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The Xenophile Historian

K. U. P.

(Kimball's Unauthorized Perversion)

The Irish Bull

There is a special category of dumb quotes, uttered by those who speak without thinking. It is called the Irish bull, after Sir Boyle Roche (1736-1807), an Irish politician who let his mouth get ahead of his brain all the time. This kind of "bull" is best described by giving examples; the main rule seems to be that the end of the phrase turns around to contradict the beginning, sort of like John Kerry's infamous "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." Other rules might state that if the quote appears in print, it would be worth entering in a bad literature contest, and that if you try picturing a scene created by an Irish bull, it won't make sense. John Pentland Mahaffey, a professor from Dublin University, tried defining an Irish bull by making up one of his own: "An Irish bull is always pregnant."

In the two centuries since Roche's time, I doubt if anyone has blundered as often or as well as he did. Therefore he still gives us the best examples of Irish bulls. Besides complaining that Ireland was "overflowing with absentee landlords," Roche was also known for saying, "The cup of Irish misfortunes has been overflowing for centuries, and is not yet half full," and "All along the untrodden path of the future, I can see the footprints of an unseen hand." Here are some more choice quotes from him, and this doesn't exhaust the supply:

  1. "Mr Speaker, I smell a rat; I see him forming in the air and darkening the sky; but I will nip him in the bud."
  2. "Why should we put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity? For what has posterity ever done for us?"
  3. "How can I be in two places at once, unless I were a bird?"
  4. "Half the lies our opponents tell about us are untrue."
  5. "Ireland and England are like two sisters; I would have them embrace like one brother."
  6. "We should silence anyone who opposes the right to freedom of speech."
  7. "The only thing to prevent what's past is to put a stop to it before it happens."
  8. "At present there are such goings-on that everything is at a standstill."

Sometimes Roche's hand got ahead of his brain, too, for he made the same kind of mis-statements even when writing letters:
  1. "While I write this letter, I have a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other."
  2. "PS., If you do not receive this, of course it must have been miscarried; therefore I beg you to write and let me know."

Now who else has been good with Irish bulls? I nominate Yogi Berra for second prize; you can call him the American Boyle Roche. You'll probably agree after reading these quotes:
  1. "The ballparks have gotten too crowded. That's why nobody goes to see the game anymore."
  2. "Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours."
  3. "It ain't over till it's over"
  4. "If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else."
  5. "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
  6. "You can observe a lot by watching."
  7. "The future ain't what it used to be."
  8. "Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."

I'll finish with some Irish bulls from others. Read and enjoy!

  1. "And when the chickens that didn't hatch come home to roost, we will rue the day when, misled by sloppy accounting and rosy scenarios, we gave away the national nest egg."--Paul Krugman, economics editor for The New York Times
  2. "If I could drop dead right now, I'd be the happiest man alive."--Samuel Goldwyn, movie producer
  3. "Anybody who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined."--Samuel Goldwyn (again)
  4. "I'm living beyond my means, but I can afford it."--Samuel Goldwyn (was he competing with Yogi Berra?)
  5. "If you save her, millions will die who did not die before."--Leonard Nimoy (as Mr. Spock on Star Trek).
  6. "You couldn't get me on Mars if it were the last place on earth."--Erma Cohen
  7. "I wish the Arabs and the Jews would settle their differences like Christian gentlemen."--attributed to Arthur Ballour and others
  8. "Football is an incredible game. Sometimes it's so incredible, it's unbelievable."--Tom Landry
  9. "The food here is terrible, and the portions are too small."--Woody Allen
  10. "Cocaine isn't habit forming. I should know -- I've been using it for years."--Talullah Bankhead
  11. "If you live to the age of a hundred, you have it made because very few people die past the age of a hundred."--George Burns
  12. "Always be sincere, even when you don't mean it."--Irene Peter
  13. "Live within your income, even if you have to borrow to do so."--Josh Billings
  14. "I don't care how much a man talks, if he only says it in a few words."--Josh Billings (again)
  15. "Wagner's music is better than it sounds."--Mark Twain (I think he meant to say that)
  16. "People are more than fun than anybody."--Dorothy Parker
  17. "If we're gonna win, we have to play up to and beyond our potential."--Don Nelson
  18. "Of course I can keep secrets. It's the people I tell them to that can't keep them."--Anthony Haden-Guest
  19. "It takes about ten years to get used to how old you are."--anonymous
  20. "The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep."--W. C. Fields
  21. "I distinctly remember forgetting that."--Clara Barton
  22. "We must believe in free will. We have no choice."--Isaac Bashevis Singer
  23. "There's nothing wrong with incest just as long as you keep it in the family."--Milton Mayer
  24. "Why, that's the most unheard-of thing I've ever heard of."--Joseph McCarthy
  25. "Mere form without substance must collapse of its own weight."--Clarence Manion, 1950s-era politician
  26. "A man who has a million dollars is as well off as if he were rich."--John Jacob Astor, founder of Astoria, Oregon and the first American millionaire
  27. "A zebra cannot change its spots."--Al Gore
  28. "I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous."--unknown
  29. "Monotheism is a gift from the gods."--unknown
  30. "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be."--unknown
  31. "After they got rid of capital punishment, they had to hang twice as many people as before."--unknown

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