Where I Ruminate on the Joy of a Good Witty Quote


I am a collector of witty and pithy quotes, epigrams, aphorisms, and one-liners. This hobby is an occupational hazard for a preacher, but I took to it long before I ever went to seminary. Being theologically educated gave me a huge stock of quotes from sacred Scripture, only to discover, as my Dad once said about Shakespeare’s plays, “It’s just a bunch of well-known sayings strung together.

For fun I sometimes browse through one of my several editions of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

One of my early influences may have been Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, whose penchant for unintended (or is it?) paradox makes him a master of this genre.Some of my favorite Yogisms: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it,”“You can observe a lot by watching, ” and “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”Of course, like Samuel Johnson, Mark Twain, and the prolific Anonymous, Yogi may be credited with things he actually never said.Or as he, himself, once admitted, “I didn’t really say everything I said.”

Yogi learned from Casey Stengel, the long-time manager of the Yankees, who had some pretty quotable lines himself, such as “Don’t cut my throat, I may want to do that later myself,” and the immortal, “Being with a woman all night never hurt no professional baseball player. It’s staying up all night looking for a woman that does him in.”

Sometimes a phrase captures the humor or irony in a situation better than a full-blown description.When I started my first ministry in a city after being a country parson, I had several seasons of being taken advantage of by various professional indigents before I learned how to screen them properly. If one of them caught me in a generous mood, I could count on seeing three of his colleagues the next day with equally pressing needs. I came home one night, and my wife inquired about my day and my ministry, and I said,in frustration, “No good deed goes unpunished.”I just Googled that to find that it is attributed to Clare Booth Luce, but like many of these, it was floating around in the ether.

Here are some other favorites of mine:

Oscar Wilde, “I can resist anything but temptation,” and “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.”

Dorothy Parker:“If you want to know what God thinks about money, just look at the people he gave it to,” and “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.”

Mark Twain, “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back when it begins to rain,” and “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”

James Thurber, “Why do you have to be a nonconformist like everybody else,” and “He knows all about art, but he doesn’t know what he likes.”

Woody Allen: “Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends,” and “I was thrown out of college for cheating on my metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.”

Groucho Marx, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read,” and “I don’t want to belong to a club that will accept me as a member.”

Steven Wright:“You can’t have everything.Besides, where would you put it?” and “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.”

Well, I could, and usually do, go on, but I’ll end with one from the ever-quotable Dr. Samuel Johnson, who once wrote, “Every quotation contributes something to the stability or enlargement of the language.”

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