Monday, October 5, 2015

Bull Session

With the death of New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra, the world lost one of its great aphorists. Although Yogi’s background is as Italian as Giuseppe’s pig, his quotable comments are a kind of oxymoron known as “Irish bulls.” An Irish bull is a self-contradictory or logically absurd statement, ostensibly uttered unwittingly by the speaker.  

The origin of the phrase is obscure. Bull in this sense may be related to Old French boul, meaning “fraud, deceit, or trickery”; Icelandic bull, meaning “nonsense”; or Old English bull, meaning “falsehood.” The term bull has been applied to paradoxical statements since the seventeenth century.

The addition of Irish is a nineeenth-century development, stemming from the Irish love of colorful figures of speech, their volubility, their generally poetic usage of the English language, and their supposed lack of logical reasoning. As a comic device, the Irish bull is also much used by Jewish comedians.

The “Father of the Irish Bull” is a sobriquet often applied to eighteenth-century politician Sir Boyle Roche, who once asked, “Why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?" Roche is ofen thought to have been the model for Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan’s The Rivals.

Some notable Irish bulls are:

“He’ll regret it till his dying day, if he lives that long.” (“Red 
      Will” Danaher in The Quiet Man)
 “If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man 
     alive.” (Samuel Goldwyn)
 “I’m overpaying him, but he’s worth it.” (Goldwyn)
 “May you never live to see your wife a widow.” (Irish toast)
 “If you fall and break your legs, don’t come running to me.” 
     (Irish saying)
 “Here lies the body of John Mound / Lost at sea and never 
     found” (Irish epitaph)

Some of Yogi’s most memorable words of such wisdom are:

 "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded!"
 "It's deja vu all over again!"
 "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
 "I usually take a two-hour nap from 1 to 4."
 "It gets late early out there."
 "Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."
 “Half the lies they tell me aren’t true.”
 "Always go to other people's funerals. Otherwise they won't
     go to yours."
 "You can observe a lot just by watching."
 "It ain't over 'till it's over."
 "I really didn't say everything I said."
 "Prediction is hard, especially about the future."
 “Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel.”
 “We’re lost, but we’re making good time.”
 “You gotta be careful when you don’t know where you’re 
      going, or you might not get there.”

Born Lawrence Peter Berra, the son of Italian immigrants, Yogi got his nickname while growing up in St. Louis, either from future teammate Jack McGuire or from his childhood friend Bobby Hoffman. In either case it was because his posture and demeanor reminded his friends of a Hindu yogi. The cartoon character Yogi Bear is named for Berra.

Everyone I know hopes the Bard of Buffalo Bayou will come to their funerals, because they can’t wait to go to his. The reason will be obvious if you have endured any of his work:

            There once was a lusty young bull,
            Whose love life was varied and full.
                        When he’d done with the cow,
                        And the mare and the sow,
            With ewe he’d start gathering wool. 

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