Quote: Military Intelligence to him is a contradiction in terms (John Charteris 1931)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 19 20:39:54 UTC 2012

Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms

This quip has been attributed to Groucho Marx and George Carlin. There
is some support indicating that they both used versions of this joke.
For example, The Yale Book of Quotations has the earliest Groucho
attribution in 1971. The form of the quip varies: the phrase "military
intelligence" is described as a contradiction in terms, a
contradiction in adjecto, an oxymoron, and mutually exclusive.

The earliest evidence I have located is in a non-fiction book in 1931
by a British Brigadier-General named John Charteris.

Cite: 1931, At G.H.Q. by John Charteris, Quote Page 136, Cassell and
Company, Ltd., London. (Verified with scans; Thanks to the librarians
at Denison University)
[Begin excerpt]
Curzon did not give much time to Intelligence work. I fancy Military
Intelligence to him is a contradiction in terms.
[End excerpt]

This joke was memorable enough that a reviewer in the satirical
periodical Punch magazine retold a version within the book review of
"At G.H.Q".

Cite: 1931 October 21, Punch, Or The London Charivari, [Short book
review of: At G.H.Q by John Charteris], Page 448, Column 2, Punch
Publications Ltd., London. (Verified on paper)
[Begin excerpt]
>From his daily jottings the writer kept back nothing. The Generals who
thought all politicians crooked are there, and so are the statesmen to
whom Military Intelligence was a contradiction in terms; while all his
pages are alive with his hatred of intrigue, his scorn of grandiosity,
his loyalty to his heroes and his faith in final victory.
[End excerpt]

Here are some additional selected citations.

Cite: 1963, The Need to be Loved by Theodor Reik, Page 86, The Noonday
Press, Division of Farrar, Straus and Company, New York. (Verified on
[Begin excerpt]
There is even an institution called Military Intelligence, which is
the perfect example of a contradiction in adjecto.
[End excerpt]

Cite: 1966 March 26, The New Yorker, Nothing in Excess by Shirley
Hazzard, Start Page 48, Quote Page 49, The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.,
New York. (The New Yorker online archive)
[Begin excerpt]
Algie was collecting contradictions in terms: To a nucleus of
"military intelligence" and "competent authorities," he had added such
discoveries as "the soul of efficiency," "easy virtue," "Bankers
Trust," and "Christian Scientist."
[End excerpt]

Cite: 1967 September 29, Time, "Cinema: Festival Attraction, Side-Show
Action". Time Inc. (Time magazine online archive)
[Begin excerpt]
Hardly has he buttoned up his tunic when he begins to sense that
military intelligence is a contradiction in terms. His professors are
interested in order, not in knowledge; most of his fellow students are
toadies and bullies who pervert the authority over them by victimizing
those under them.
[End excerpt]

Cite: 1967, Quotemanship: the use and abuse of quotations for
polemical and other purposes by Paul F. Boller, Page 9, Southern
Methodist University Press, Dallas, Texas. (Verified on paper)
[Begin excerpt]
But the handiest source for the latest words of wisdom emanating from
the world's notables and quotables is Quote, the Weekly Digest,
published in Richmond, Indiana, whose motto, taken from Charles Haddon
Spurgeon, is: "He who never quotes, is never quoted." ...

... on the back page of each issue, a department called "Quote-ettes"
consisting of brief bits of wisdom from around the world ("'State
intelligence,' like 'military intelligence' and 'woman friend,' is a
contradiction in terms" - Niall MacDermot, Financial Secretary to
British Treasury).
[End excerpt]


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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