[Ads-l] "the land of opportunity"

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Sun Jun 14 19:38:57 UTC 2015

Thanks, Fred. Shortly after I posted this I noted that Fuller had died in 1850, which made the 1854 date implausible. It turns out I had transposed the last two numerals: the quote as cited below was from 1845.

An interesting echo of Fuller’s use of phrase: It turns out that Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann originally wrote “Only in America” in 1963 for the Drifters  as a protest song that included the lyric "Only in America, land of opportunity, do they save a seat in the back of the bus just for me.” Their colleagues Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller said that those lyrics were too inflammatory and rewrote them to the familiar "Only in America/Can a kid without a cent/ Get a break and maybe grow up to be President/Only in America, Land of opportunity/Would a classy girl like you fall for a poor boy like me.” They argued that, as sung by a black group, the irony of the lines would make the point. But Atlantic Records nixed that idea;  Jerry Wexler later explained that he’d have to “have a professor of semiotics at Harvard go around with each record and deconstruct it for the edificaiton of the people whose sensibilities were too blunt to appreciate the irony.”  So the song was given to Jay and the Americans, whose version (sung it over the Drifters’ instrumental tracks) had a huge and unironic reception. A subsequent irony is the song ultimately became an anthem for Cuban refugees in Florida who learned it phonetically. 

See http://bit.ly/1L8Oc4w


> From: "Shapiro, Fred" <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
> Subject: Re: "the land of opportunity"
> Date: June 13, 2015 at 5:06:01 PM PDT
> I haven't done a comprehensive search, but ProQuest shows "this land of opportunity" occurring in Home Journal, Nov. 29, 1851, page 48.
> Fred Shapiro
>> ________________________________________
>> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Geoffrey Nunberg [nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU]
>> Sent: Thursday, June 11, 2015 2:21 PM
>> Subject: "the land of opportunity"
>> How far back does this go as a description of America? The earliest instance I’ve been able to find in Google Books is in a reference to an 1854 remark by Margaret Fuller that the problem of poverty was “a ragged insult to the land of opportunity.” https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__bit.ly_1FVyrJD&d=AwIFaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=sRkhHMQo6W5Ird1lkQFqb23bCfSHAR2XjUSUG53db5M&m=eYkOOS60G7DzLV4t_MN_jZ7RD6EaxI05ZacklWunwFA&s=-qWs4Cl_EJj_vsJ3JDP4WMlL4z9pZoV5Zz-p8XERPL4&e=  <https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__bit.ly_1FVyrJD&d=AwIFaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=sRkhHMQo6W5Ird1lkQFqb23bCfSHAR2XjUSUG53db5M&m=eYkOOS60G7DzLV4t_MN_jZ7RD6EaxI05ZacklWunwFA&s=-qWs4Cl_EJj_vsJ3JDP4WMlL4z9pZoV5Zz-p8XERPL4&e= >  That suggests that the phrase was already a cliche by then. There’s nothing earlier than that in MOA

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