Authors: Ross Petras
Thanks to everyone who helped make this book a reality, especially:
Bruce Tracy, Robin Rue, Kris Dahl, Paul Bresnick, David Gernert, and Susan Moldow—and, of course, to all of the people who contributed their favorite stupidities.
We’ve all done it at one time or another—put our foot in our mouth.
No one is immune to foot-in-mouth disease. People from all walks of life say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Of course, most of us are lucky. When we say something dumb, there’s no television camera or newspaper reporter to capture our inadvertent blunders for time immemorial.
But those in the public eye aren’t quite so lucky. Their verbal gaffes are recorded in the paper, on air—and now in this book.
This is a collection of the stupidest, most ridiculous, funny, asinine, and sometimes frankly frightening quotes in history—anything from misstatements to doublespeak to good old-fashioned idiocy.
The 776 Stupidest Things Ever Said
is an irreverent look at our pundits, celebrities, politicians, and social leaders and how fallible we all are—them for saying dumb things, us for paying too much attention.
We already have
The Guinness Book of World Records, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations
, and innumerable books listing the best quotations from the best minds in history—from Tacitus to Goethe to Gorbachev. So now (to paraphrase Jimmy Carter), Why not the worst?
The quotes we’ve collected in this book come from a wide range of sources—from daily newspapers across the country to magazines, from television shows to private collections. Along the way, we noticed something interesting: like most things, verbal blunders seem to come and go in cycles. While we always relish hearing or reading them, some eras are riper with them than others.
There have been several Golden Ages (of sorts) of the quotable stupidity. An early Golden Age came in the late 1700s and early 1800s, with Anglo-Irish statesman Sir Boyle Roche leading the pack in the misstatement race. One hundred years later, another Golden Age emerged—focusing on gaffes committed in the British Parliament. Then came the early 1920s and the emergence of a wholly American gaffe-watch, caused in part by the tortured syntactical meanderings of President Warren G. Harding.
The early 1940s brought another Golden Age. This one, like the attention of the American public in general, centered around Hollywood and the blunders of those connected to the Great American Dream Machine. World War II and the Cold War brought about a lull of sorts in the appreciation of the verbal gaffe. Save for periodic breaks (such as during presidential campaigns), irreverence in general was out.
Then came the late 1960s and a completely new American ethos. The youth revolution swept the nation. Suddenly anything and anyone were fair game. Watergate brought this Golden Age to a peak. And we haven’t come off that peak yet. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” and it ain’t yet.
Just as there are Golden Ages of the verbal gaffe, there are the truly silver-tongued who have more of a knack for the inspired malapropism and verbal blunder than others. That’s why we’ve singled out a few people for special attention: the little-known Sir Boyle Roche, Yogi Berra, Sam Goldwyn, and, more generally, the chief perpetrators of incomprehensible doublespeak—bureaucrats and academics.
But most of this book is a cross section—quotes from people in sports, the arts, the government and the world of business, the famous and the not so famous. Some of the quotes make one think twice about the people in charge of our government, our corporations, our society. Some are clearly mistakes. And others are just plain funny.
And that’s really the bottom line. After all, everyone makes mistakes—so why not sit back and enjoy them? Read this book as a celebration of the verbal inanities even the best of us make … a celebration of our humanity. It is our hope that it will make even the most tongue-tied of us feel better about ourselves. If the best and the brightest can do it and go on to become presidents, kings, and generals, why not me?
… hazards are one of the main causes of accidents.
from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s booklet, “Safety with Beef Cattle,” 1976
Things are more like they are now than they have ever been.
President Gerald Ford
As Duke Ellington once said, “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Elkton.”
Babe Ruth on a radio show, garbling the adage by the Duke of Wellington that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton
If at any time I change my address when I notify you I hope you will be so kind as to change also.
letter from a reader renewing his subscription, received by the business manager of Motor News
It would seem from the interviews and reports that both of you have had few, if any, negative experiences when children yourselves, and also seem to enjoy a marital experience where rows and arguments have no place. Under the circumstances, [adopted children would not have sufficient exposure to] negative experiences.
letter from the Lancashire (U.K.) Social Services Department, on why foster parents Harry and Esther Hough were not qualified to adopt as they “exuded excessive harmony,” although they had already raised over forty foster children from birth to age eight
Life its own self, as Dan Jenkins said. Life its own self. Figure that one out, Norm. But what it means is, I have a lot more to learn from President Reagan.
