FEATURE — Winter 2009

Harold Ramis, AB ’66, screenwriter, director, actor (Photo: Whitney Curtis)

Wit & Wisdom of Washington University

The editor of The Yale Book of Quotations shares famous sayings expressed by Washington University faculty and alumni.

by Fred R. Shapiro

Quotations are the backbone of much of literature, and of the transmission of art and thought more generally. Texts refer to other texts. Today, the World Wide Web links documents through hypertext connections, but such connections have always been pivotal to human discourse. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote.” Delight is our natural response to the monuments of creativity and wisdom, kept alive by quotations—a communal bond uniting us with past culture and with other lovers of words and ideas.

Tennessee Williams, alumnus & playwright (Photo: WUSTL Archives)

Compiling The Yale Book of Quotations put me in a unique position to assess the contributions of Washington University in St. Louis to our discourse and culture, our politics and science. One of the ways a great university leaves its mark is through quotations written or uttered by its faculty and alumni. In this article, I examine Washington University’s quotational legacy, by citing sayings that appear in The Yale Book of Quotations or that I identified through research after the publication of my book.

The most quotable Washington U. person appears to be playwright Tennessee Williams, who attended the University in 1936 and 1937. The following are his most celebrated lines:

They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and transfer to one called Cemeteries, and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!
—Tennessee Williams (1911–83), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)

Turn that off! I won’t be looked at in this merciless glare!
—Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

—Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

I don’t want realism, I want magic!
—Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
—Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

Make voyages!—Attempt them!—there’s nothing else.
—Tennessee Williams, Camino Real (1953)

What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?—I wish I knew. ... Just staying on it, I guess, as long as she can...
—Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)

I’m not living with you. We occupy the same cage.
—Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

We’re all of us sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life!
—Tennessee Williams, Orpheus Descending(1958)

Mona Van Duyn, University faculty & Poet Laureate of the United States (Photo: WUSTL Archives)

The University nurtured many notable writers besides Williams, including John Gardner, William H. Gass, A.E. Hotchner, Howard Nemerov, and Mona Van Duyn, the first woman to be named Poet Laureate of the United States:

And I speak to you now with the land’s voice,
It is the cold, wild land that says to you
A knowledge glimmers in the sleep of things:
The old hills hunch before the north wind blows.

—Howard Nemerov (1939–91), University faculty member (1965–91), including the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished Professor of English, “A Spell Before Winter” (1962)

In the spring of 1948 I was dispatched to Cuba to make a horse’s ass out of myself by asking Ernest Hemingway to write an article on “The Future of Literature.”
—A.E. Hotchner, AB ’40, JD ’40, Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir (1966)

You have fallen into art—return to life.
—William H. Gass, the David May Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in Humanities, Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife (1968)

“Poor Grendel’s had an accident,” I whisper. “So may you all.”
—John Gardner (1933–82), AB ’55, Grendel (1971)

For what is story if not relief from the pain/ of the inconclusive, from dread of the meaningless?
—Mona Van Duyn (1921–2004), University faculty member (1950–90) and Poet Laureate of the United States, “Endings” (1992)

A Labor of Love
Fred R. Shapiro published The Yale Book of Quotations (Yale University Press) in fall 2006. According to Shapiro, the book is the first major collection of quotations to emphasize modern and American sources, as well as the first quotation book of any kind to use state-of-the-art research methods to collect the most famous quotations and trace them to their accurate origins. The book has attracted considerable worldwide attention, including coverage by the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Times (London), New Yorker, National Public Radio, Today show, and many other media outlets. The Wall Street Journal recently named The Yale Book of Quotations as the No. 2 most-essential reference book (behind only The World Almanac). For more information, visit: yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks.

Washington University alumni also have excelled in the realm of more popular literature, such as Irma S. Rombauer (1877–1962), who wrote The Joy of Cooking (1931); and Shepherd Mead (1914–94), AB ’36, who authored How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1952), which was adapted into a hit Broadway show.

