Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

February 6, 2014

Antanaclasis that’s what!

Filed under: Culture,Humor/satire,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 10:41 am

The part of a journalist’s life we don’t like to talk about involves making phone calls and spending a lot of time sitting at our desks waiting for someone to return them.

For those of us raised with a work ethic, this is profoundly uncomfortable. You feel like you ought to be doing something for the time you are after all getting paid for.

You could go the self-improvement route and read a book, but unless you are pouring over the AP Style Handbook at your desk you look like a slacker. And believe me, a little of the AP goes a long way.

Fortunately we have a productive spare time activity available, and you’re looking at it. We can blog. Furthermore we can cheerfully surf the Internet looking for something to blog about.

Hence antanaclasis.

Antana-what? You well may ask.

Antanaclasis is from the Greek anti meaning “against” or “back,” ana “up,” and klasis “breaking.” In Latin it’s called refractio “rebounding” and it’s a figure of speech in classical rhetoric.

Those things that us writers do are called “figures of speech” and they have names in rhetoric. You can find them over at the Silva Rhetoricae “The Forrest of Rhetoric,” a site maintained by Professor Gideon Burton at Brigham Young University.

I try to spend some time over there every now and again because the subject is fascinating and I like to think it makes me a better writer.

Antanaclasis is defined as, “The repetition of a word or phrase whose meaning changes in the second instance.”

That’s a bit misleading, the second instance in the examples given below are not the same word, but homonyms. A homonym (grammar term) or homophone (same thing to a linguist) sounds the same, but it’s a different word.

“Your argument is sound…all sound.” —Benjamin Franklin (Sound as in “reasonable” versus sound as in “air” or “wind.”)

“In thy youth learn some craft that in thy age thou mayest get thy living without craft.” (“Skill” versus “cunning” or “fraud.”)

In this example the antanaclasis is on the phrase level.

“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.” —Vince Lombardi

Now as I was pondering these delightful examples something occurred to me. There was an exchange in the British Parliament between renowned wit Benjamin D’israeli and his verbal sparring partner William Gladstone. The two of them passed the office of Prime Minister between them for a long time during the 19th century.

Gladstone once said, “Mr. D’israeli will either end his days on the gallows, or of venereal disease.”

“That depends Sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress,” D’israeli replied. (Gladstone never got the better of D’israeli in these exchanges.)

Embrace is used only once in the first part of the sentence and only implied in the second. Furthermore, it’s not a homonym in the first part but a metaphorical or figurative use of the same word used literally in the second part. Embrace meaning “to adopt a position with passionate conviction” versus “to hold in your arms.”

So I thought, is this an antanaclasis?

I got so curious I emailed Professor Burton with the question.

Watch this space for further developments.

Note: This is cross-posted on my professional blog at the Marshall Independent website.

June 5, 2011

A modest proposal: my plan to fix this country

Filed under: Humor/satire,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:09 am

The Anthony Weiner story is the gift that keeps on giving.

Rep. Weiner (D-NY) tweeted/sexted a co-ed and first, pushed the wrong button so it went public, then provided a grateful public with the most delightfully idiotic verbal gyrations as he tries to get out of being caught red… handed without telling lies he could be held legally accountable for. (Such as submitting a false police report.)

I know, I know, “innocent until proven guilty,” it seems like everyone is prefacing their remarks with that these days. Oh puh-lease, he probably hasn’t done anything illegal, at least nothing seriously illegal. He’s just made an…. a fool of himself in public.

Unlike his equally idiotic but less arrogant Republican colleague Rep. Christopher Lee (D-NY) he’s not admitting anything, apologizing for anything, or indicating he’s even thinking of resigning.

Heavy sigh, what are we going to do with these big playful boys who run this country (usually into the ground.)

A while back I suggested my personal plan for term limits.

You altruistic public servants can have three consecutive terms in office.

After one, you have to spend at least an equal amount of time making an honest living before you run for any public office again.

