I went to dinner with some friends recently, and a guy who has a large brain kept quoting great thinkers of Western Civilization. By the end of the evening, it felt like I’d been sitting next to the editor of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations on a flight from JFK to Singapore … in coach.
He quoted Pascal, Einstein, Aristotle, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Crazy Eddie. Some people didn’t know who Crazy Eddie was and they didn’t care. For that matter, they didn’t care about Pascal or Aristotle as much as the deep thinkers on Twitter and Instagram.
People who drop quotes are worse than name-droppers. Some of them love to quote the Bible, chapter and verse, from Proverbs to Ecclesiastes, Psalms, St. Paul and, of course, Jesus.
One fellow always tells me, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” But I like to judge people, especially pseudo-intellectuals (to quote Woody Allen).
Our conversations go like this:
Me: “My 401(k) is taking a beating. I’ll never retire.”
He: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh.”
Me: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
He: “Consider the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap … nor have retirement plans.”
Me: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future, and a generous 401(k).’”
Quoting the Bible can get you in trouble. Ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who caused an uproar when he quoted St. Paul’s letter to the Romans about obeying the government’s immigration laws. He told the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 12 to obey the laws of the government, because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”
(I know Paul is a saint, but I disagree with him, and he would have thought differently about the government if he lived in Connecticut.)
If Sessions’ run-in with the bishops wasn’t bad enough, Hillary Clinton weighed in on the immigration issue by quoting Matthew 19:14, which leads me to believe that she and the Attorney General may have second careers as biblical scholars.
The only thing worse than reciting Bible verses is using quotes in foreign languages, which is the height of intellectual arrogance — and forces us fools who flunked Latin or French to pretend we know what you’re talking about.
As Cicero said, “O tempora! I mores!” And as Voltaire observed, “Le sens commun n’est pas si commun.”
I’m a man of the people, who prefers quoting Foghorn Leghorn to Cicero: “Boy, I say, Boy. You’re about to exceed the limitations of my medication.” And the Pussycat Dolls, “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”
Some people I know are always quoting Shakespeare and muttering, “To thine own self be true.” Or “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Or “Beware the Ides of March.” Or “The lady dost protest too much, methinks.”
I love the word “methinks” and use it to impress people. “Methinks it will be a hot summer.” “Methinks I’ll cut the lawn.” “Methinks methinks a lot.”
Since I began doing that, people have been looking at me with respect. Methinks it added 50 points to my IQ.
President Trump should start using it, too. His meeting with Kim Jong-un was an occasion for a historic quote worthy Bartlett’s, something like “Methinks nuclear disarmament is a great thing.” To which Kim could have responded, “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”
By the end of our dinner, I realized I could enhance my image by quoting the likes of John Milton, Milton Berle, Abraham Lincoln, JFK and Elmer Fudd, so I went home and selected 10 all-purpose quotations from the Internet and memorized them. I plan to use them when the occasion permits — or doesn’t permit — to impress my boss, my pastor, my dentist, my daughters and my wife.
I even conducted a test run.
Wife: “Would you take out the recyclables please?”
Me: “Ask not what your husband can do for you, ask what you can do for your husband.”
Well that bombed.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.