the moose's problem (UNCLASSIFIED)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jul 19 14:55:13 UTC 2011

I prefer the first of these versions, the one from the 1933 book cited by Garson.  Not only is the story better developed, but there’s something intrinsically risible about a moose.  (Perhaps that’s why Heinlein preferred “the moose’s problem” to “the deer’s problem” as well.)


On Jul 19, 2011, at 2:41 AM, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:

> On 7/19/2011 2:26 AM, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
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>> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       "Douglas G. Wilson"<douglas at NB.NET>
>> Subject:      Re: the moose's problem (UNCLASSIFIED)
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> On 7/19/2011 2:04 AM, Garson O'Toole wrote:
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>>> 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">>.
> --
> And here's another "deer's problem", recalled from some time before 1936.
> -- Doug Wilson
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