Or, you can have two terms in office. After which you spend an equal amount of time in jail.

Or, you can have three consecutive terms in office, after which we take you out and shoot your sorry ass because you’re hopeless.

I now see I didn’t really go far enough. What we need in this country is a governing class given autocratic power for life, like the enlightened rulers of China that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman endlessly gushes about.

So here’s my revised proposal. We announce that as of the next national election, the winning candidates will serve for life, with no constitutional limits on their powers.

THEN we take them out and shoot them the day they are sworn in – and for good measure, anybody who sought the nominations too.

Notice we’d be keeping the promise – election for life. We don’t have to mention how long that life will be…

After all, a great nation keeps its promises.

March 25, 2011

Sometimes life just hands you a joke…

Filed under: Humor/satire,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 5:12 pm

I went to Fargo yesterday to consult with an ENT my primary care physician referred me to.

Cool side note: my grandfather, who I never met due to him dying before I was born, was an EENT back in the barely post-pioneer days in Oklahoma, when they still had the first “E.” What’s really cool was, decades ago I went to a dentist in Norman, Oklahoma who got to maundering about his first contact with the medical profession, who turned out to be – my grandfather!

I’ve been having a problem with my sinuses since mid-December when I first contracted a strep infection, then went through two courses of antibiotics, and quit a driving job because the damn sinuses just wouldn’t clear up! I cough and sneeze frequently, and produce… never mind you get the picture.

It’s not that it’s horribly painful, it’s that it never goes away. Let me put it this way, if the doc had said, “We’ve got to saw off the front of your skull with a rusty hacksaw and blast out your sinuses with a fire hose,” – I’d have gone for it.

Soooo, I show up for my appointment and the doc turns out to be a Lithuanian hippie.

Now as it happens, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Lithuania with my wife and son. My daughter’s middle name is from out late dear friend Ilona Daukene.

Pleasant chit-chat with the doc, a thorough examination of my head bone cavities, and he writes me a prescription for antibiotics, various expectorants, and nose sprays loaded with steroids. I feel better already, but I won’t be passing any drug tests for the next month or so…

So of course, because I know a few words in Lithuanian, I was able to thank the doc in his native language.

“Thank you” in Lithuanian, is “Atchoo!”

December 23, 2009

Christmas time is hear by golly

Filed under: Humor/satire — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:28 pm

Note: An abbreviated version of this appeared as the Christmas weekend op-ed in the Valley City Times-Record.

Christmas time is here again, and in the words of that great songwriter Tom Lehrer, time to reflect on what we deeply and truly believe in.

Lehrer was referring of course, to money.

“Christmas time is here, by golly,
Disapproval would be folly,
Deck the halls with hunks of holly,
Fill the cup and don’t say “when.”
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens,
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens,
Even though the prospect sickens,
Brother, here we go again.

On Christmas day you can’t get sore,
Your fellow man you must adore,
There’s time to rob him all the more
The other three hundred and sixty-four.

Relations, sparing no expense’ll
Send some useless old utensil,
Or a matching pen and pencil.
“Just the thing I need! how nice!”
It doesn’t matter how sincere it
Is, nor how heartfelt the spirit,
Sentiment will not endear it,
What’s important is the price.

Hark the herald tribune sings,
Advertising wondrous things.
God rest ye merry, merchants,
May you make the yuletide pay.
Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and buy!

So let the raucous sleigh bells jingle,
Hail our dear old friend Kris Kringle,
Driving his reindeer across the sky.
Don’t stand underneath when they fly by.”

It’s difficult to say when the tradition of the Christmas Carol Parody started. In 1955, Don Charles, from Copenhagen, Denmark, recorded a version of “Jingle Bells” sung by barking dogs. It sold a million copies.

In 1958, “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” by Alvin and The Chipmunks (a.k.a. Ross Bagdasarian, a.k.a. Dave Seville,) won three Grammys.

