None of us washes our rental cars (antedating 1985)

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Mon Jan 18 23:10:42 UTC 2010

Note that the OED has under own, v. 1.d. the definition "orig. U.S. To be or
feel responsible for considering or solving (a problem, issue, task, etc.)."
and under ownership, n. 2. "orig. U.S. The fact or state of being or feeling
responsible for solving a problem, addressing an issue, etc." These date to
1970 and 1977 respectively.

This sense of "own" meaning to take responsibility for is very common in the
military and in business. It really isn't a surprise that this Air Force
example comes along at the same time. It clearly was a business-military
buzzword in the 70s.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Garson O'Toole
Sent: Monday, January 18, 2010 12:49 PM
Subject: Re: None of us washes our rental cars (antedating 1985)

Thanks to Dave Wilton, Laurence Horn and Jonathan Lighter for comments.

Dave Wilton
> Of course the rental car companies wash their cars (they also own them).
> They do so, along with interior cleaning and making sure the gas tank is
> full, between each customer. So finding a citation of a want ad that
> includes car washing is beside the point. The point of the quote is that
> renter never washes one.

 Garson O'Toole wrote
> A favorite maxim of conservative and libertarian commentators concerns
> the maintenance of rental cars by non-owners.

Note that in the very first sentence of my post I included the word
"non-owners". I put that word there in an attempt to make it
completely clear that I understood that the quote referred to the
behavior of "non-owners" as Dave Wilton cogently mentions.

The final citation in my first post was intended to be a gentle form
of humor and that is why I used the word chuckle in describing my
response. The humor was supposed to emerge from the contrast of an
advertisement for washing cars with a naive literal interpretation of
the proverb, i.e., in formulations such as "in the history of the
world, no one has ever washed a rented car" which appears in the
second post. Pretending to take words literally is a classic comic

My intention was not to attempt to undermine the "meaning" of the
proverb with a quote. I think that the adage succinctly communicates a
very influential viewpoint about ownership. I apologize that the humor
in the post fell flat for some list members because of my

Intriguingly, in the main citation the maintenance crews do not really
own the planes that they are working own. Yet, they feel a sense of
ownership for equipment that is actually "owned" by the government.
Hence the NCO in this seminal anecdote is employing the proverb to
refer to an indirect and abstract sense of ownership.

Ownership is a flexible notion. For example, a list member that wants
to encourage another list member might say: "Congratulations on your
quote tracking result. How did you find that match? Pure genius. You
0wned that quote!"


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