Letters: Warren Buffett, Road Tripping
NEAL CONAN, host:
It's Tuesday, the day we read from your e-mails.
We talked last week about Warren Buffett's decision to donate some $30 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. During the discussion, the question of oversight and transparency came up.
Mary Bratten(ph) e-mailed from New York City to complain. I cannot believe that such generosity is being questioned and analyzed. It's their money. They can do what they want with it. That they chose to do some good in the world is to be lauded, not shot at.
Last Thursday, on the 50th anniversary of the interstate highway system in this country, we took some time to reflect on America's love affair with the road. Patty Gray(ph) is a listener in Alaska. I cannot imagine American life without the interstate, she wrote. I tend to feel surly toward it when the interstates veer too closely to where I live and when they're snarled with traffic. But I mostly feel as if my life has been a love affair with the interstate highway. I'm getting chills of ecstasy just remembering some of the moments when a gigantic harvest moon was rising over the Utah desert or a wild storm was raging over the Kansas prairie. These are transformative moments, and they are unique to the wide open interstate.
All that concrete, though, is a bit much for listener Thad Weekly(ph). He e-mailed from Ann Arbor, Michigan to tell us, Too much focus is often given to more lanes, more pavement, and more miles. For 50 years we've built almost everything for the motor vehicle. This has left us smoggy cities, clogged arterial roads and arteries, and horrendous land use building practices. Much more attention needs to be given to sustainable transportation - bicycling, walking, train and bus - all of which have become much more difficult with the interstate.
On Wednesday we talked about the English language and how its changing, especially online, which elicited this observation from Margaret Middleton(ph) in Little Rock, Arkansas. One of my favorite T-shirt slogans reads: English does not borrow words from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, mugs them, and rifles their pockets for loose grammar.
And last Monday I cited a quotation which I attributed to P.T. Barnum. Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Well, it turns out it wasn't Barnum, and Ralph Keyes caught it, as well he should. He's the author of the just published book, The Quote Verifier, which examines the roots of some 450 such sayings, ranging from ain't I a woman, to show me the money.
So we've called him on it. We reached Ralph Keyes at his home near Dayton, Ohio, and thanks very much for being with us today.
Mr. RALPH KEYES (Author): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: So it wasn't P.T. Barnum?
Mr. KEYES: It was not.
Mr. KEYES: It was H.L. Mencken.
CONAN: H.L. Mencken. Well, I had somebody beginning with two letters for their name.
Mr. KEYES: Very close.
CONAN: I understand that a lot of loose floating quotes get attributed to either H.L. Mencken or P.T. Barnum.
Mr. KEYES: Yes, I call them flypaper figures. Like Lincoln, Twain, Shaw, Churchill, Wilde. These are people to whom orphan quotes stick.
CONAN: And orphan quotes, these are people, orphan quotes, these are sayings that people think are incredibly clever and therefore must have come from the likes of Mark Twain.
Mr. KEYES: Exactly. Something like, winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.
CONAN: Who said that?
Mr. KEYES: Obviously Vince Lombardi must have said that. We've all heard of him.
Mr. KEYES: But it was actually Red Sanders(ph), a coach at UCLA in the early '50s who originated that one. But who's heard of Red Sanders?
CONAN: Well, in your e-mail you mention another well-known line, a bit more contemporary. The movie Jerry McGuire has to be the source of show me the money.
Mr. KEYES: Well, of course. It's in there.
Mr. KEYES: And Cameron Crowe is the screenwriter for Jerry McGuire, and Bartlett's actually attributes Cameron Crowe with having coined that. It's even on their back jacket.
But there are a lot of databases now where you can enter key words and they'll take you back to early newspapers and early magazines. I did that, and I found show me the money was early boxer parlance in the early 20th century. For example, in 1907, when he was asked if he'd fight Jack Johnson, the heavyweight Tommy Burns said, Show me the money! Show me the money and I'll fight, if its enough!
CONAN: He came to regret that.
Mr. KEYES: Oh, yes. With Jack Johnson.
(Soundbite of laughter)
But that catch phrase, show me the money, it's a century old, at least.
CONAN: This is Independence Day. Are there any misattributed famous quotations from the American Revolution? I mean, surely Patrick Henry did say, give me liberty or give me death?
Mr. KEYES: Unfortunately, he didn't.
Mr. KEYES: Yeah. There's a guy named William Wirt(ph) who was a biographer, very flowery, very willing to put words in his subjects' mouths. And when he wrote a biography of Patrick Henry, he put give me liberty or give me death in Henry's mouth.
Now, Henry was supposed to have said that at a convention in Virginia in March, 1775. Jefferson and Washington were both present at that convention, and neither of them ever remembered Henry having made that, you know, momentous declaration.
CONAN: Haven't you ever heard of the journalistic principle of a story too good to check? Aren't there quotes too good to check?
Mr. KEYES: Somebody think - some people think Twain said that.
CONAN: Ralph Keyes, thanks very much.
Mr. KEYES: Thank you.
CONAN: Ralph Keyes is the author of The Quote Verifier: Who Said That, Where and When. He joined us from his home near Dayton, Ohio.
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This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Happy Fourth of July, everybody. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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