If it weren’t sung funny with interruptions by Dave and Alvin, it would actually be a rather touching carol.

In 1979 Elmo & Patsy released Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer, written by Randy Brooks. Elmo Shropshire, a professional veterinarian and amateur musician, funded the recording out of his own pocket. Which turned out to be a good investment, the record made him a millionaire. In 2002 he released a sequel, “Grandpa’s Gonna Sue the Pants Offa’ Santa,” but lightning doesn’t seem to have struck twice.

In 1939, Robert L. May, an employee of Montgomery Ward, added a ninth reindeer to the canonical eight pulling Santa’s sleigh, as part of an ad campaign. Johnny Marks adapted May’s story into a song which, recorded in 1949 by cowboy star Gene Autry made recording history by hitting number one on the charts on Christmas week – and falling entirely off the charts the week after.

Since then, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer has been the inspiration for many a pun and parody. Notable among those that actually made it onto vinyl was, “Leroy the Redneck Reindeer,” by Joe Diffie, released in 1995.

Fertile ground for parody is the Christmas tradition of, “Complaining About the Commercialization of Christmas.”

In 1958, Stan Freberg released, “Green Chri$tma$” a satirical dialog between Ad agency president, Mr. Scrooge, and spice shop owner, Bob Cratchit.

Scrooge addresses a group of clients about tying their products into Christmas. Cratchit wants to send his customers cards with a picture of the Three Wise Men and the message, “Peace on Earth.”

“And they’re bearing your spices, right?” Scrooge says.

Turns out Cratchit just wants to remind them of, “whose birthday we’re celebrating.”

But what carol compares when commemorating commercialization of Christmas than, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”?

Allan Sherman, who with Tom Lehrer proved that not only are the best Christmas songs written by Jews, but the best parodies as well, recorded “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas” in 1964.

“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a Japanese transistor radio.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Green polka-dot pajamas,
And a Japanese transistor radio.
(It’s a Nakashuma.)
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A calendar book with the name of my insurance man,
Green polka-dot pajamas,
And a Japanese transistor radio.
(It’s the Mark IV model. That’s the one that’s discontinued.)
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A simulated alligator wallet,
A calendar book with the name of my insurance man,
Green polka-dot pajamas,
And a Japanese transistor radio.
(And it comes in a leatherette case with holes in it,
so you can listen right through the case.)
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A statue of a lady, with a clock where her stomach ought to be,
A simulated alligator wallet,
A calendar book with the name of my insurance man,
Green polka-dot pajamas,
And a Japanese transistor radio.
(And it has a wire with a thing on one end that you
can stick in your ear, and a thing on the other end
that you can’t stick anywhere, because it’s bent.)
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A hammered aluminum nutcracker,
And all that other stuff,
And a Japanese transistor radio.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A pink satin pillow that says San Diego, with fringe all around it,
And all that other stuff,
And a Japanese transistor radio.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
An indoor plastic birdbath,
And all that other stuff,
And a Japanese transistor radio.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A pair of teakwood shower clogs,
And a Japanese transistor radio.
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A chromium combination manicure scissors and cigarette lighter,
And a Japanese transistor radio.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
An automatic vegetable slicer that works when you see it on television,
but not when you get it home,
And a Japanese transistor radio.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, although it may seem strange,
On the twelfth day of Christmas, I’m going to exchange:
An automatic vegetable slicer that works when you see it on television,
but not when you get it home,
A chromium combination manicure scissors and cigarette lighter,
A pair of teakwood shower clogs,
An indoor plastic birdbath,
A pink satin pillow that says San Diego, with fringe all around it,
A hammered aluminum nutcracker,
A statue of a lady, with a clock where her stomach ought to be,
A simulated alligator wallet,
A calendar book with the name of my insurance man,
Green polka-dot pajamas,
And a Japanese transistor radio.
Merry Christmas everybody!”

