Spiro Agnew wasn’t taking any of them there psycho-delic drugs or acting like a damn effete intellectual.

However, I do think he may have qualified as a nattering nabob.

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September 28, 2019

“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

One of the most famous quotes in sports history is linked to the date September 28, 1920.

On that day, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson supposedly admitted during testimony to a grand jury that he was one of eight Chicago White Sox baseball players who took bribes to let the Cincinnati Reds win the 1919 World Series.

It came to be known as the Black Sox scandaland it was devastating for baseball fans.

A crowd of fans were gathered outside the Cook County Courthouse where Jackson was testifying.

Word spread among them that their hero had admitted he’d helped throw the series to the Reds.

According to legend, as Jackson left the courthouse, a heartbroken young boy went up to him and begged: “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

It’s legend rather than fact because there are holes in key aspects of the story.

For one thing, there’s no court record of Jackson ever admitting he was involved in fixing the game — and, publicly, he always denied it.

In 1921, Jackson was found innocent by a Chicago jury.

In addition, other players who admitted to being on the take said Jackson was not at any of the meetings they had with the gamblers involved.

What about the tear-jerking line by the crushed kid?

Quotation experts have determined the legendary quote is a misquote of a quote that was probably fabricated by a reporter in the first place.  

One of the best overviews of the facts is in Ralph Keyes’ must-have quote debunking book, Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations.

As noted by Keyes, an Associated Press sportswriter named Hugh Fullerton was at the courthouse when Shoeless Joe left it that day.

In the original version of the story he filed, Fullerton wrote that a young kid approached Jackson as he emerged and said: “It ain’t so, Joe, is it?”

Fullerton wrote that Jackson replied “Yes, kid, I’m afraid it is.”

Somehow, by 1940, the words “It ain’t so, Joe, is it?” morphed into “Say it ain’t so, Joe” in rewritten accounts of the incident.

Then it became legend.

Eventually, it became an idiomatic expression used humorously as a comment about some disappointing revelation or bad news.

However, no other eyewitness accounts corroborate either version of the alleged quotation by the young baseball fan.

Jackson himself always denied any such thing was said to him by a kid or anyone else that day.

So, basically, the quote and story were apparently made up by a reporter — and then further distorted in later accounts.

In recent decades, public awareness of the “Black Sox Scandal” and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson has been renewed by various books and movies, most notably by two best-selling books that were adapted into hit movies: Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams.

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September 19, 2019

Hanging … It concentrates the mind wonderfully.

Many of the famed witticisms uttered by British writer, lexicographer and wit Samuel Johnson were recorded for posterity in a journal kept by his admirer and friend James Boswell.

Boswell used entries from the journal as a foundation for his classic biography, Life of Johnson (first published in 1791).

One of Johnson’s oft-quoted quips comes from the entry Boswell wrote on September 19, 1777.

It’s a great bit of literal gallows humor that is widely cited in the short form:

       "When a man knows he is to be concentrates his mind wonderfully."

Johnson made the remark in reference to an Anglican clergyman named William Dodd.

Dodd, whose clerical background led people to call him Dr. Dodd, had been executed by hanging at England’s Tyburn prison on June 27, 1777.

The “heinous” crime he was guilty of was a loan scam.

He had asked a money lender for a sizeable loan that he claimed was for his former student, the 5th Earl of Chesterfield.

That particular young gent was son of the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, known for those famous windy letters to his son that included platitudes like: “Take care of the minutes: for the hours will take care of themselves.”

Dodd didn’t actually give the money to Stanhope’s son. He pocketed it. And, when he failed to repay the loan, he was taken to court by the money lender, tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

Even in those days, when capital punishment was common in England, some people thought Dodd’s sentence seemed a bit harsh. One of them was Samuel Johnson.

Johnson tried to stop the hanging with a little scam of his own.

He penned an eloquent plea for mercy, full of Biblical quotes, and had it delivered to the court. Instead of signing it himself, Johnson made it seem as if it were a letter written by Dodd.

Unfortunately for Dodd, it didn’t work. He was hanged anyway, alongside another criminal named Joseph Harris.

The entreaty Johnson had ghost-written was “leaked” and soon published under the title The Convict’s Address to His Unhappy Brethren. It was credited to Dodd on the cover and became quite popular.

In his journal entry for September 19, 1777, Boswell noted that a friend of Johnson’s told the great man he suspected Dodd didn’t actually write the letter himself. It just seemed a bit too well written.

Johnson didn’t fess up at the time. But his response, as recorded in Boswell’s journal and published in the Life of Johnson, includes the memorable quote about hanging that appears on many websites and in many books of quotations:

“Why should you think so?” responded Johnson. “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Eventually, Johnson’s authorship was revealed and The Convict’s Address is now generally – and properly – credited to him.

