Quote, Unquote…or, I could have said that!

Joe Mc Kay’s “Crazy About Words”
…toasting our language since 2003!

I can’t put the words together as well as he did, so I’ll quote Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Words … so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”

Do you ever wish you might combine your words into bon mots so pithy and perfect that they’d echo for generations off the lips of millions? … like, “Practice makes perfect,” an ancient Latin proverb, first used in the U.S. by John Adams, or “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” (Maya Angelou).

You owe it to yourself to post your well-expressed thoughts on Facebook, or at least on the ‘fridge, the American family’s kiosk for the exchange of wit and wisdom. Who knows what may come of it? To quote Edward Thorndike, American psychologist (1874-1949), “Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall, but wise words endure.”

And Elbert Hubbard, American writer, philosopher and artist (1856-1915), may once have had this taped to his bathroom mirror, “Be pleasant until ten o’clock in the morning and the rest of the day will take care of itself.”

It’s great to keep a diary or journal, where your musings express your passions and pleasures. In this vein, Truman Capote said, “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make.” And Kahlil Gibran noted, “Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.”

The words of others sometimes resonate for us in a personally helpful way, and we use them (with attribution, of course!) as though they were our own. In this category I like, “Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy.” (John Patrick Shanley, author of Doubt); also, “At its core, what holds the world together is love.” (Goethe), and “Travelers, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.” (Antonio Machado, Spanish poet, 1875-1939.)

Some quotes tickle even as they give us pause to think:
“If God had been a liberal, we wouldn’t have had the 10 Commandments…we’d have the 10 Suggestions.” (Malcolm Bradbury) “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” (from "Runnin’ Against the Wind" song by Bohlen & Dieter). And, Maya Angelou again, “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

For pure memorability, you can’t beat this pair: “Our conscience is the only incorruptible thing about us.” (Henry Fielding, 1707-1754, London magistrate, satirist, and creator of the picaresque Tom Jones), and “There is no stronger army in all the world than an idea whose time has come.” (Victor Hugo).

For all the wit and wisdom captured in these quotes, we know words can also be combined to do harm. Bullying is a criminal act. But, when Hamlet, in Act 2, Scene 2, responds, “Words, words, words,” he is reminding Lord Polonius that slanders are only words. As kids, we learned to chime the retort, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Although they can indeed hurt, we must continually remind ourselves that, whatever the intention of words delivered, “Actions speak louder …”

Joe Mc Kay
March 2012

Please feel free to share this monthly column with friends. Comments, questions, or requests for a free subscription are welcome at crazyaboutwords@gmail.com.