In 1996, Jeff Foxworthy evoked the joy of simple things with, “The Twelve Redneck Days of Christmas,” receiving:
“12 pack of bud
11 wrestlin’ tickets
Tin a’ Copenhagen
9 years probation
8 table dancers
7 packs of Redman
6 cans of spam
5 flannel shirts
4 big mud tires
3 shot gun shells
2 huntin’ dogs
and some parts to a Mustang GT!”

You can’t keep a good redneck down. Merry Christmas y’all.

December 17, 2009

The magic wand and the club; a political fable

Filed under: Humor/satire,Politics — Tags: , , — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:43 am

Note: My weekend op-ed. I’ve been working on this little fable for about 10 years now. This is the final form (I hope.)

“Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is force, and like fire, a dangerous servant and a terrible master.”
–George Washington

Two brothers were walking through a dark forest one day, when they came upon an object lying on the path. It was a length of polished hardwood, about as long as your arm and half as thick as your wrist.

The older brother picked it up and said, “It’s a billy club. Someone must have dropped it.”
This was an understandable conclusion, because the forest was very dark and gloomy, with many robbers and wild animals.

“No it isn’t,” cried the younger, “it’s a magic wand!”

“Here,” said the older brother, “try it out and see for yourself. Do some magic.”

The younger brother took the object and shouted, “I wish you’d stop contradicting me!” and hit his older brother on the head with it, who fell stunned.

“See, it works!” the boy shouted jubilantly.

Now in possession of the magic wand and determined to do good to all the poor and unfortunate people of the kingdom, the boy set off to town. The first person he met was a crippled beggar.

“Here,” he said, “I can fix you,” and tapped the beggar on the head.

“Ouch!” yelped the beggar. “Stop that and leave me alone!”

“Hold still you ungrateful wretch!” said the boy and tapped again. And again, harder and harder as the beggar begged, not for alms, but for the boy to stop hitting him.

“Hmmm, that didn’t work,” said the boy to himself. “Perhaps I need to tap harder.”

Well, it wasn’t too long before the beggar stopped complaining altogether.

“I wonder why the magic wand didn’t work on him?” thought the boy. “Perhaps a small wand wasn’t up to such a big job.”

Just then the boy spied a baseball bat lying on the ground…

By now you will have realized this is a fable about two different ways people see government: as a magic wand, or a club. Two views that in one form or another, lie behind all our political differences.

Both sides see the same thing. They differ in their opinion of what it is and what can be done with it. One side sees a tool for the use of power, dangerous even in best of hands. The other sees a cornucopia of all good things, when in the right hands.

A club is a useful instrument for a limited number of purposes that revolve around hitting people, or threatening to hit people. It can be very versatile in the ways you can hit with it, depending on whether you wish to do serious harm or merely get someone to do something, or stop doing something. This is called “pain compliance” in use-of-force training. And it’s why police still carry clubs, man’s oldest weapon, alongside modern firearms.

Likewise, a government is a handy thing to have around to discourage foreigners who want your country or criminals who want your wallet, and to enforce court decisions so they mean something more than, “Pretty please do this.”

But a club is not much use when you want to heal the sick, uplift the poor, cultivate the arts and sciences, or educate youth. (Though some teachers might disagree.)

To accomplish these worthwhile things, you need the willing cooperation of free men – or a magic wand.

That’s the simplest way of looking at political differences. And of course, people’s views are most often mixed. Everybody believes in magic at least a little.

But it’s a difference that matters. Because after all, there are such things as clubs.

Note: all events and persons depicted in this fable are entirely real, and bear a startling resemblance to quite a few individuals, living and dead, and their plans to put the world to rights. However the author wishes to assure readers that no big brothers or beggars were harmed in the making of this fable.

October 18, 2009

Take the jab!

