Wits or Twits?
The Word Nerd
by Howard Richler
At times, it is difficult deciding if one is dealing with a wit or a twit: an example of this can be found in practitioners of what is sometimes known as an “Irish Bull.”
An Irish Bull refers to a statement that defies logic or syntax in some manner, yet manages to be communicative : Two examples are “It was hereditary in his family to have no children,” and “Sure, I’m thin, and you’re thin, but she’s as thin as the two of us put together!” The word “Irish” was not always the preface to these seemingly paradoxical utterances, but the practice was entrenched when Maria Edgeworth wrote Essay on Irish Bulls in 1802. The Irish were supposedly prone to such expressions, due to their garrulousness and penchant for colourful and hyperbolic metaphors. Alternate names for this phenomenon are “Goldwynism” and “Berraism” because of the penchant of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn and ball player Yogi Berra for this type of statement.
Goldwyn is alleged to be the father of the following statements:
A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
Anyone who would go to a psychoanalyst should have his head examined!
Gentlemen, include me out!
If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man alive.
A hospital is no place to be sick.
I can give you a definite perhaps.
We’re overpaying him but he’s worth it.
Don’t talk to me while I’m interrupting.
The scene is dull. Tell him to put more life into his dying.
If Roosevelt were alive, he’d turn over in his grave.
If you fall and break your legs, don’t come running to me.
I never put on a pair of shoes until I’ve worn them five years.
It isn’t an optical illusion. It just looks like one.
Our comedies are not to be laughed at.
A bachelor’s life is no life for a single man.
Yogi Berra learned his métier under New York Yankees’ manager Casey Stengel, who said things like “A lot of people my age are dead at the present time,” and “Good hitting always stops good pitching and vice versa.”
Berra is credited with the following:
Referring to a NY nightclub: Nobody goes there any more; it’s too crowded.
Sometimes you can observe a lot by watching.
Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.
99% of the game is half mental.
When you get to a fork in the road, take it.
It’s like déjà vu all over again, hitters.
It ain’t over till it’s over.
Many people think that Berra would never have said the expression “déjà-vu”, as it wasn’t his kind of language. But Yogi himself claims that he said this in reference to regular home run hitters Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.
Here are other enigmatic gems by a host of commentators:
Always be sincere, even when you don’t mean it.
– Harry S. Truman
Live within your income, even if you have to borrow to do so.
– Josh Billings
Of course I can keep secrets. It’s the people I tell them to that can’t keep them.
– Anthony Haden-Guest
The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.
– W.C. Fields
We must believe in free will. We have no choice.
– Isaac Bashevis Singer
I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?
– Benjamin Disraeli
Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man can never learn anything from history.
– George Bernard Shaw
I always avoid prophesying beforehand because it is much better to prophesy after the event has already taken place.
– Winston Churchill
I am a deeply superficial person.
– Andy Warhol
I can resist everything but temptation.
– Oscar Wilde
Thank God I’m an atheist.
Howard Richler’s latest book is Global Mother Tongue: The Eight Flavours of English.