George Bush, at the beginning of his presidency, when asked whether he was getting advice from his predecessor
Don’t cut off your nose yourself.
Bruce Sutter has been around for a while and he’s pretty old. He’s thirty-five years old. That will give you some idea of how old he is.
Ron Fairly, San Francisco Giants broadcaster
And what is more, I agree with everything I have just said.
attributed to Piet Koornhoff, South African cabinet minister, ambassador to United States
If I entered into an agreement with that man, I would be sticking my head in a moose.
attributed to movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn
Gifts are positively corruptive…. [Free air fares] are harmless, or at least only potentially corruptive.
Lee Wilbur, staff aide on the House Appropriations Transportation subcommittee, explaining why it was okay for him to accept a free (first-class) round-trip flight to Spain
Progression is not proclamation nor palaver. It is not pretense nor play on prejudice. It is not of personal pronouns, nor perennial pronouncement. It is not the perturbation of a people passion-wrought, nor a promise proposed.
President Warren G. Harding
This is the man who was not only the president of the National Council of Shopping Centers, but the International Council of Shopping Centers in 1986, and traveled around the world.
Senator Rudy Boschwitz of Minnesota in his recommendation for the appointment of Melvin F. Sembler to the post of ambassador to Australia, as quoted in
May 1990. Sembler was appointed and confirmed shortly thereafter.
I understand it’s a nice life-style. I love golf, and I understand they have a lot of nice golf courses.
Chic Hecht, former senator from Nevada, explaining why he would like to be appointed ambassador to the Bahamas. (Note: Shortly after saying this, Hecht did become ambassador to the Bahamas.)
That’s part of American greatness, is discrimination. Yes, sir. Inequality, I think, breeds freedom and gives a man opportunity.
Lester Maddox, ex-governor of Georgia
Maybe we should not have humored them … [when they asked to live on reservations]. Maybe we should have said, “No, come join us. Be citizens along with the rest of us.”
President Ronald Reagan during a trip to Moscow, when a student asked him about U.S. treatment of Native Americans
I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.
John Wayne, actor who played mostly cowboys in the movies
Get some more from the reservoir.
supposedly said by movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn after being told that the Western film he was working on required more Native American extras
Wherever I have gone in this country, I have found Americans.
Alf Landon (in America), during a speech in his presidential campaign against FDR
I believe that mink are raised for being turned into fur coats and if we didn’t wear fur coats those little animals would never have been born. So is it better not to have been born or to have lived for a year or two to have been turned into a fur coat? I don’t know.
Barbi Benton, ex-Playboy bunny turned actress
I think we’re on the road to coming up with answers that I don’t think any of us in total feel we have the answers to.
Kim Anderson, mayor of Naples, Florida
My position on Vietnam is very simple. And I feel this way. I haven’t spoken on it because I haven’t felt there was any major contribution that I had to make at the time. I think that our concepts as a nation
and that our actions have not kept pace with the changing conditions, and therefore our actions are not completely relevant today to the realities of the magnitude and the complexity of the problems that we face in this conflict.
Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York, when asked in a press conference for his position on the Vietnam War. When a reporter followed up with a question asking what he meant, Rockefeller answered, “Just what I said.”
They gave me a standing observation.
ex-Houston Oiler and Florida State coach Bill Peterson
You’re a parasite for sore eyes.
attributed to actor/director Gregory Ratoff
I juxtapose anticipated with anomalous imagery to create visual analogies. Discrepancy and contrast in scale are emphasized as I investigate perception and memory.
Sura Ruth, photographer, in a press release about a show of her photographs
I paint paintings because I can’t get the experience in any other way but there are many more experiences that are equally satisfying to me and equally inept at answering all my questions, but hover in exactitude in describing themselves and defying me to define their logic.