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Apt Phrases Live On - But Not Always Quoted Correctly


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I will be on vacation this week - a diversion that causes my grandchildren to fall on the floor laughing. They believe I am on permanent vacation in Florida. Inasmuch as I write this column in advance of my usual deadline for current events, which might change direction suddenly, I respond instead to questions from readers about recent quotations. Friend C. J. , asks me to explain the phrase “all of a sudden" used in a news story. He says he doesn't know what is “part of a sudden. "

My dog-eared Dictionary of Americanisms, published by the University of Chicago, devotes a page to the colloquial use of “all" as a modifier making other words emphatic.

Examples are “I'm all in, " “He's all right, " “All together now, " and “Kids play all day. " The latter is often made doubly emphatic, as in “all day long. "

Davy Crockett is quoted as declaring in 1840: “I was rigged all-a-tanto" - the latter word being a bugle call for swift pace.

There are several degrees of suddenly: abruptly, instantly, twinkling, immediately, presto, and the ever-popular “all at once. "

Thus we find that “all" is the lazy communicators’ refuge from an inadequate vocabulary - a defect that does not afflict C. J. and therefore is a puzzle to him.

* * *
George, my E-mail respondent, wants an explanation of “panty waists. " Following is my reply: Obviously you are a lexicographer (Gr. lexikographos). I am pleased that you appreciate colorful language. After 60 years as a word smith, I am bored by pusillanimous phrases. The word “panty-waist" is a common colloquialism - or was until johnny-come-lately talking heads glommed onto TV and stifled us with clichés. Internet may be the last bastion of intellectuals.

"Pantie" has been a pejorative at least since 1845 when the Knickerbocker Papers opined: “If your panties weren't sheeted home at the bottom, you'd out-jump a monkey. "

"Panty-waist" is a lower undergarment only. Men and boys in my youth relied on BVDs covering the torso, upper arms, and upper thighs. A “trap door" - not sheeted at the bottom - accommodated natural contingencies.

Roget's Thesaurus lists panty-waist as one of the synonyms for “weakling: softy, jelly fish, big baby, chicken, milk-toast, sop, namby-pamby, mollycoddle, cream puff, push-over, light-weight, doormat, droop, effeminate, and sissy. " In my opinion, each of these, singly and collectively, described liberal Congresses and the United Nations during the 1980s. I hope you agree - if not, then that you've been titillated by my glottologic gambit.

* * *
Friend A. B. chides me for not mentioning President John F. Kennedy's inaugural challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. " Kennedy's speech writer, Historian John Kenneth Galbraith, stole the line from President Warren Harding. In a speech to the Republican national convention June 7, 1916, Harding declared: “We must have a citizenship less concerned about what the government can do for it, and more anxious about what it can do for the nation. "

Harding stole the line from Le Baron Russell Briggs, who wrote in the 1914 magazine College Life: “The youth who loves his Alma Mater will always ask, not ‘What can she do for me?’ but ‘What can I do for her?'"

Briggs stole the line from a speech by Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. , before a Grand Army of the Republic convention May 30, 1884: “We pause to recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return. "

Galbraith once said, “Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory. "

* * *
Avid sports fan S. C. challenges Coach Red Sanders as my source for the statement: “Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. " S. C. says it was Vince Lombardi.

According to Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Sanders said it in 1953 as I quoted. Lombardi said it differently in a 1962 interview: “Winning isn't everything, but wanting to win is. "

* * *
While I'm on sport quotes, I might as well set the record straight about Yogi Berra's comment on the 1973 National League pennant race: “It ain't over ‘til its over. "

This is a variant of an old southern adage: “Church ain't out ‘til the fat lady sings. " TV newscaster Daniel Cook in 1978 rendered it as: “The opera ain't over ‘til the fat lady sings. "

* * *
Sir Winston Churchill did not say in 1940 “I have nothing to offer but blood, sweat and tears. " The correct quote is: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. " This is a variation of a similar sentence he wrote in 1931 about the armies of the Russian czar: “Their sweat, their tears, their blood bedewed the endless plain. "

The phrasing was well known from earlier sources.

The English poet John Donne wrote in 1611: “Mollify it with thy tears, or sweat, or blood. "

George Byron, another English poet, wrote in 1823: “Year after year, they voted cent for cent - blood, sweat and tear-wrung millions. "

July 21, 1996


The Democratic National Committee has proposed a great way to raise campaign money. For $130,000 (no kidding) you can sleep at the White House in the Lincoln bed.

With whom?

* * *
Never sleep with anybody crazier than yourself.
* * *
Victor Borge says Santa Claus has the right idea - visit people once a year.

Lindsey Williams is a Sun columnist who can be contacted at: or

Website: with over a thousand of Lin's Editorial & At Large articles written over 40 years.

Also featured in its entirety is Lin's groundbreaking book “Boldly Onward, " that critically analyzes and develops theories about the original Spanish explorers of America. (fully indexed/searchable)


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