[Ads-l] Quip: insurmountable opportunity (Request help)

Tue Jan 24 15:00:37 EST 2017

Garson, as a long-time Pogo fan, I can only say that I have never seen a Pogo strip referring to insurmountable opportunity.  However, although I've read a lot of Pogo, there are strips I have not read.  Pogo may have been selected as a quote magnet in this case because the phrasing was thought to be typical of the strip; compare the well-known Pogo line "We have met the enemy and he is us."

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of ADSGarson O'Toole
Sent: Monday, January 23, 2017 9:37 PM
Subject: Quip: insurmountable opportunity (Request help)

Mardy Grothe asked me to explore a fractured English quip commonly
ascribed to Walt Kelly's "Pogo" comic strip. Here are two versions:

1) We is faced with insurmountable opportunity.
2) America is a land of insurmountable opportunities.

The first linkage to "Pogo" I've seen appeared on March 24, 1968 in a
newspaper report about a speech delivered by Secretary of Labor W.
Willard Wirtz who ascribed version 1 above to "Pogo".

It would be nice to have information about the precise "Pogo" comic
strip containing the phrase "insurmountable opportunity" or
"insurmountable opportunities". Yet, it is possible that the "Pogo"
claim is a red herring. The core joke was in circulation more than a
decade earlier.

Here is the data for the earliest match I have found in 1923. I do not
think that this instance was intended to be comical. The writer simply
selected an anomalous phrasing.

[ref] 1923 March 13, The Pittston Gazette, Episcopal Church Will
Resume Work in the Holy City, Quote Page 7, Column 6, Pittston,
Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
After an interval of seventy-five years, the Episcopal Church is
completing plans for a resumption of its missionary work in Jerusalem,
Constantinople and the Near East, which was abandoned in 1848 and Rt.
Rev. H. Southgate, the missionary bishop who had been sent to
Constantinople withdrawn, because of the insurmountable opportunities
of the Turkish Government of that day.
[End excerpt]

The earliest deliberately humorous instance I have found appeared
circa 1956. I am requesting help to verify this with hardcopy. The
goal is to find the full name and position of "Mr. Mitchell" and to
build a complete and accurate citation. (Please contact me off list).

Year: 1956
Title: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Annual Advertising and Sales
Promotion Executive Conference
Publisher: Ohio State University, College of Commerce and
Administration, Columbus, Ohio
Quote Page 19


[Begin extracted text]
Mr. Mitchell: Thank you, Ed, very much. You talked about GE having
opportunities. I think we ought to tell the folks that GE call their
problems opportunities, but there are quite a few people who feel
there are some insurmountable opportunities around.
[End extracted text]

Another humorous instance appeared circa 1959. I am requesting help to
verify it with hardcopy and build a complete and accurate citation

Year: 1959
Title: Official report: Your AASA in 1958-1959
Organization: American Association of School Administrators
Publisher: The Association, Washington, D.C.
UNC Catalog: 371.2 N2775o 1958/1959
Quote Page 216


[Begin extracted text]
The substance of what he had said was that problems were not problems
at all; they were simply opportunities. And the teacher came to him a
few days later saying that he needed his help because he had found
himself confronted with an insurmountable opportunity. [Laughter]
[End extracted text]

The widely syndicated columnist Leonard Lyons published the joke in June 1962.

[ref] 1962 June 11, New York Post, The Lyons Den by Leonard Lyons
(Syndicated), Quote Page 31, Column 3, New York. (Old Fulton)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Leon Shimkin, head of Pocket Books, heard a Madison Av. agency boss
tell his staff: "In this business there really is no such thing as a
problem; it's only an opportunity" . . . The next day an employe
approached the agency boss, and began: "I have an insurmountable
[End excerpt]

By March 1968 the quip had been re-assigned to "Pogo" as mentioned
previously. Perhaps Walt Kelly employed a pre-existing phrase in his
comic strip:

[ref] 1968 March 24, The Sunday Star (Evening Star), Facing Up to the
Job Crisis by James Welsh and Betty James (Star Staff Writers), Quote
Page 1, Column 3, Washington D.C. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz, talking to hundreds of the
nation's leading businessmen the other day, felt called upon to quote
Walt Kelly's Pogo:

"We is faced with insurmountable opportunity."

He was talking about providing work to the poor, of matching the jobs
and potential jobs of a plentiful economy with the hundreds of
thousands, perhaps millions, of jobless persons in the nation's big
[End excerpt]


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