the moose's problem (UNCLASSIFIED)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Jul 19 06:26:05 UTC 2011

On 7/19/2011 2:04 AM, Garson O'Toole wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Garson O'Toole<adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: the moose's problem (UNCLASSIFIED)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Here is an instance of the same basic joke in 1872. Given this
> longevity the idea that Heinlein was referring to it is more
> plausible. The phrasing of the punchline is different. Here are the
> final sentences of the joke:
> Cite: 1872, A Noble Lord by Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth,
> Pages 81-82, T.B. Peterson&  Brothers, Philadelphia. (Google Books
> full view)
> "Oh well, if you must know," coolly returned the Captain, "I was but
> wondering how the deuce those majestic deer, with antlers branching
> ten feet wide, managed to bound through those magnificent forests
> where the titanic oak trees stand but three feet apart."
> For a moment the Colonel was dumbfounded, and then he exclaimed:
> "By Jupiter, sir, that was their business - not mine, or yours!"
> Garson
> On Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 1:28 AM, Garson O'Toole
> <adsgarsonotoole at>  wrote:
>> Bill Mullins wrote:
>>>> Twice in his novels, SF author Robert Heinlein has a character say
>>>> "that's the moose's problem" (Stranger in a Strange Land and Glory
>>>> Road).  Both times, it appears from context that the meaning is, "let
>>>> someone else deal with the details" or "It's not my job" -- something
>>>> like that.
>> Bill: Below is the text of a joke that I extracted from a book that GB
>> dates to 1933. The punchline of the joke is "That's the moose's
>> problem." If a joke is popular enough then sometimes its punchline can
>> become a catch phrase. I do not have any evidence that this was a
>> popular joke, but conceivably Heinlein heard the joke and enjoyed it
>> enough to refer to it in his books. Or maybe there are other variant
>> jokes with the same punchline.
>> Cite: Circa 1933, Principles of Effective Letter Writing by Lawrence
>> Campbell Lockley, GB Page 228-229, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New
>> York. (Google Books snippet; Not verified on paper; Data may be
>> inaccurate)
>> Sunk in the spacious comfort of a deep arm chair at his luxurious
>> Fifth Avenue club, a successful broker was boasting of his hunting
>> experiences. Inclined to exaggerate, he was telling of an almost
>> impenetrable forest in the Northwest.
>> "The trees," he said, "were growing so close to each other that they
>> were actually less than a foot apart. For hours we had fought our way
>> inward in search of game. I was in the lead, when - roaring, tearing,
>> and crashing directly at me - charged a huge bull moose with antlers
>> measuring fully ten feet from tip to tip. Death sped toward me while I
>> stood rooted to the spot. Then-"
>> "Hold on, hold on," interrupted a somewhat unfriendly skeptic. "Only a
>> minute ago you told us that the trees in this forest were less than a
>> foot apart. Then in the next breath you tell us that in the same
>> forest a bull moose with antlers fully ten feet wide came charging at
>> you. How could a moose with that size antlers charge through such a
>> forest?"
>> This stopped the big game hunter for a moment. He didn't change his
>> expression or move even enough to disturb the smoke from his cigar
>> spiraling into the haze above his head - he was, however, plainly
>> perturbed. It was a bad stump - and from that low-brow Kennedy, too.
>> But this lasted for only a second. He leaned forward slightly and
>> addressed his audience, ignoring Kennedy.
>> "That's the moose's problem," he said.
>> (End excerpt)
>> I think that when the character Jubal uses the phrase in "Stranger in
>> a Strange Land" he is saying that the problem of serving meals to him
>> may be difficult but it is Anne's problem not his.

I see another instance, supposedly 1957, of this story: Google-books
<<"that was the deer's problem">>.

-- Doug Wilson

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