Posted by: ritagone | March 20, 2013

Pithy Sayings Say It Best


I just love a pithy saying or a short poem.  (I used to love longer poems; I could even memorize longer poems back in the day.  I was, after all, an English Literature major in college, and memorizing went with the territory, much like dissecting is part of pre-med.  But alas, that skill has passed me by.  Now if I retain a phrase or two from “Ozymandias,” I count myself fortunate and take another Co-Q-10 capsule in celebration.)

As I was saying before I got distracted (obviously not enough Co-Q-10 is passing through the brain cells), I find pithy sayings or short poems to be the stuff of life.  It’s a lot like memorizing scripture, which, I’m told (not having been raised in the church), children are urged to do from a very young age in order that they might call it to mind at appropriate times or in situations where that memorization might come in handiest – which is probably everywhere and anywhere.

I keep a Word document loaded with pithy sayings and useful quotes from sources unearthed as I go through my life.  One of my favorites is from the late Barbara Johnson:  “We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”  In a short sentence she manages to communicate the fact that as believers we have hope in a world that is overwhelmingly despondent and often depressing.  In fact, isn’t it more memorable to say that we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world than it is to say that we as Christians have hope in a hopeless world?  I think so.  I can actually remember Ms. Johnson’s great and witty saying, which means I can use it at will when the situation merits it.  And that’s a good thing.

Someone else has said, “Thinking will get us to the foot of the mountain.  Faith will get us to the top.”  It’s a quote that seems to be attributed to, of all people, existentialist Albert Camus, which seems to me to be highly unlikely, but how can you argue with google search?  Line up four or five philosophers, with Camus in the lineup, and ask who said this, and I would choose Camus last, believing that someone as pessimistic and fatalistic as he would never have uttered such a positive statement.  I love the logic of it, because it combines thinking and faith rather than excluding one in favor of the other.  Did Albert Camus have the kind of faith, after all is said and done, then, that could get one to the top of the mountain, this same man who wrote “No Exit”?  I don’t know, but I love pondering this pithy statement that is attributed to him.

Sometimes the pithy sayings take the form of a joke with a great story behind it:  “A friend of mine (can’t you see Groucho Marx with a cigar dangling from his lips as he tells this story?) who is only fifty years old tells people she is sixty because she looks GREAT for sixty but AWFUL for fifty.  Should I let people know she is lying?”  You can’t help but laugh at the dilemma presented here: someone who looks so bad at fifty that they claim to be sixty, knowing that they don’t look so bad for sixty!  The moral crisis comes because the person asking the question wants to know if she or he should expose the liar or not.  I say no.  Anyone who can be that clever deserves to be allowed such a self-deprecating statement.

And one of my all-time favorites: a lovely Irish proverb which is easily quoted in its entirety because it is short and sweet:

May those who love us, love us,

And those who don’t love us,

May God turn their hearts.

And if He doesn’t turn their hearts

May He turn their ankles,

So we can tell them by their limping.


The Irish are masters of the short, pithy statement, the poetic turn of phrase.  No wonder Ireland is my favorite country, where just listening to the people talking can pleasantly wile away the day.  By the end of every vacation I’ve ever taken in Ireland, I come away with a slight brogue.  It’s contagious.  You can’t help but try to emulate that lilting, magical tune to their sentences.  Reading cooking instructions would sound like poetry, but when you’re reading Irish poetry, it’s soaring language that makes your heart sing.

So when I want to remember something important, I try to make it short and sweet, be it in a sentence, a short poem or a witty saying.

And let me end this week’s pithy blog by saying: “Life is short.  Smile while you still have teeth.”  Is that pithy enough for you?











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