Tag Archives: humor

The Algonquin Wits: Robert Benchley on Office Sharing

Benchley and Dorothy Parker shared a tiny $30-a-month office for a time in the Metropolitan Opera House studios. As Benchley described it, ‘One cubic foot of space less and it would have constituted adultery.’”

Excerpted from: Drennan, Robert E., ed. The Algonquin Wits. New York: Kensington, 1985.

The Doubter’s Companion: Hard Work

“Hard Work: The work ethic remains a popular explanation for the success of the West. This doubtful argument relies heavily on comparing humans to insects such as ants. Above all, the work ethic has a feel about it of low-level morality aimed at the poorer end of society.

There are lots of poor in the world who work all the time. On the other hand, large deposit banks, although non-productive, have been among the most profitable institutions over the last half-century. Their executives continue to work relatively short hours. The executives of large, publicly traded corporations work longer hours than the poor. And they compete with each other—not with other corporations—to work ever harder; by spending more of each day at their desks processing paper and developing relationships. This benefits their reputations and their careers. There is no proof that it has an effect on productivity or profits or the corporation.

Entrepreneurs are quite different. They usually have to work very hard in order to create their enterprise in order not to have to work hard later on in their lives. In other words, they create in order not to work.

To the extent that the west has succeeded, it is probably the result not of work but of innovation—not just technological, but social, intellectual, political, verbal, visual, acoustical, even emotional. In order to innovate some have spent a great deal of time thinking and experimenting, perhaps more than any other civilization in history.

Technological innovation in particular continues as if we were on an unstoppable roll. Yet our structures do not as a rule reward physical hard work. What they do favor is a narrowly defined type of intense labor that is best described as white-collar slogging.”

Excerpted from: Saul, John Ralston. The Doubter’s Companion. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

Write It Right: Connection

“Connection. ‘In this connection I should like to say a word or two.’ In connection with this matter.”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2010.

The Algonquin Wits: Dorothy Parker Eavesdrops

“Sitting next a table of visiting Midwestern governors in a New York nightclub, Mrs. Parker summed up their conversation: ‘Sounds like over-written Sinclair Lewis.’”

Excerpted from: Drennan, Robert E., ed. The Algonquin Wits. New York: Kensington, 1985.

Write It Right: Complected

“Complected. Anticipatory past participle of the verb “to complect.” Let us wait for that.”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2010.

The Devil’s Dictionary: Agrarian

“Agrarian, n. A politician who carries his real estate under his nails. A son of the soil who, like Aeneas, carries his father on his person.”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. David E. Schultz and S.J. Joshi, eds. The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2000. 

Write It Right: Commit Suicide

“Commit Suicide. Instead if ‘He committed suicide,’ say, He killed himself, or, He took his life. For married we do not say ‘committed matrimony.’ Unfortunately most of us do say ‘got married,’ which is almost as bad. For lack of a suitable verb we just sometimes say committed this or that, as in the instance of bigamy, for the verb to bigam is a blessing that is still in store for us.”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2010.

Rotten Reviews: Doris Grumbach on Mary McCarthy

“On television I see Mary McCarthy taking about her Vassar friend, the poet Elizabeth Bishop. I notice Mary’s instant icy smile, so often present when I interviewed her in Paris in 1966 for a book. George Grosz saw the same smile on Lenin’s face. ‘It doesn’t mean a smile,’ he said. I am fascinated by it. It represents, I think, an unsuccessful attempt to soften a harsh, bluntly stated judgement. Last summer, twenty-two years after the book I wrote about her, which she so disliked, appeared, I encountered Mary for the first time in an outdoor market in Blue Hill.

 ‘Hello Mary,’ I said. ‘Do you remember me?’

 Her smile flashed and then, like a worn-out bulb, disappeared instantly.

 ‘Unfortunately,’ she said.

 It didn’t mean a smile.”

 Doris Grumbach

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.   

The Doubter’s Companion: Zealot

“Zealot: Someone who has the answer to a problem. Originally a religious fanatic given to violence, the zealot is a likely today to be a corporatist expert. They are, as Samuel Johnson defined them, ‘passionately ardent in any cause. They are the bearers of truth.’”

Excerpted from: Saul, John Ralston. The Doubter’s Companion. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

Oscar Wilde on Morality

“Morality is simply the attitude we adopt toward people we personally dislike.”

Oscar Wilde

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Big Curmudgeon. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007.