fun with phrases

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Oct 7 20:43:15 UTC 2011

"create one's own reality"

One infamous quotation of the W years came - allegedly - from Karl Rove in 2004:
"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And
while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act
again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and
that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all
of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Not in YBQ.

As usual, there are no 19th C. exx. of "create * own reality," though
Google claims 141,000,000 right now.  Only a 19th C. lunatic would
have used the phrase.

Now we get serious:

1907 Savila Alice Elkus _The Concept of Control_ [N.Y.: Science Press]
88:The problematic judgment is the judgment which states that further
evidence is necessary in order to determine the truth. The assumption
upon which the validity of this argument bases, is, of course, the
'will for truth' in him who judges, and not the will for action; thus
in cases where belief or judgment is said to create its own reality
and thus its own validity, the nature of the decision is immaterial
from the logical point of view, as any decision whatsoever verifies

1908 Percy F. Bicknell, in _The Unitarian Register_  (Feb. 6) 147: Why
need we assume that there is anything in the "force of circumstances"
to paralyze the will and fetter one's free agency? Let us rather, with
the Italian pragmatist Papini, exult in our power to create our own
reality as we go along, and refuse to believe that man is made for
truth rather than that truth is made for man, and perhaps even by man,
so far as such belief is not inconsistent with modesty, mother of the
virtues, and with due reverence for "the power, not ourselves, which
makes for righteousness."

1912 W. H. Hadow, in_Quarterly Review_ (Jan.) 103 : Is the main
function of art to interpret reality and "paint man man, whatever the
issue," or to create its own reality by presenting, through a chosen
medium, some vision of ideal beauty?

After that, steady occasional use in artistic, psychological, and
literary contexts until the '60s, when it begins to burgeon. It comes
into its own in the '70s and just goes wild thereafter, sometimes as
practical advice.

Someone might write a thesis on the Elkus-Papini connection, I assume.


On Fri, Oct 7, 2011 at 6:27 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
> Great work, G.
> I recall hearing or reading a variation of the same joke in the late 1950s. I can't recall any of the details, but the gist was the same.
> "That was then, this is now."
> In YBQ as the title of S. E. Hinton's 1971 teen novel.  However:
> 1876 Bertha de Jongh _We are Worldlings_ (London: Bentley) I 30: "He would have been so useful; think how I used to make him fetch and carry — " " Yes ; that was _then_ ; this is now ;" said Jenny.
> 1911 _American Florist_ (June 21) 1327: Don't go back to stage coach days! ... That was then, this is now!
> 1920 _Printers' Ink Monthly_ (Feb.) 84: When you used to think of the neighbors, it was only the stone's-throw-folks.... But that was _then_. This is _now_. The Huns changed all that when they crossed the Belgian frontier.
> Occasional use from then on. Most of the 1970's hits seem to be ads for Hinton's novel.  A flood later.
> I have a friend who says it frequently.
> JL
> .
> On Thu, Oct 6, 2011 at 10:35 PM, Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at> 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: fun with phrases
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> "What have you done for me lately?"
>> This is my candidate for a vogue phrase. I was asked about its
>> "origin" recently, and I did not think that a phrase of this type
>> would have an origin. But I may have discovered an important locus of
>> popularization.
>> The Google Books Ngram Viewer for the shortened phrase "you done for
>> me lately" shows a flat line (roughly zero) until the early 1940s and
>> then a rapid ascent up until the 1970s. There is a dip in the late
>> 1980s and then another ascent.
>> What happened in the early 1940s? Versions of the joke below were
>> printed in important periodicals, e.g., the mass circulation Reader's
>> Digest. The instance given here was published by Bennett Cerf, the
>> influential quotation and anecdote collector, in his column in the
>> Saturday Review magazine.
>> The wide dissemination of this joke might be coincidental, but I
>> cannot find earlier examples of the cliché catch phrase. The joke is
>> an elaborate extended "groaner" in my opinion, but the punch line may
>> have been new to many readers in 1943.
>> Cite: 1943 March 13, Saturday Review, Trade Winds by Bennett Cerf,
>> page 13, Column 2, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Verified on
>> paper)
>> A TRAVELER for a big publishing house couldn't wait to get to St.
>> Louis, where his oldest friend owned a prosperous bookstore. "Sam," he
>> said to the owner the moment they were alone, "I want you to lend me
>> $2000.00." "The answer, Joe," said Sam, "is positively no." "But,
>> Sam," protested the salesman, "In 1929, when Bond and Share broke from
>> 189 to 50, who gave you ten thousand dollars to keep you from being
>> wiped out?" "You did," admitted Sam. "And in 1931, when your daughter
>> Shirley had that tropical disease, who took her down to Florida
>> because you couldn't get away from business, who did, Sam?" "You, my
>> friend, you did."
>> "And in 1933, when we were fishing together, who dove into the rapids
>> and saved you from drowning at the risk of his own life?" "You did,
>> Joe. It was wonderful!" "Well, then, Sam, in Heaven's name, why won't
>> you lend me $2000.00 now when I need it?" "All the things you say are
>> true," said Sam, nodding his head slowly, "But what have you done for
>> me lately?" . . .
>> Garson
>> On Thu, Oct 6, 2011 at 8:48 PM, Ben Zimmer
>> <bgzimmer at> wrote:
>> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> > Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
>> > Subject:      Re: fun with phrases
>> > -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> >
>> > On Thu, Oct 6, 2011 at 7:28 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>> >>
>> >> "Suddenly, the rules had changed."
>> >>
>> >> Not usu. "rules" but conditions, common practice, etc. Another dramatic
>> >> rhetorical cliche'.
>> >>
>> >> Nothing in GB before 1991. Nothing in Time archives.
>> >
>> > "Plays by his own rules."
>> >
>> > Virtually nonexistent before the '70s. The Ngram Viewer shows a big
>> > jump in the '90s.
>> >
>> > --bgz
>> >
>> > --
>> > Ben Zimmer
>> >
>> >
>> > ------------------------------------------------------------
>> > The American Dialect Society -
>> >
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society -
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society -

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