It’s Yogi Berra’s birthday today. He’s 86.
Berra is equally famous for his baseball career and his odd quotes. There are six books available on Amazon that feature stories he has told and the strange truth of his serpentine comments.
Among the best known:
“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”
“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
“He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.”
“If people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s gonna stop ‘em.”
Numerous websites collect his sayings. One article claimed that Yogi is “the most quoted living American.”
Who knows if he actually said all the things he’s supposed to have said? Once you get a reputation for malapropisms, I suppose people begin to assign them to you. And what about the pressure? It creates a certain expectation. How many interviewers have come away from their Q & A slightly disappointed that Yogi didn’t grace them with a memorable word crash?
I would never suggest that Yogi’s sayings aren’t completely genuine – only that there must be a great temptation to give the people what they came for, even if it means hiring a writer. Not than anyone in America today would hire a writer!
Yogi is real, of course, but the character who mangles language is a literary staple. Two of the oldest and best loved come from the field of playwriting, where it’s extraordinarily difficult these days to coin a phrase that will stick as a cultural reference.
To find the earliest examples, you have to go all the way back to 1598 and the character Dogberry in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” …
Don Pedro: Officers, what offence have these men done?
Dogberry: Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.
And then there’s the mother of the term “Malapropism” – Mrs. Malaprop from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play, “The Rivals”.
Mrs. MALAPROP: There, sir, an attack upon my language! what do you think of that?—an aspersion upon my parts of speech! was ever such a brute! Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!
Tracking Berra-like sayings is one of the most enjoyable pursuits of English speakers. George W. Bush did great things in the field of presidential misstatement. This is one area where I’m ready to admit that the current office holder is letting us down.
Got a favorite mangled saying or malapropism?