Tag Archives: Erma Bombeck

Men Who Have a Thirty-Six-Televised-Football-Games-a-Week-Habit Should Be Declared Legally Dead and Their Estates Probated

Erma Bombeck? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Television is filled with athletic events during the winter holiday season. A hypnotized sports addict could stare at the tube for hours on end. A caustic remark about this behavior was apparently crafted by the humorist Erma Bombeck:

Anybody who watches three games of football in a row should be declared brain dead.

I haven’t been able to locate a solid citation. Is this quotation accurate?

Quote Investigator: Erma Bombeck visited this topic at least five times in her syndicated newspaper column, books, and speeches. None of her statements precisely matched the remark given above, but there was a semantic overlap.

In 1972 Bombeck discussed stressful situations during which individuals talked to themselves. Although this might be considered mentally anomalous conduct she felt that it was sometimes justified. Here were three acceptable scenarios she listed. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The woman standing in the middle of the kitchen asking herself, “If I were car keys, where would I hide?”

The man on the golf course who has just missed a two-inch putt and is the only one who wouldn’t be shocked by his X-rated dialogue.

The woman who is married to a man with a 23-televised-football-games-a-week habit. (It’s even permissible for her to dance with herself.)

In 1973 Bombeck published “I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression”. She began her book with a set of self-revelatory remarks: 2

Before you read this book, there are a few things you should know about me.

I consider ironed sheets a health hazard.
. . .
Renaissance women were beautiful and never heard of Weight Watchers.
. . .
Men who have a thirty-six-televised-football-games-a-week-habit should be declared legally dead and their estates probated.

The above statement provided a substantive match to the expression under examination, but Bombeck did not use the phrase “brain dead”. Also, the criticism was aimed at couch potatoes with more extensive viewing schedules.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1972 May 17, The Daily Reporter, At Wit’s End by Erma Bombeck (Syndicated), Quote Page A16, Column 7, Dover, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1973, I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression by Erma Bombeck, Chapter 1: Ironed Sheets Are a Health Hazard, Quote Page 7, Fawcett Crest Books, New York. (Verified with scans)

Never Go To a Doctor Whose Office Plants Have Died

Erma Bombeck? Paul Dickson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, while sitting in the waiting room of a medical office I noticed that the potted plants were in dire condition. This was a bad omen, and I vaguely recall a joke about this situation. Can you help?

Quote Investigator: The humorist Erma Bombeck wrote a widely syndicated newspaper column called “At Wit’s End” and several best-selling books. In 1975 she published a piece stating that previously she was not a suspicious person, but her viewpoint had changed over the years. She presented several comical remarks about her increasingly cautious outlook. Here were three examples. Emphasis added by QI: 1

Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.
Never trust an optometrist who won’t look you in the eye.
Never frequent beauty shops that don’t have mirrors. They have something to hide. You.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1975 January 7, Pampa Daily News, At Wit’s End by Erma Bombeck, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Pampa, Texas. (Newspapers_com)

The Most Beautiful Word in the English Language Is Benign

Erma Bombeck? Woody Allen? L. M. Boyd? Mark Hatfield? David B. Whitlock? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: If you or a loved one has faced cancer then the following assertion would be understandable:

The most beautiful word in the English language is ‘benign’.

This notion has been attributed to two well-known humorists Erma Bombeck and Woody Allen. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Erma Bombeck included this remark in a newspaper column she wrote in 1991. Woody Allen used this idea in a movie he wrote and directed in 1997. Details are presented further below.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the widely-syndicated column of L. M. Boyd in 1968, but he credited a correspondent named Erna. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I have always maintained (and always will) that the most beautiful word in English is ‘benign’ and the ugliest word is ‘malignant,'” writes a San Francisco girl named Erna.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1968 November 12, The Robesonian, Checking Up by L. M. Boyd, Quote Page 6, Column 6, Lumberton, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)

Insanity Is Hereditary. You Can Get It from Your Children

Sam Levenson? Oscar Levant? W. C. Fields? Helen Gorn Sutin? Dave Berg? Ann Landers? Erma Bombeck? Grace Kelly?

heredity08Dear Quote Investigator: Many parents concur with a very funny quip that reverses the traditional notion of inheritance:

Insanity is hereditary. You get it from your kids.

This joke has been attributed to the newspaper columnist Erma Bombeck, the television host Sam Levenson, and the comedian W. C. Fields. Would you please resolve this ambiguity?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published on April 6, 1961 in an Oklahoma newspaper within a column containing a miscellaneous set of short comical items. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Insanity is hereditary. You can get it from your children.
—Sam Levenson

During the same time period, the syndicated columnist Walter Winchell printed the jest with an identical attribution: 2

Sam Levenson’s merciless truth: “Insanity is hereditary. You can get it from your children!”

During the following years: Oscar Levant employed the joke; Ann Landers and Erma Bombeck placed it in their respective newspaper columns; and Grace Kelly used a variant quip. Nevertheless, QI believes that Sam Levenson should receive credit for this witticism.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1961 April 6, The Ada Weekly News, Strayed From the Heard by Connie Nelson, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Ada, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1961 April 7, San Diego Union, Walter Winchell’s America, Quote Page A16, Column 5, San Diego, California. (GenealogyBank)