By the way, my favorite edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson is the “Classix Comix” version. It's edited with illuminating notes by writer Dan Leo, author of the mindbending series of novels about bohemian poet Arnold Schnabel (RAILROAD TO TRAIN HEAVEN, THIS WORLD OR ANY OTHER WORLD, and THE BRAWNY EMBRACES). It’s also wonderfully illustrated by digital artist and writer Rhoda Penmarq, who has published her own series of books collecting her witty stories and artwork on Lulu.

(creator of the great Railroad Train to Heaven online novel).

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August 09, 2019

“Our long national nightmare is over.”

In August of 1974, faced with Congressional hearings, a mountain of bad press and the looming threat of impeachment over the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon became the first president in U.S. history to resign.

His official letter of resignation was delivered at 11:35 a.m. Eastern Time on August 9, 1974.

A half-hour later, Nixon’s Vice President Gerald Ford took the Presidential Oath and was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Ford gave a brief acceptance speech that was broadcast live on radio and television.

He acknowledged that he was taking office “under extraordinary circumstances” and urged Americans to “go forward now together.”

He then made a remark that became — and remains — a famous political quotation:       

      “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

Following that, Ford alluded to another famous political quote.

“Our Constitution works.” he said. “Our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”

The phrase “a government of laws, and not of men” reflects a political idea that dates back as far as the ancient Greeks.

But it was enshrined in quotation history by John Adams in one of his Novanglus letters, published in the Boston Gazette in 1774.

Written anonymously under the pen name “Novanglus,” these letters argued that Great Britain’s treatment of American colonists violated their rights under British law.

In the seventh Novanglus letter, Adams wrote that “the British constitution is much more like a republic than an empire...a government of laws, and not of men.”

By the 20th Century, British monarchs had virtually no real power.

In contrast, American presidents have many significant powers under the law.

One of them is the power to pardon criminals, both after or even — as Ford showed — before they are convicted.

On September 8, 1974, President Ford announced that he had granted Richard Nixon a “full, free, and absolute” pardon for any crimes he “has committed or may have committed” while president.

Since shortly after Donald Trump became president there has been speculation about whether he had committed crimes that could land him in jail after he leaves office or is forced out by impeachment.

Some political pundits have suggested that Vice President Mike Pence would pardon him if that happens or that Trump might even give himself a pardon.

Either way, whenever Trump does leaves office, those Americans who hate him — and those who are simply tired of the constant heated news coverage and arguments he generates — are likely to feel like another national nightmare is finally over.

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July 22, 2019

“Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

In 1209,
Pope Innocent III decided it was time to crack down on followers of a religious sect that had become popular in Southern France.

Originally called Albigensians, they came to be more widely known as the Cathars.

Cathars were Christians. But they rejected the authority of the Pope and other key aspects of Catholicism, so they were deemed heretics by the Catholic Church.

This apparently didn’t matter much to most people living in the French town of Beziers.

Catholics and Cathars had lived there together for many years in relative harmony.

On July 22, 1209, they were celebrating the annual Feast of Mary Magdalene together, a religious holiday observed by various Christian religions.

Suddenly, the festivities were cut short when an army of “Crusaders” sent by Pope Innocent III  showed up outside the walls of the town.

The military leader of the army was Simon de Montfort, a French nobleman highly motivated by the Pope’s promise that he could keep the land of any heretics he killed.

The Crusaders were accompanied by an official representative of the Pope, a French Cistercian monk named Arnaud Amalric (also variously referred to as Arnald Amalric and Arnauld-Amaury).

De Montfort demanded that the leaders of Beziers turn over the town’s Cathar heretics to him. They refused. The Crusaders attacked.

According to accounts written decades later, as the attack began, a soldier asked Amalric how they would be able to tell which Beziers townspeople were Catholics and which were Cathars.

Amalric supposedly answered (in French):

       “Kill them all. God will recognize his own.”

Some sources give the alleged quote as “Kill them all, for the Lord knows his own” or as “Kill them all. The Lord knows his own.”

It eventually came to be most commonly paraphrased as:

       “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

Scholars have debated whether Almaric actually said anything like those words.

But there’s no question that they reflect what happened that day.

De Montfort’s army killed virtually every man, woman and child in the town — estimated to be as many as 20,000 people — and burned Beziers to the ground.

The Beziers Massacre was just one of the first of many atrocities that occurred during the Albigensian Crusades.

Over the next four decades, roughly a million more people were killed during those bloody religious conflicts.

Amalric’s infamous quotation was updated during the Vietnam War, when the saying “Kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out” became popular among American Special Forces troops.

That “witticism” was put on unofficial Special Forces military patches, pins and t-shirts that are now sold as “collectibles” on eBay.

More recently, American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan updated the saying again in the form: “Kill ‘em all. Let Allah sort ‘em out.”

T-shirts and bumper stickers using this newer variation are sold on various Internet sites.

It’s disconcerting that anyone can blithely talk about killing innocent people and letting them be “sorted out” later.

But as they used to say in ‘Nam — there it is.

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July 15, 2019

Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise Speech” (which didn’t include the word ‘malaise’)...

