Tag Archives: humor

Write It Right: Commencement for Termination

“Commencement for Termination. A contribution to our noble tongue by its scholastic conservators, ‘commencement day’ being their name for the last day of the collegiate year. It is ingeniously defended on the ground that on that day those on whom degrees are bestowed commence to hold them. Lovely!”

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

The Algonquin Wits: Robert Benchley on the Standardization of American Life

“It takes no great perspicacity to detect and to complain of the standardization in American life. So many foreign and domestic commentators have pointed this feature out in exactly the same terms that the comment has become standardized and could be turned out on little greeting cards, all from the same type-form: ‘American life has become too standardized.’”

Robert Benchley

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

Write It Right: Commence for Begin

“Commence for Begin. This is not actually incorrect, but—well, it is a matter of taste.”

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

The Doubter’s Dictionary: Economics

Economics: The romance of truth through measurement.

An understanding of the value of economics can best be established by using its own methods. Draw up a list of the large economic problems that have struck the West over the last quarter-century. Determine the dominant strand of advice offered in each case by the community of economists. Calculate how many times this advice was followed. (More often than not it was.) Finally, add up the number of times this advice solved the problem.

The answer seems to be zero. Consistent failure based on expert methodology suggests that the central assumptions must have been faulty, rather in the way sophisticated calculations based on the assumption that the world was flat tended to come out wrong. However, streams of economists are on record protesting that they weren’t listened to enough. That the recommended interest rate or money supply or tariff policy was not followed to its absolute conclusion.

This ‘science’ of economics seems to be built upon a non-scientific and non-mathematical assumption that economic forces are the expression of a natural truth. To interfere with them is to create an unnatural situation. The creation and enforcement of standards of production are, for example, viewed as an artificial limitation of reality. Even economists who favor these standards see them as necessary and justifiable deformations of economic truth.

Economic truth has replaced such earlier truths as an all-powerful God, and a natural Social Contract. Economics are the new religious core of public policy. But what evidence has been produced to prove this natural right to primacy over other values, methods and activities?

The answer usually given is that economic activity determines the success or failure of a society. It follows that economists are the priests whose necessary expertise will make it possible to maximize the value of this activity. But economic activity is less a cause than an effect—of geographical and climatic necessity, family and wider social structures, the balance between freedom and order, the ability of society to unleash the imagination, and the weakness or strength of neighbors. If anything, the importance given to economics over the last quarter-century has interfered with prosperity. The more we concentrate on it, the less money we make.”

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

Rotten Reviews: On Robert Frost

“If it were thought that anything I wrote was influenced by Robert Frost, I would take that particular work of mine, shred it, and flush it down the toilet, hoping not to clog the pipes.”

James Dickey

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

Write It Right: Combine for Combination

“Combine for Combination. The word, in this sense, has something of the meaning of conspiracy, but there is no justification for it as a noun, in any sense.”

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

The Devil’s Dictionary: Confidant, Confidante

“Confidant, Confidante, n. One entrusted by A with the secrets of B, confided by him to C.”

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

H.L. Mencken on President Warren G. Harding

“He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a kind of grandeur creeps into it.”

H.L. Mencken on Warren G. Harding

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

Write It Right: Colonel, Judge, Governor, etc., for Mister

“Colonel, Judge, Governor, etc., for Mister. Give a man a title only if it belongs to him and only while it belongs to him.”

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

The Algonquin Wits: Harold Ross

“On hearing that Time editor Henry Luce objected to a profile of himself published in The New Yorker—on the grounds that not one nice thing was said about him in the whole piece—Ross told him, ‘That’s what you get for trying to be a baby tycoon.’”

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