Screenwriter/director/actor Harold Ramis, AB ’66, though, may be the creator of some of the most classic film lines:

Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?
—Harold Ramis, AB ’66, Animal House (1978) [with Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller]

Toga! Toga!
—Harold Ramis, Animal House

He slimed me.
—Harold Ramis, Ghost Busters (1984) [with Dan Aykroyd]

This chick is toast!
—Harold Ramis, Ghost Busters

An interesting nexus of activism, business, government, law, journalism, politics, and social science exist where many of Washington University’s most prominent alumni and professors may be found:

I have drawn my four square checker. Now won’t you take a sheet of paper and draw yours? Make all sides equal. Write “Physical” on the left-hand side, “Mental” at the top and “Social” on the right-hand side, “Religious” under the base. ... There you have the picture of the Magic Square—the symbol of the richer, fuller life, the emblem that you are to follow.
—William H. Danforth (1870–1956), Class of 1892, founder of Ralston Purina Company and author, I Dare You! (1941)

A President is best judged by the enemies he makes when he has really hit his stride.
—Max Lerner (1902–92), AM ’25, journalist and author, New York Star (January 4, 1949)

[I am] not conscious of falling under any of those ornithological divisions.
—Clark M. Clifford (1906–98), LLB ’28, secretary of defense, key presidential advisor, and “super lawyer,” quoted in New York Times when asked whether he was a hawk or a dove on the Vietnam War (January 20, 1968)

We need to reduce that massive array of government laws, rules, and regulations that give an inflationary bias to the economy and often also reduce job opportunities in the process. To turn an old phrase, my advice to the Congress is “Don’t just stand there, undo something.”
—Murray L. Weidenbaum, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor, economist, and former chairman of Council of Economic Advisors, Chicago Tribune (September 5, 1977)

Women may think like men, act like men, live the rules of the male world, and think they live in the male world until something happens that shows how wide the chasm really is.
—Jessie Bernard (1903–96), PhD ’35, sociologist and feminist, The Female World (1981)

It was very important to me to establish myself as a journalist. I had been famous at nineteen for something that should ordinarily have required no effort other than, you know, getting good grades and getting into college. I was famous because I had walked onto the campus of the University of Georgia. I was famous for being black. … But I wanted to be famous for something that I could do, that rested really on my abilities.
—Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Russell Sage Fellow c. 1967–68, journalist, quoted in Contemporary Heroes and Heroines (2000)

Arthur H. Compton, University chancellor (1945–53) & Nobel Prize-winning physicist (Photo: WUSTL Archives)

Security is always seen as too much until the day it’s not enough.
—William H. Webster, JD ’49, director of the CIA, director of the FBI, and federal judge, from debate at University of California, Santa Barbara (March 3, 2002)

Finally, Washington University in St. Louis has been home to pathfinders in science, technology, and medicine, ranging from physics to computers to human sexuality:

The Italian navigator [Enrico Fermi] has landed in the New World.
—Arthur H. Compton (1892–1962), University chancellor (1945–53) and Nobel Prize-winning physicist, coded telephone message to James B. Conant after first controlled nuclear chain reaction, December 2, 1942, quoted in Corbin Allardic and Edward R. Trapnell, The First Pile (1946)

A network of such [computers], connected to one another by wide-band communication lines [will provide] the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval and [other] symbiotic functions.
—J. C. R. Licklider (1915–90), AB ’37, AM ’38, computer scientist, speaking to his pioneering vision of a future global computer network in “Man-Computer Symbiosis” (1960)

A more concise picture of the physiologic reaction to sexual stimuli may be presented by dividing the human male’s and female’s cycles of sexual response into four separate phases. Progressively, the four phases are: (1) the excitement phase; (2) the plateau phase; (3) the orgasmic phase; and (4) the resolution phase.
—William H. Masters (1915–2001), physician, faculty member (1943–2001), and co-director of the Masters & Johnson Institute, along with Virginia E. Johnson, Human Sexual Response (1966)

…in a democratic society we must put our trust ultimately in the good sense of an informed people; that we—the scientists—must communicate more fully our knowledge, our judgments, and, yes, our human qualities to the public and its elected representatives; and that the press bears responsibility for mature and accurate reporting.

From some quarters has come fear of new knowledge. In our view, however, the future well-being of the human family depends on continuous creativity and new discovery. This is the faith we share with Alfred Nobel.
—Daniel Nathans (1928–99), MD ’54, 1978 Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine, Les Prix Nobel, The Nobel Prizes 1978 (Stockholm 1979)

Fred R. Shapiro, editor of The Yale Book of Quotations (Yale University Press, October 2006), is associate librarian for collections and access and lecturer in legal research at Yale Law School.