Monday, June 14, 2010

The Zinger

All of us, at one time, have wanted to do this: Absolutely and without question crush a heckler with a witticism, an aptly-turned phrase, or a single word.

Sometimes, it happens like this, as Louis Untermeyer records in a little bumper section in The Treasury of Laughter titled “Anecdotes of the Great and Near Great.”

During one of his campaign speeches, Theodore Roosevelt was continually interrupted by a heckler who kept shouting, “I am a Democrat.”

Finally Roosevelt had to do something. With disarming gentleness he inquired, “May I ask the gentleman why he is a Democrat?”

“My grandfather was a democrat,” replied the heckler. “My father was a Democrat, and I am a Democrat.”

“And suppose,” continued Roosevelt, “that your grandfather had been a jackass, and your father had been a jackass, what would you be?”

The heckler shouted back, “A Republican!”


Or, alternately, it’s like this:

Most of the time, however, we all end up sounding like morons. Which is fine, too, since Untermeyer records a few of those for us as well. Like this:

“Gentlemen,” [movie mogul Samuel] Goldwyn is reported to have said at a conference about a scenario, “I’m willing to admit that I may not always be right – but I’m never wrong.”

And this:

[Noah] Webster’s severe choice of words, the discrimination which led him to compile the dictionary, also led to his most quoted distinction.

One day his wife came suddenly into the pantry and found Webster kissing the pretty chambermaid. “Mr. Webster!” exclaimed his wife. “I am surprised!”

“No, my dear,” said Webster, with a reproving smile. “You are astounded. It is I who am surprised.”

Kazango. This might also be among the earliest documented evidence of a grammar nazi deflecting criticism of his own actions by citing a flagrant word use violation by another.

One more, just for fun:

When he was lecturing in Utah, a Mormon acquaintance argued with [Mark] Twain on the question of polygamy. After a long and rather heated discussion, the Mormon said, “Can you find a single passage of Scripture which forbids polygamy?”

“Certainly,” said Twain. “’No man can serve two masters.’”

Thus comes the first contribution of Mormon-themed humor to Untermeyer’s Treasury of Laughter.

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