Filed under: Humor/satire — Stephen W. Browne @ 2:37 pm

I’m sitting at home writing this, with a temperature of 101 and diffuse aches throughout my body. I’m cold, in spite of layers of thermal underwear. My head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton wool and my throat feels like it’s been swabbed with sandpaper. And though I’m not coughing much, when I do it feels like two guys with baseball bats have laid into both sides of my lower ribs simultaneously.
In other words, I have the flu.

What’s worse, I have no excuse for it. A few weeks ago I covered a drive-through flu innoculation our city/county health personel put on at the county highway department barn. How difficult would it have been to pay the fee and get the jab myself?

Well, maybe I didn’t want to spend the money, and maybe I’m kind of chicken about shots.

Apparently lots of people are, our City/County Health director said while the event went very well as a preparedness exercise, turnout was disappointing.

I guess the joke’s on me. I had to spend the money and get blood drawn anyway.

Not that that did any good. My doctor said everything was normal in my bloodwork, which simply ruled out a number of other things I didn’t have and confirmed what I knew already. It’s flu.

So I said, “Bed rest, plenty of fluids…”

“That’s right,” he replied, “everything your grandmother would have told you. And, don’t take anti-fever medication unless it gets above 102. Fever fights infection.”

That’s one of the reasons my father, a retired physician, says medical services are overused in America.

“Things that used to be treated with a mother’s kiss are taken to the emergency room these days,” is how he put it.

So now I’ve paid the co-pay to confirm what I already knew, and done my bit to raise the insurance premiums of my co-workers next time around.

In the meantime, I can’t hug my kids (and I could use a hug right now,) I can’t kiss my wife (and she’s going to kill me if she gets sick while the play she’s in is running,) and while nausea is one of the symptoms thankfully absent, nothing really tastes good either.

So do yourself, your family, and your co-workers a favor and take the jab!

July 5, 2009

Anybody notice this?

Filed under: Humor/satire,Media bias,Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 3:53 pm

This is the Doonesbury strip from July 1.

Mother Boopsie says, “See how many female protestors there are? That’d be impossible in most Arab societies. Images like that are incredibly empowering to gals all over the Middle East.”

Daughter remarks, “Arab girls need empowering.”

First of all, let me say that I agree whole heartedly.

It almost makes me regret what I’m about to do to Gary Trudeau.

I’ve been following Doonesbury on and off since near the beginning. More off than on these days I’m afraid. Since Gary Trudeau became more a social commentator than a cartoonist he’s been preachy, snide, and to put it baldly – either a liar or woefully ignorant of history.

He recently identified waterboarding as the same torture practices used by the Spanish Inquisition and the Japanese in WWII – a lie. Whether you excuse the practice of waterboarding by American interrogators or not, the fact is the torture techniques used by the Inquisition and the Japanese are similar only insofar as they use water.

But the worst sin of all is – he’s not funny anymore. At least not as much or as often as he used to be.

As an Okie, I still treasure his hilarious take on the Oklahoma county commissioners scandal, lo these many years ago.

“Say, you’re Emma Doonesbury’s boy ain’t you? Well, we just want you to know your Uncle Henry is a good ‘ol boy who always took care of his people.”

“Thanks, I appreciate that,” Uncle Henry replies.

“Say Henry, do you think you could do my driveway afore you goes to jail?”

So it’s with a certain “gotcha” feeling that I have to point out to Mr. Trudeau, IRANIANS ARE NOT ARABS YOU TWIT.

And furthermore, I am gobsmacked that anyone who has been so loud about his opinions on the war on terror (silly term though it is) and the Iraq strategy thereof, wouldn’t know that.

March 31, 2009

Putin visits Washington, gets refrigerator magnets

Filed under: Humor/satire,News commentary,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:45 pm

From the Valley City-Times-Record, Wednesday, April 1.

In a historic first, the likes of which Washington has not seen since “Gorbymania” during the Reagan administration, Prime Minister of the Russian Republic Vladimir Putin made a historic visit to the United States to discuss spheres of influence in Europe and the Middle East with President Barack Obama.

