Tag Archives: literary oddities

Devil’s Dictionary: Idiot

“Idiot, n. A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling. The Idiot’s activity is not confined to any special field of thought or action, but ‘pervades and regulates the whole.’ He has the last word on everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions of opinion and taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line.”

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

The Algonquin Wits: Heywood Broun

Broun, known for his always unkempt appearance, devoted an article to the topic ‘Best-Dressed Women of the World.’ In it he commented on his own experiences in such contests: ‘While I was running for Best-Dressed Senior in the graduating class of Horace Mann High School, I often spent as much as three or four minutes in the morning deciding which pants I ought to wear. The grey or the blue. The blue or the grey. I generally decided to take the ones which possessed the closest appearance to a crease.’”

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

 Rotten Reviews: The Prelude (William Wordsworth)

“Rotten Reviews: The Prelude (William Wordsworth)

‘The story is the old story. There are the old raptures about mountains and cataracts. The old flimsy philosophy about the effect of scenery on the mind; the old crazy mystical metaphysics; the endless wilderness of dull, flat, prosaic twaddle…,”

 T.B. Macaulay, in his journal

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

Rotten Rejections: Sara Haardt

“Rotten Rejections: “Poem” by Sara Haardt (1923)

“The poem I can’t take. We have 200 or 300 bales of poetry stored in Hoboken, in the old Norddeutscher-Lloyd pier. There are 300,000 poets in America.”

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

Tricolons

“Tricolons are a rhetorical flourish—a sonorous list of three concepts, often escalating in significance. The most famous is Julius Caesar’s proud dispatch to the Senate of Rome following his expedition to the near-mythical, mist-clouded Isle of Britain: Veni, Vidi, Vinci’ (‘I came, I saw, I conquered’). But Caesar’s tricolon is run close by those great orators Lincoln and Churchill, while in recent years Barack Obama has revived the form, sometimes going for the double tricolon, as in this speech echoing the Declaration of Independence:

‘Our generation’s task is to make these words, these rights, these values—of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—real.’

Here are some all-time classics:

‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people.’

The threefold manifestation of a fully functioning democracy as defined by Lincoln. He also, apparently in casual conversation, made a masterly analysis of the limits of the dark arts of political life:

‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.’

Churchill was an enthusiast for the tricolon, most famously in his praise for that handful of gallant nights or the air who defended the shores of Britain:

‘Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.’

Perhaps the most glorious of all is the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, taken from a sonnet by Emma Lazarus:

‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’

On a rather more crass level, there is the real estate agents’ mantra, ‘Location, location, location,’ which Tony Blair turned into his slogan “Education, education, education.’ Or the nicely bungled Homer Simpson appeal: ‘I can’t let that happen, I won’t let that happen, and I can’t let that happen.’”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

The Devil’s Dictionary: Politics

“Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”

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

Frank Rich on Starlight Express

“A confusing jamboree of piercing noise, routine roller skating, misogyny and Orwellian special effects, Starlight Express is the perfect gift for the kid who has everything except parents.”

Frank Rich

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

The Algonquin Wits: George S. Kaufman

“Hollywood’s Adolph Zukor was said to have offered a trifling $30,000 for movie rights to a Kaufman play. The playwright sent back a telegram offering Zukor $40,000 for Paramount.”

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

Rotten Reviews: Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, Part I: To the Lighthouse

“Her work is poetry; it must be judged as poetry, and all the weaknesses of poetry are inherent in it.”

New York Evening Post

Virginia Woolf Part II: The Waves

“This chamber music, this closet fiction, is executed behind too firmly closed windows…the book is dull.”

H.C. Harwood, Saturday Review of Literature

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

William James on the Philosopher’s Primary Task

“There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and this is to contradict other philosophers.”

William James

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