On the night of July 15, 1979, in the midst of his third year as president, Jimmy Carter gave a televised speech from the White House that is often called his “Malaise Speech.”

Malaise is a French word meaning a feeling of uneasiness or discomfort, adopted into English long ago.

It definitely fit the timing of Carter’s speech. In 1979, most Americans were very unhappy about an energy crisis that had caused huge lines at gas pumps, spiraling inflation and a high unemployment rate.

Rightly or wrongly, Americans tended to blame the president for those problems.

Polls showed that voter approval of Carter had sunk to 30% — lower than the worst rating of any recent President except Richard M. Nixon or Harry S. Truman.

Carter decided to try to address the country’s energy and economic problems and voter attitudes toward him in a speech that was intended to be part inspiring pep talk and part grand vision. (The full speech is online here.)

Foreshadowing Bill Clinton, Carter said he was a president who “feels your pain.” He also acknowledged voters’ unhappiness.

In the policy part of the speech, he said he was setting a goal of cutting America’s dependence on foreign oil in half over the next ten years by increasing the use of domestic energy sources. And, although he did mention increasing energy conservation and solar power, his primary “solutions” would probably be viewed as shocking by today’s progressive Democrats.

He argued that America needed to increase the use of energy from US sources of coal, oil shale, and gasohol. He said he would ask Congress “to require as a matter of law, that our nation’s utility companies cut their massive use of oil by 50 percent within the next decade and switch to other fuels, especially coal, our most abundant energy source.”

Much of the rest of the president's speech was preachy and meandering. He said it was “clear that the true problems of our nation are much deeper — deeper than gasoline lines or energy shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession.”

Carter cited the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, America’s defeat in Vietnam, and the Watergate scandal as some of the reasons Americans were suffering from what he called “a crisis of confidence.”

“It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will,” Carter said. “We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.”

His rhetoric about how to deal with that “crisis” sounds almost Trump-like. He noted some of the great accomplishments of America’s past, then said what was needed was “the restoration of American values.”

Carter ended his speech with words he undoubtedly hoped would be uplifting, memorable and quotable.

“Whenever you have a chance, say something good about our country,” he urged. “With God’s help and for the sake of our Nation, it is time for us to join hands in America. Let us commit ourselves together to a rebirth of the American spirit. Working together with our common faith we cannot fail.”

Unfortunately for Carter, the speech was an epic fail, a widely-panned downer that seemed to blame Americans for causing the country’s problems by having bad attitudes.

However, nowhere in the speech did he use the word malaise.

So, why is it called the “Malaise Speech”?

Carter laid the groundwork for that in an address he gave in Bardstown, Kentucky two-and-a-half weeks later, on July 31. It was essentially a campaign appearance since, at the time, he was running for reelection against former California Governor Ronald Reagan.

In his opening remarks in Bardstown, Carter referred to the July 15 TV speech, saying:

“I thought a lot about our nation and what I should do as president and Sunday night before last I made a speech about two problems of our country — energy and malaise.”

For some reason, the term malaise and the phrase “national malaise” had been floating around in 1979, even before Carter made his remarks on July 31.

For example, in a widely-read article published in the June 1979 issue of The Futurist, Herman Kahn, Director of the Hudson Institute think tank and his colleague John Phelps, warned that the US and other “advanced nations” were facing “a period of malaise” marked by slow economic growth and social clashes.

On July 12, three days before Carter’s televised speech, political pundit and language maven William Safire predicted in an essay in the New York Times that President Carter “will try to transfer the wide dissatisfaction with his own performance into a ‘national malaise.’”

When Carter himself described his July 15 address as a speech “about…malaise,” Republicans pounced on it. It was an egg-heady, foreign word and the speech seemed like a criticism of the American people.

Reagan and other Republicans began using the word derisively and suggested that Carter was wrongly trying to blame Americans for the problems caused by his failure as a president.

Reagan played the malaise card throughout 1979 and 1980. He used it to paint Carter as a snooty critic of America and working class Americans and to make himself seem like their defender.

“There is nothing wrong with the people of this country,” he said in a typical attack on Carter in 1980. “There’s no malaise.”

The “great malaise debate” helped seal Reagan’s victory in the November 1980 presidential election, which he won by a landslide.

It was so effective that he kept using it when he ran against Carter’s former Vice President Walter Mondale, during the campaign leading up to the November 1984 presidential election.

In 1983, Reagan started mocking Mondale by calling him “former Vice President Malaise.” He warned that electing Mondale would mean a return to the type of economic problems experienced during Carter’s presidency.

On election day, Reagan crushed Mondale in another landslide victory.

Today, most people don’t remember or are too young to know about “the great malaise debate.” And, many of those who do know about it think Carter used the word malaise in his July 15 speech.

He didn’t. But because, shortly thereafter, he described it as a speech “about…malaise,” he gave Republicans a term and a theme that helped Ronald Reagan win two presidential elections.

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