Thursday, August 03, 2006

Who said this?

Famous sayings get famous in the first place, not because they are worthy of fame, but because they are uttered by famous people……………Ralph Waldo Emerson

As you must have guessed, I made that up. But Ralph Waldo Emerson was perfectly capable of mouthing such pedestrian stuff, by the dozens. Flip through any of those self-help books and you will find a quote by this character, things like “As we grow old, the beauty steals inward” or “A man of genius is privileged only as far as he is genius. His dullness is as unsupportable as any other dullness” and other such mind-blowing nonsense. I suspect that his name “Ralph Waldo Emerson” had such a nice musical ring around it that it lent a stamp of authority to the banality.

Question: When does an ordinary utterance become a ‘saying” and when does it get elevated to the exalted status of a ‘quotation”?

Answer: It doesn’t depend on what has been said. What matters is who has said it.

Take Edmund Hillary. Or was it George Mallory? One of these guys was asked why he wanted to climb Mt Everest and he replied, puffing and panting, “Because it is there”. And this one-liner got reported all over the world. Also, Picasso’s when he said, “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.” What pomposity!

Picasso, the famous artist could pull it off. Imagine that I am tapping away on my keyboard and my wife asks me, “Why do you blog?” and if I were to reply, “ I have seen what could be and asked why not I write?”, she would pack me off to the psychiatrist before I can say, “Sigmund Freud”.

And that smooth-talking Nehru. All that drivel about, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” which gets quoted ad nauseum. Didn’t’ anybody have the elementary sense to tell him, “Old man, there can never be a midnight hour when the whole world can sleep together. There are longitudinal differences and various time zones. So, will you skip this rhetoric and move on with it?”

Don’t get me started on Gandhi. At one time it used to be fashionable for any shop in the country to display the words, “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him” and attribute this to Gandhi. Why should Gandhi have said this? What were his credentials to act as the mouthpiece of all customers? Gandhi, as far as I know, did not purchase a single thing in his life. Even his simple dhoti, he is said to have spun it himself. So, when did he get to see the customer’s perspective? Bah.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson didn’t say, “It is human nature to be carried away by the halo effect- and look for hidden wisdom where it doesn’t exist


Shruthi said...

Priceless, as usual! :))
I have contemplated on this question quite a few times too!
As for "midnight hour, when the world sleeps" -- I can't believe I never caught that! :D

Casement said...

And, Neil Armstrong's 'giant leap for mankind' is never forgotten.

He must've spent hours thinking over what to say after landing!:))

Anonymous said...

That is also the case with some of the films. If a good director makes a movie, it is a common practice to deeply interpret the movie in ways the director himself/herself would not have thought of.


dazedandconfused said...

Funny,and very true!

Usha said...

I guess when you know you are going to be a part of a moment preserved for history ( like casement said above of neil armstrong) I think you might as well think up a good one so you don't blow up your 5 secs of fame. Personally I am a quotes addcit and love the one about climbing the Everest because it is there.But I relate to the humour side of the story too.

dazedandconfused said...

Had to comment again. Just imagine if you or me had said what Keynes said, "In the long run we are all dead."

I would have got bumps, definitely.

The Talkative Man said...

I had a colleague who would launch a monologue on some programming/debugging technique and pompously declare "It's only the tip of the iceberg!".

Everytime, I was tempted to ask "Dude, have you ever seen an iceberg?"

For good measure, he grew up in Jaipur.

Anonymous said...

Nice post.

Couple of clarifications, though:

And that smooth-talking Nehru.

Well, if it were intended to be a pun then you may forget it. Otherwise, Nehru is widely known for his sudden spurt of anger & angry remarks and hence not "smooth-talking Nehru".

Old man, there can never be a midnight hour when the whole world can sleep together. There are longitudinal differences and various time zones. So, will you skip this rhetoric and move on with it?

The statement doesn't say/imply/intended to mean to have midnight for whole world at a particular longitudinal-refrence-free timeframe. What it meant is -- usually whole world sleeps at midnight (i.e. their respective midnight) but India would stay awake (in its) midnight.

tt_giant said...

Nice one!! Enjoyed it.

Agree with Naveen (under anon):
Critical analyses of Robert Frost's poems - we had this in school. I cannot believe how many differnt analyses students could come up with for a single poem!

Guess its left to the observer!

Ram Viswanathan said...

You said it all..

halo-effect and who said more than 'what was said'...

I like you writing style.. enjoyed it..

Anonymous said...

Ghost Particle - May be you are seeing the mirror quite often.

Viky said...

I agree. Totally. And you can trust Times of India to pick the choicest of them quotes, and carry it in the top left corner...

Via Shruthi, and Shastri...

Raj said...

Shruthi : Thanks for the suffix "as usual"

casement : yes, all that nonsense about small steps and giant leaps

d&c : thanks. about Keynes' quote, yes, if we had said it, we would have got strange looks. But keynes did invest so much of meaning into that sentence.

usha : I was also indulging in some 'blasphemous' humour. These quotes have to be appreciated in the context of history.

talkative man, ghost particle, you are talking about 'cliches", not quotes. A separate post follows on cliches

sridhar : Point taken, sir. I was using my humourist licence to debunk Nehru by taking a very literal view.

tt giant : Quotations go through several mutations, I guess.

ram : thanks.

viky : yes, TOI and their inane quotes!