Putin presented Obama with a priceless Faberge egg from the collection in the Russian National Museum, “As a symbol of the historic ties between our two nations which were, with a slight interlude of tension between the 1950s and 1980s, the most uniformly friendly of any between two such powerful nations, from the founding of the United States through the Second World War,” Putin said.

Only 69 of the eggs were made by Peter Carl Faberge and his assistants, as gifts for members of the Russian royal family between 1885 and 1917. The eggs are made of precious metals decorated with enamel and gem stones and open to reveal cunningly fashioned models, such as miniature royal carriages and other designs.

The term “Fabergé egg” has become a synonym for luxurious opulence, and the eggs are regarded as masterpieces of the jeweler’s art.

Obama presented Putin with a set of White House refrigerator magnets and autographed copies of his books, “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream” and, “Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.”

Putin offered to extend the treaty of 1867 which ceded Alaska to the United States.

Obama politely refused and told Putin could take it home with him, and would like the purchase price refunded.

“As Mr. Putin knows, we’ve got a bit of a budget crunch theses days,” Obama said, “and as conservatives are harping on the necessity of cutting spending, it makes sense to cut loose a state that has always absorbed more federal revenue than it produces.”

Saturday Night Live alumnus Tina Fey commented, “Now Sarah Palin can see Russia from her house, you betcha!”

Alaska’s Governor Palin, who has been touted as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012, was unavailable for comment.

A presidential aid unofficially apologized to the Chief of Protocol of the Russian delegation for putting Putin up in the D.C. Super 8 motel, and explained that Barbara Streisand was using the Lincoln Bedroom this week.

May 19, 2008

Dialog: Left and Right

Filed under: Humor/satire,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:36 pm

Since I’ve been accused of being a Right-winger and a Conservative (though I must have missed it when that went from being a description of a political position to high crimes and misdemeanors) I thought I should find a representative Left-winger to have a civilized discussion on the problems and issues we face today, and see where we might find common ground.

I thought that we might at least define what the issues are so we could actually agree on the terms of the discussion. I’ve asked a journalist from the Main Stream Media to act as moderator and comment afterwards.

MSM Moderator: Mr. Browne, please open with your first point. The representative of the Left-Wing will rebut.

SB: First of all, I don’t like the terms ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ or even ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ much. The former originally referred to the seating arrangements in the French parliament where the revolutionary Jacobins sat on the left side, and the supporters of the monarchy and aristocracy sat on the right.

As for the latter, only in America does it make sense to define ‘conservative’ as ‘defender of traditional liberty.’ In Europe, conservative once meant something far closer to ‘royalist.’

Note that after the fall of the Soviet Union, the media started referring to old-line Communists as “Conservatives.”

In Europe, I would call myself a Liberal, but in the US the term has come to mean something like what the English call a Fabian Socialist.


SB: Now there’s an example of the confusion of terms I was talking about. Fascism, as defined by Mussolini, is a variety of Socialism that might be called “National Greatness Socialism.”

Il Duce considered himself a Socialist till the day he died (with one of his comrades screaming at the firing squad, “Long live Mussolini! Long live Socialism!”)

The old Italian Fascist program contained a great many planks later co-opted by so-called Social Democrats such as: old-age pensions, women’s suferrage, etc.

In fact, most people who use the term pejoratively could not name a single plank of the Fascist platform – Mussolini’s or the present-day Italian party, and mean by it no more than, “Political position I really don’t like.”


SB: Now there’s another great misconception. Nazi is an anagram from Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei which means National Socialist German Workers’ Party. That hardly sounds Right-wing, wouldn’t you agree?

National Socialism, like Fascism, is a non-Marxist variety of Socialism that held that the “natural” unit of a nation-state, consists of enough territory to contain all the natural resources necessary for their economy. It is Right-wing only in relation to the farther-Left Communist Party.

This was ridiculous even in the 1930s when the world was far less interconnected than today.

