Wit and Wisdom from the Past
February 29, 2012
Warren Buffett, the “oracle of Omaha,” has a punched ticket for succinct and clever word usage, whether spoken or written. People hang on ‘em, often investing accordingly.
A 19-year-old when he graduated at the University of Nebraska, he wrote short Burma-Shave poems, thus helping with expenses and gaining experience early-on for both brevity and humor.
Recently, he pointed to frequent investment errors. But with a personal fortune of $44 billion, the good-natured philanthropist glides past the positive purchases that solidify his renown in financial circles. Admitting his housing investment timing was premature, he quipped, “Basic biology makes it unavoidable that the country will need more houses. People may postpone ‘hitching up’ during uncertain times, but eventually, hormones take over. And while ‘doubling up’ may be the initial reaction of some during a recession, living with in-laws can quickly lose its allure.”
Until the early 1960’s, the printed word on simple Burma-Shave signs tacked to fence posts produced smiles. For almost four decades, travelers kept eyes out for the ditties, usually 15 words, two or three on each of six sign boards.
Public safety and common sense were promoted–along with the brushless shaving cream.
An example: “Car in Ditch/Driver in Tree/ Moon was Full/ And so/Was He/Burma-Shave.”
Such signs wouldn’t stand a chance in today’s “varoom/varoom” culture. Too many people going too fast engaged in too much.
I still watch for clever local ads, low budget jobs not to be compared with Super Bowl spiels that lambast like two pirate ships after the same bullion. The former make us smile; the latter make us numb.
Some local efforts are borne of enlightened self-interest.
I spotted one on the back of a sewage removal vehicle, probably a “fleet” of one. The truck, several years old, had a new paint job, maybe the pride of the owner-driver.
Block letters on the back provided fair warning: “BACK OFF. WE AIN’T HAULING WHIPPED CREAM.”
I wonder what message might have been on the sides to alert others at intersections.
Here’s a bumper sticker gem: “Genealogist—I collect dead relatives.” In smaller type, the second line reads: “I live in the past lane.”
What people say today, orally or on paper, has short shelf life. What little is quoted fades fast.
Billy Crystal delivered multiple chuckles during the 84th Academy Awards, but I’m hard-pressed to remember specifics.
Most clever quotes surviving time’s test are attributed to deceased individuals. And sometimes, even the “originals” turn out to be re-treads.
How’s about these favorites? “He had delusions of adequacy.” – Walter Kerr. “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”—Winston Churchhill. “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”—William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway). “I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here.”—Stephen Bishop. “I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.”—Irvin S. Cobb. “He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.”—Samuel Johnson.
Also, “He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.”—Paul Keating. “He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.”—Forrest Tucker. “Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?”—Mark Twain. “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.”—Mae West. “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.”—Oscar Wilde. “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses light posts—for support rather than illumination.”—Andrew Lang. “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”—Groucho Marx.
For many decades, the Abilene Reporter-News ran a Lord Byron quote under its name on page one. It read: “Without or with offense to friends or foes, we sketch your world exactly as it goes.”
It was a worthy goal with noble intent. What with social media bloating our cornucopia of news sources, the bar is lowered. How about “approximate sketches?”
Sometimes, though, clearest messages are conveyed without words. Silence is golden in The Artist, a black and white film that won five academy awards, almost totally without dialog.
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com. He is the author of When the Porch Light’s On …