“Undecideds could go one way or another”

I am reading Julian Baggini’s “The Duck That Won the Lottery: and 99 Other Bad Arguments“, in which the ingenious philosopher tackles argustinkers. Here’s one: I picked a paper duck at a Chinese restaurant and won the lottery, obviousely the duck won the lottery for me (‘post hoc fallacies’, p.79.) Politicians are a wonderful source of bad arguments, such as Tony Blair’s warped reasoning that if the UK stops selling arms – someone else would (p.10). GW Bush’s (more of him later) post 9/11 assertion that “You are either with us, or you are with the terrorists” is – according to Baggini – a false dichotomy (‘either you love George – or you hate Bin Laden’. p.125), what’s here to choose, really?

Elsewhere Baggini lifts an eyebrow at statements like “I was calling the life inside me a baby because I wanted it. Yet if I hadn’t, I would think of it just as a group of cells that it was OK to kill”, (‘Fuzzy distinction’, p.57.) Baggini’s book reminded me that aeons ago I collected and studied lifelong straplines we hear and internalise. Often these lines (I nicknamed them ‘ritualised sentences’) remain with us for a lifetime.

I have long misplaced or lost the actual hard copy notes (typed diligently on an IBM golf ball  typewriter, circa 1982), but working from memory – here are a few examples to consider:

  • Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage
  • ‘cos all I want is you
  • Just tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree if you still want me
  • Knock three times on the ceiling of you want me
  • All you need is love
  • Make love not war
  • On a wing and a prayer
  • Children should be seen and not heard
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
  • There are no free lunches
  • (Do something) in haste, repent at leisure
  • Girls want to have fun
  • A man can’t know what it is to be a mother
  • Motherhood is a falsehood perpetrated by mothers
  • All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy
  • Everyone’s work is equally important
  • The one who loves the least, controls the relationship
  • A little (something) can go a long way
  • Absolute submission can be a form of freedom
  • None so blind as those who will not see
  • There must be fifty ways to leave your lover
  • We will all go together when we go
  • Penny wise, pound foolish
  • Won the battle, lost the war
  • If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with
  • Winners do not quit and quitters do not win
  • Another day another dollar
  • Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned
  • A child is someone who passes through your life and then disappears into an adult

Some of my late granny’s specials:

  • At a restaurant, best is to choose a table near a waiter
  • Hobbies are habits that cost money
  • When two divorced people get married, they have four people in bed
  • If you lock your door all the honest people will stay outside
  • If God lived on earth, people would break his windows
  • A friend you have to buy; enemies you get for nothing
  • Atheist don’t have holidays
  • While you teach – you learn
  • If charity was free, everyone would be a philanthropist
  • If the rich could hire the poor to die for them, the poor would make a very nice living
  • When a girl has money, men think she’s wise, pretty, and sings like a bird
  • Never approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back, or a fool from any side
  • Don’t be happy when your enemy falls, but no need to hurry to pick him up either

Each of those sentences can be – and probably is – used to illustrate a point of view. We may agree, even vehemently, with some of the sentence ans reject others with equal fervour.

Some of these lines are Truisms (arguments that are considered to be true by the vast majority of people);  while others are Tautologies (Tautology – aka the redundant figure, and also “a series of statements that comprise an argument…constructed in such a way that the truth of the proposition is guaranteed.”) on-his-way-out-thank-goodness President Bush is a mass-tautologist, here are a few examples:

  • It’s very important for folks to understand that when there’s more trade, there’s more commerce.”
  • “If affirmative action means what I just described, what I’m for, then I’m for it.”
  • “. . . the past is over.”
  • “We want anybody who can find work to be able to find work.”
  • “It’s no exaggeration to say the undecideds could go one way or another.”

Other tautologies: Free gift, New innovation, Violent battle, close proximity, First priority, Please R.S.V.P, Necessary requirement, A three parts trilogy. BTW – Douglas Adams called his masterpiece, mentioned earlier (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), “A trilogy in four parts” with a fifth added later. He definitely de-tautologised his title.

Somewhere on this fascinating food-chain is David Farber, once a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Delaware. Over many years, Farber’s students noted his many unusual remarks which came to be known as Farberisms — here are a few:

  • Let’s kill two dogs with one bone
  • All the lemmings are coming home to roost
  • At the end of every pot of gold, there’s a rainbow
  • Don’t eat with your mouth full
  • He has his foot in the pie
  • I have people crawling out of my ears
  • I have post-naval drip
  • It’s a fiat accompli
  • My antipathy runneth over
  • Pictures speak louder than words
  • That’s a sight for deaf ears

And my alltime favourite Farberisms:

  • He smokes like a fish
  • Beware a Trojan bearing a horse
  • He deserves a well-rounded hand of applause
  • You put all your eggs before the horse
  • The onus is on the other foot
  • She hit the nail on the nose

Last word: Julian Baggini’s latest book is a study of complaints (Complaint: From Minor Moans to Principled Protests.)  On his website, Baggini ofers a simple test to find out what kind of complainers we are. You should find it enjoyable, as long as you’re not the kind of person who dots his t’s and crosses hi i’s.

Contribure to ToingToing!