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JACK SMITH

Even Short Quotations Leave a Mark

March 07, 1994|JACK SMITH

In writing recently of Charlton Heston's complaint that Justin Kaplan, editor of the 16th edition of Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations," exercised "Draconian censorship" in limiting two-term President Ronald Reagan to three quotations, I seem to have aroused assorted political passions.

While agreeing with Heston, I noted that I am not a "political animal," and that I had voted for the Democratic candidate in every presidential election since (and including) Roosevelt. Also, I wrote, in the last gubernatorial election, I voted for the Peace and Freedom candidate, turning my back on Republican and Democrat alike.

However, if one expresses any political opinion, he is thereby seen as a political animal and subject to appropriate abuse.

"I read your article about not being 'a political person,' " writes Caroline Kinkle of San Marino. (I said animal , not person , not that it matters.)

"When people make that statement," she goes on, "it makes me sad. It is such a privilege to live in America and have the opportunity to work for responsible government and to preserve the Constitution. It is too bad that citizens of this country are so ignorant about decisions that determine their future. . . ."

"I read your column today only because Reagan's name was in the headline," writes Marjorie Beacom of Santa Ana. "I found, of course, only another Reagan-bashing statement from an unbelievably dull columnist. I'm writing because your stupidity appalls me. . . . You vote for Democrats because 'they seem to have better personalities.' Whether or not you know it, you are a Democrat. Only a Democrat would display such shallow reasoning."

Well, as President Harry S. Truman said, "If you can't stand the heat stay out of the kitchen."

"You must be pleased with our current president, Slick Willie," Beacom adds. "What a personality he is. What a tragedy for all of us."

All the same, I'll bet Slick Willie gets more than three quotations in the next edition of Bartlett's (in 2004).

Although Reagan may have been slighted in Bartlett's, he was certainly well represented in another book of quotes.

"If Heston wants to see Reagan quoted," writes Alyson Ross, "he should get a copy of 'The 776 Stupidest Things Ever Said,' by Ross and Kathryn Petras (Doubleday). Mr. Reagan is quoted no less than 23 times."

One of the quotes, "Facts are stupid things," is taken from a speech Reagan gave at a Republican convention and is described as "a misquotation from John Adams." In fact, what Adams said was "Facts are stubborn things." Well, maybe Reagan wasn't misquoting Adams, but making up something stupid on his own.

Not to change the subject, but it would be a grievous oversight not to note that "The 776 Stupidest Things Ever Said" has several quotes from the master of turgid non sequiturs, Dan Quayle.

He once said, "I love California. I grew up in Phoenix." On a visit to Hawaii, he said: "Hawaii has always been a very pivotal role in the Pacific. It is in the Pacific. It is part of the United States that is an island that is right here." Also, "It's a question of whether we're going to go forward into the future or past into the back."

Surely if Quayle had become President, he would have been quoted in Bartlett's more than three times.

Sy Kasoff of North Hollywood comes to the defense of Yogi Berra, the baseball player who shares with Samuel Goldwyn the honor of being the most creative mangler of the language.

Kasoff argues that Berra's line, "It ain't over till it's over," makes perfect sense when you realize that he is talking about baseball, a game that is "open-ended, without time constraints, unlike most other sports. If the score is 42-6 in football and there's only three minutes to play, or four or five, the game is indeed over. . . . But in baseball, ah, how well I remember a game between the old Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox."

Kasoff recalls that going into the top of the ninth, the score was 4-3, Washington. The Senators proceeded to score 10 runs, making it 14-3.

"In the bottom half of the ninth, the first two batters for the Bosox made outs: The game was over. But wait. There was a base hit, and another, a few more, and a couple of runs came in. It's 14-6. Then more of the same--14-8, 14-9, and now it's 14-12, the bases are loaded and Jim Pagliaroni, Boston's weak-hitting catcher, is at the plate. Pags swings mightily . . . and in no time at all the ball sails into the screen atop the left field wall--a grand-slam home run. Final score: Boston, 16-14. And that's what Yogi was talking about."

OK, Yogi, it ain't over till it's over. It was also Yogi who said: "A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."

How true.

Jack Smith's column is published Mondays.

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