The Nazis also combined it with “eugenics,” a popular pseudo-science of the day that combined a complete mis-interpretation of Darwin’s theories with an ethnocentric doctrine of racial superiority.


SB: I utterly fail to see how philosophical Individualism, that demands that all men and women be treated, whenever possible, as individuals and judged solely on their character, as expressed in their demeanor, words, actions and accomplishments, can be construed as racist.

Racism, in the words of Ayn Rand, is “the crudest, most primitive form of collectivism” and the exact antithesis of Individualism and Classical Liberalism.


SB: Actually I’m an agnostic.


MSM: Well that concludes our discussion. As you can see, the representative of the Left demolished all of the pathetic arguments advanced by the so-called “Classical Liberal” racist bigot, with acerbic wit, humor and impeccable scholarship.

Case closed.

December 17, 2007

Famous Last Words

Filed under: Humor/satire,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 5:07 am

Last night I stayed up entirely too late, absorbed in Paul Johnson’s book ‘Heroes’, of which I will write more anon.

The book was worth the price of admission if only for reminding me of the reply Lord Lovat gave to a heckler while being conveyed to his execution.

Lord Lovat was a Scots noble who came out for the Bonnie Prince in The ’45. (That is, he sided with the Stuart pretender Charles Edward Stuart when he attempted to wrest the throne of England and Scotland from the House of Hanover in 1745.) Lord Lovat became the last noble to be executed in the Tower of London shortly thereafter.

While on his way to the execution ground, an old woman shouted from the crowd, “They’re going to hang you, ye old Scotch dog!”

He replied, “I believe they are, you old English bitch.”

One of my hobbies is collecting historical examples of snappy comebacks and famous last words.

Everyone knows Winston Churchill’s great comeback to, “Winston Churchill, you are horribly drunk.”

“Madam, you are horribly ugly. But in the morning I shall be sober.”

But only real aficionados of the comeback know the one from a conversation between a Roman matron and a woman of then-Celtic Gaul around the first or second century AD.

The Roman matron charged that Celtic women were, well – sluts.

The Celtic woman replied, “Our customs are more in accordance with the laws of nature than yours. For we consort openly with the best of men, while you debauch yourselves in secret with the vilest.”

Lord Lovat’s utterance falls in both categories, snappy comebacks and famous last words.

Another example might be Ethan Allen on his deathbed. Allen was a militant atheist, and when a doctor tried to comfort him thus, “General, I fear the angels are waiting for you.”

He replied, “Waiting are they? Waiting are they? Well damn them let ’em wait!”

We love last words that show courage and class and inspire us to believe that we too might die well, no matter what the circumstances.

Who could forget the Viking warrior who, when struck near the heart with an arrow, pulled it out, looked at it and said, “My king has been good to me, there is much fat around my heart roots.”

And some can move you to tears. The sweet and unaffected goodness of Marie Antoinette for example. As she mounted the scaffold to the guillotine, she accidentally stepped on the foot of the executioner and said, “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur.”

Equally touching is the story of John Jacob Astor, at the time the richest man in the world.

After an apparently messy divorce, Astor 46, married an 18-year-old woman named Madeline. Because this was a public scandal they took a two-year holiday abroad to let things cool down a little. But when Madeline became pregnant they decided to return to New York.

Unfortunately they booked passage aboard the Titanic.

After the Titanic hit the iceberg, the Astors were about to board one of the last remaining lifeboats when John Jacob saw a woman approaching.

He turned to his wife and said, “The ladies have to go first. . . . Get in the lifeboat, to please me. . . . Good-bye, dearie. I’ll see you later.”

Courage and class indeed!


After Paul Johnson reminded me of Lord Lovat’s bon mot, I googled “famous last words” and found this treasure of a site, ‘Last Words’:

It is divided into: fictional last words, real last words, epitaphs, farewells, and last stands.

Check it out.

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