Tag Archives: Robert Byrne

Love Triangles Generally Turn Out To Be Wrecktangles

Jacob M. Braude? Robert Byrne? Sally’s Sallies? Mary Pettibone Poole? Bob Burns? Jimmie Fidler? Anonymous?

triangle11Dear Quote Investigator: I love terrible puns and the following is a great example: 1

Most love triangles are wrecktangles.

The quotation collector Robert Byrne included this statement in “The 2,548 Wittiest Things Anybody Ever Said” with an attribution to Jacob Braude. Would you please tell me more about its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Jacob M. Braude published a large number of compilations of sayings, quotations, and anecdotes. In 1955 he placed an instance with a slightly different phrasing into one of his books, and a detailed citation is given further below. However, this form of wordplay has a much longer history.

In 1866 “wreck-tangle” was used in the maritime realm instead of the domain of amour. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

How can you describe the cordage of a vessel, which has run ashore and broken up? By a wreck-tangle.

In 1877 “The Boston Daily Globe” engaged in more elaborate maritime wordplay by adding the groan-inducing terms “try-angle” and “rye-tangle”: 3

The unlucky captain of a New Bedford mackerel smack says he doesn’t want any more geometry in his. The fishing season coming round he went out for a try-angle and brought back a wreck-tangle.—Graphic. His misfortunes were probably caused by an overdose of rye-tangle.

By 1889 “The Weekly Pantagraph” of Bloomington, Illinois published another seaworthy geometrical variant: 4

It is no wonder that a square-rigged ship becomes a wreck-tangle in a storm.

Finally, by 1921 an anonymous joker applied the pun to illicit liaisons, and the result was printed in multiple newspapers such as “The Wichita Daily Eagle” of Wichita, Kansas and “Brooklyn Life” of Brooklyn, New York: 5 6

Al. Bert: “How do these love triangles usually end?”
Phil. Bert: “Most of them turn into a ‘wreck-tangle.'”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2012, The 2,548 Wittiest Things Anybody Ever Said by Robert Byrne, No Page Number, Quote Number 283, Touchstone: A Division of Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1866 June 9, Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Local and Other Items, Quote Page 3, Column 4, Bangor, Maine. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1877 January 16, The Boston Daily Globe, Table Gossip, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1889 September 27, The Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington Weekly Pantagraph), (Filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 3, Bloomington, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive)
  5. 1921 January 29, The Wichita Daily Eagle, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 3, Wichita, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1921 March 26, Brooklyn Life: An Illustrated Home Weekly for Brooklyn and Long Island, Week in Society, Start Page 10, Quote Page 10, Column 1, Brooklyn, New York. (Newspapers_com)

The Man Who First Flung a Word of Abuse at His Enemy Instead of a Spear Was the Founder of Civilization

Sigmund Freud? An English Writer? Walt Menninger? Joyce Brothers? Robert Byrne? Apocryphal?

spear10Dear Quote Investigator: The control and deflection of violent impulses is central to the development of fruitful social interactions. A cogent remark on this topic has been attributed to the acclaimed father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Here are three versions:

1) The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.
2) The first man to hurl an insult rather than a spear was the founder of civilization.
3) The first human who hurled a curse instead of a weapon against his adversary was the founder of civilization.

I have not been able to find a precise citation. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: In 1893 Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer published an article titled “Ueber den psychischen Mechanismus hysterischer Phänomene” in a Vienna medical journal. The title could be rendered in English as “On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena”. The following was the pertinent passage in German about the beginning of civilization. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Aber, wie ein englischer Autor geistreich bemerkte, derjenige, welcher dem Feinde statt des Pfeiles ein Schimpfwort entgegenschleuderte, war der Begründer der Civilisation, so ist das Wort der Ersatz für die That und unter Umständen der einzige Ersatz (Beichte).

A comprehensive twenty four volume work in English called “The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud” was released during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The third volume published in 1962 contained a translation by James Strachey of the 1893 passage above: 2

But, as an English writer has wittily remarked, the man who first flung a word of abuse at his enemy instead of a spear was the founder of civilization. Thus words are substitutes for deeds, and in some circumstances (e.g. in Confession) the only substitutes.

A comment in the “Standard Edition” stated that the medical journal article was based on a shorthand report of a lecture delivered by Freud together with revisions by Freud. Importantly, Freud ascribed the remark about civilization to an unnamed English writer. So, one may say Freud popularized the saying, but he did not originate it.

Translation is often a complex operation, and here the identity of the weapon was arguably ambiguous. The words “arrow”, “dart”, and “spear” were each worthy of consideration as possible translations for “Pfeil”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. Date: 1893 January 29, Journal: Wiener Medizinische Presse: Organ für Praktische Ärzte, Volume 34, Number 5, Article: Ueber den psychischen Mechanismus hysterischer Phänomene, Authors: Von Dr. Josef Breuer und Dr. Sigm. Freud in Wien, Start Column Number 165, Quote Column Number 166, Publisher: Urban & Schwarzenberg, Wien. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1962, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Translated from German under the General Editorship of James Strachey, In Collaboration with Anna Freud, Assisted by Alix Strachey and Alan Tyson, Volume 3 (1893-1899): Early Psycho-Analytic Publications, German article title: Ueber den Psychischen Mechanismus Hysterischer Phänomene, English article title: On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena, Start Page 25, Quote Page 36, Published by Hogarth Press, London. (Verified on paper)

This Post Fills a Much-Needed Gap: Part 2

Gary Cooper? Lee Neuwirth? Henry Miller? Moses Hadas?

Dear Quotation Investigator: I was told that a prominent journal editor would sometimes write a rejection letter to an author that said his or her “paper fills a much-needed gap”. Is this true?

QI: This post continues the investigation of the phrase “much needed gap”, restarting in 1956, and considers this new question. Here is a link to part one if you missed it.

When legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper asks movie star Gary Cooper about the new star Grace Kelly in 1956 he says that “she fills a much needed gap in motion pictures” [GC]. Misunderstanding is still prevalent.

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