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Small gems pop up here and there during 2001

December 31, 2001

It’s time for this column’s roundup of the year’s most memorable aphorisms, adages and other sayings.
• “A rattlesnake loose in the living room tends to end all discussion of animal rights,” Time magazine’s Lance Morrow wrote after the Sept. 11 attacks.
• After President Bush urged Americans not to stop spending and shopping, a reader’s letter to the Tulsa (Okla.) World summed up the advice this way: “Don’t sit there and ponder — get out and squander.”
• “God, especially in times of crisis, has more spokespeople than Amway,” wrote Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.
• Writer Joseph Sobran offered a sharp comment on educational decline: “In one century we went from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to offering remedial English in college.”
• “When faced with unsettling developments like death, boomers always sign up for self-improvement classes,” wrote humorist Joe Queenan.
• Billy Crystal said: “Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.”
• “Everything looks bad if you remember it,” said Homer Simpson, the dim-witted cartoon star who remembers very little. Cars sprouted bumper stickers that sounded like Simpson sayings, including, “Earth first! We’ll mine the other planets later,” and “Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.”
• “Neutral justice neutralizes authority,” said Philip Howard, author of “The Lost Art of Drawing the Line” and “The Death of Common Sense.” He also asked: “If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t more people happy?”
• “If you don’t like tomato soup, you don’t buy tomato soup,” columnist Kathleen Parker wrote about boycotting.
• “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then,” said a character in the golf movie, “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”
• William Hague, former leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, explained his baldness by saying, “Grass doesn’t grow on a busy street.”
• The best adage on Washington politics came from former senator Alan Simpson: “One day you’re the toast of the town, the next day you’re toast.”
• “The smaller the stakes, the pettier the politics,” said James Lindast, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
• Writer P.J. O’Rourke said: “Politicians are wonderful people as long as they stay away from things they don’t understand, such as working for a living.”
• Morton Blackwell, executive director of the Council for Economic Policy, said: “To succeed inside a political party, one must cultivate an ability to sit still and remain polite while foolish people speak nonsense.”
• “Celebrity is the enemy of content,” wrote William Powers, National Journal’s media critic.
• Novelist Allan Gurganus wrote: “History is not just lived. It’s also wished.”
• “There’s no such thing as good comb-over,” said aphorist Charles Low.
• “To keep milk from turning sour, keep it in the cow,” an 11-year-old wrote on his science exam.
• “Youth must be swerved,” author Stefan Kanfer said about the career of John Walker, the only known 20-year-old Taliban soldier from Marin County, Calif. Kanfer also offered a comment on the lack of dissent on the PC left: “Di-versity is having two opinions, uni-versity is having one.”
• “The only time (the news media) utter the words ‘left wing’ is when they’re talking about an airplane,” TV reporter Bernard Goldberg wrote in his book “Bias.” His point was that conservatives are almost always labeled “right wing,” while their liberal counterparts are presented as mainstream, reasonable and unlabeled.
• “The world keeps turning because of distraction,” wrote Montreal novelist Tess Fragoulis.
• Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford, offered a seven-word summary on the difficulty of making computers that buyers can understand: “Easy to use is hard to do.”
• Israeli author and aphorist Joseph Gold said: “Men can seldom finish a whole sentence in the presence of their wives.” Gold also wrote: “Wishful thinking is the best entertainment,” “Priorities change with the first toothache,” and “You hear ‘watch out’ after you stumble, seldom before.”
• The growing celebrity of Donald Rumsfeld brought new attention to Rumsfeld’s Rules, which the defense secretary thought up and codified over the years. One is folksy: “If a person with a rural accent says ‘I don’t know much about politics,’ zip your pocket.” Others are hardheaded: “If you are not being criticized, you may not be doing much,” “Weakness is provocative,” “Try to make original mistakes,” and “If in doubt, don’t.”
No doubt Rumsfeld will keep thinking up new rules. How about, “If you hope to see your mama, don’t be with Osama.”

From → Language

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