Evolutionary Variations on Quotes

In the real world, quotes are there to be used, with or without attribution, with or without modification.

This would not be right in academic writing (or in public source software), but it is meat and potatoes in politics.

Consider, for example, the dual attributions:

"Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think." --- Niels Bohr

"You've got to guard against speaking more clearly than you think." --- Howard H. Baker, Jr.

Niels Bohr said it first, but Howard Baker said it better.

Incidentally, with Google one can now generate such examples almost on an "as needed" basis. Such searches provide a perfect coffee break activity.

It is even easy to set up a Google alert to snag new variations as they appear.

The Kissinger Reverse

The Yogi Berra Variation

"As Yogi Berra said, 'Even Napoleon had his Watergate.' " --- The real author of this "Yogi Quote" seems to be unknown, though Danny Ozark ---another baseball guy --- may be in line for some credit.

gif new re: sweave A Winstonian Variation

"If you put two economists in a room, you get two opinions, unless one of them is Lord Keynes, in which case you get three opinions." --- Sir Winston Churchill (incomplete wiki source)

Variations on Steps to Success

J. Paul Getty once said his success was based on “rising early, working late, and striking oil --- from the Web page of Cholla Petroleum , for whom I wish the best of luck with the NW 1/4 of Section 163 Block 1 (H &GN RR Survey) of Dickens County, Texas.

gif new re: sweave Was It Groucho or Shaw?

"When someone suggested that Shaw ought to have offspring with Isadora Duncan, he is said to have replied:'It might have my body and her brains.'" --- Jaques Barzun in From Dawn to Decadence, 1500 to Present (p. 694).

A more familiar version of this quote has Groucho Marx responding to a suggestion of Marilyn Monroe: "Yea, but what if it had my looks and your brains?"

Variations a la W. C. Fields or Mae West

"Once ... in the wilds of Afghanistan, I lost my corkscrew, and we were forced to live on nothing but food and water for days." --- spoken by W. C. Fields (nee William Claude Dukenfield) in the movie My Little Chickadee (1940). Incidentally, The venerable Wiki has a marvelous inventory of WCF's lines.

"I was Snow White, but then I drifted." --- Mae West. Not really a quote variation, but it is close.

The Bromide Splash

"Too few have the courage of my convictions." --- Robert M. Hutchins. Not a bad quip for a college president.

Two Fecund Examples from Computer Science

"When your hammer is C++, everything begins to look like a thumb." --- Steve Haflich

"Power corrupts, and obsolete power corrupts obsoletely."---- Ted Nelson , on DOS and Microsoft

The hammer/thumb theme and the power corrupts theme both seem certain to yield rich harvests. They are fine feed stock for the emerging theory of quote genres.

My Old Boss --- Variation on "My Pappy told me..."

"Hey, honesty may not be the best policy, but it’s worth trying every once in a while, as my old chief, Richard Nixon, once said. He had a much better sense of humor than is usually believed." ---- Ben Stein (NY Times 3/30/08), original given within parentheses.

William F. Buckley Jr.: Plug-and-Play Quote

For a classic example of adapted (as well as mangled) quotes, google some variation of Buckley's old saw about preferring

governance by a [subset of] the [Brookline, Cambridge, Boston, etc.] phone book in preference to a [subset of] the Harvard [faculty, law school, etc].

This nice little project has been on my list for a while. If you find the time to do it first, please let me know what you discover.


From West Wing --- That Old Astrology Taunt

"The President's going to look at the W.B.O. revenue analysis and say that economists were put on this planet to make astrologers look good." --- from a transition scene where Leo McGarrity briefly berates some Congressional functionaries.

There are endless variations on this old astrologer/economist homotopie.

Variation in Booksized Quantities ...

"Yvonne poured herself a drink and melted into the chair across from Callie. She brushed a strand of moltenly hair from her eyes and proceeded to carve the ham. Callie watched intently. Juice streamed from the ham in rivulets like saliva drooling from the fierce jaws of a wild dingo poised over the dead carcass of its prey in the dingo-eat-dingo world." ---- from Atlanta Nights by Travis Tea.

If you like language and warm to schadenfreude, you'll have belly laughs as you read this book out loud to your friends.

In a nutshell --- It is bad by design.

The world is full of bad books written by amateurs. But why settle for the merely regrettable? Atlanta Nights is a bad book written by experts. --- T. Nielsen Hayden

He says, she says...

Early in Structural Stability and Morphogenesis, Rene Thom asserts ---

"The use of the term 'qualitative' in science, and above all in physics, has a pejorative ring. It was a physicist who reminded me, not without vehemence, of Rutherford's dictum 'qualitative is nothing but poor quantitative.' "

What a bunch of quarrelling preschoolers!

Is there anyone on the planet who honestly does not understand that there can be qualitative insights and quantitative insights --- the worth of which can go either way?

Not as Good as Roughly Right

"An approximate answer to the right question is worth a great deal more than a precise answer to the wrong question." J. W. Tukey, as quoted in the Manchester Guardian.

Tukey said perhaps a thousand lines that deserve to be remembered, and it is saddening that the Guardian instead choose this one.

Many readers will recognize Tukey's line as a flat variation of a crisp classic of J. M. Keynes:

"It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong."

Even if you are no fan of alliteration, you've got to admit that "roughly right" works here. It is both apt and memorable.

To be sure, Tukey is more focused. He drills down on an answer and a question, rather than content himself with some amorphous "it."

Nevertheless, who doesn't sense the loss?

One of these days, say ten years after Tukey's passing, I hope to follow up on this with the Guardian.

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