Snappy one-liners made it a pretty good year

John Leo

1/1/2001 12:00:00 AM - John Leo
It's time for this column's roundup of the year's best aphorisms, axioms and proverb-like one-liners.

  • Meditating on life's ups and downs, Diane Sawyer remarked: "One day you're the statue. One day you're the pigeon."

  • Author Stefan Kanfer said: "When intellectuals have little to say they write about sport; when they have nothing to say they write about Muhammed Ali."

  • Martin Katz, a comedy writer, said about comedians: "A good joke will last a week. And a bad joke will appear in their obituary."

  • "Self-deprecation allows you to get away with more," said gagwriter Landon Parvin.

  • Screenwriter and author Josh Greenfeld said: "The secret of popular success is pulling the implications of your punches," and, "Better than certainty is to have the courage of ambivalence -- except I'm not sure about it."

  • "Stay clear of anyone who refers to God more than once in an hour," said Roger Rosenblatt, who included a professional exemption for clergy. In his bright and wise book, "Rules for Aging," Rosenblatt also wrote: "Nobody ever really wants a scandal cleared up. Uncleared up, a scandal is like radio -- it allows the imagination to rove like a child in a flower field."

  • Also from Rosenblatt: "Run when you hear any of the following in a sentence: humanity, the human condition, the human spirit," and, "Just because the person criticizing you is an idiot doesn't make him wrong."

  • Other pointed thoughts about idiocy come from Dr. E.L. Kersten of Despair Inc., a satirical Web site. Each year he puts out some deflating and clever maxims. Recent ones included these: "There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots"; "The secret of success is knowing whom to blame for your failure"; and "Quitters never win and winners never quit, but those who never win AND never quit are idiots."

  • "The longer the question, the easier it is to evade," said Jim Lehrer of the "NewsHour," who asks short questions.

  • Someone said: "If the Democrats wanted Gore to be president so bad they should have voted for impeachment." When Florida vote counters denied being intimidated by Republican demonstrators, Democratic lawyer and talking head Alan Dershowitz offered a semi-aphorism: "Intimidated people always say they are not intimidated; that's the nature of intimidation."

  • In defense of the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to let TV cameras cover Bush vs. Gore, Charles Krauthammer wrote: "In the television age, the way to avoid trivialization is to remain veiled."

  • The campaign brought a new crop of Dan Rather's down-home folk sayings, some more mystifying than others. On election night, Rather said: "This race is as hot and tight as a too-small bathing suit on a too-long car ride back from the beach." Making the point that "what if" questions are not worth asking, Rather said: "If a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a handgun." (But Dan, would ALL amphibians with pockets have to be pistol-packing males?)

  • Elaine Partnow, author of the forthcoming book, "The Quotable Woman," contributed the following aphorisms: "Misery loves celebrated company" (Maureen Dowd); "You learn more from 10 days of agony than from 10 years of content" (Sally Jessy Raphael); and "A woman who strives to be like a man lacks ambition" (astronaut and physicist Mae Jemison).

  • "They call a movie 'art house' until they find out people like it. Then it's mainstream," said playwright and screenwriter David Mamet.

  • A retired Tory peer and columnist, Lord Norman Tebbit, wrote: "Racism is not widespread in most of British society, but it permeates every nook and cranny of the race-relations industry."

  • "Irony is un-American," according to Gore Vidal's novel, "The Golden Age."

  • "Anything in education that is described as 'a movement' should be avoided like the plague," Diane Ravitch wrote in "Left Back," her history of American public schooling.

  • Rob Rosenberger, an Iowa computer security specialist, said about Internet myths and legends: "Old hoaxes never die; they just get a new life cycle."

  • "The welfare state cannot avoid becoming the judiciary state," Jacques Barzun wrote in his book, "From Dawn to Decadence."

  • British comedian and playwright Arthur Smith said: "If you want to be happy for a short time, get drunk; happy for a long time, fall in love; happy forever, take up gardening."

  • "No one should grow old who isn't prepared to be ridiculous," said Sir John Mortimer, 77, creator of the BBC's "Rumpole of the Bailey." He also said: "The real problem with old age is that it lasts for such a short time."

  • Humorist Dave Barry explained how to distinguish between the two groups of fans at the Subway Series: "Yankee fans tend to be brash, cocky, arrogant, egotistical, loud and overbearing, whereas Mets fans tend to be be egotistical, overbearing, cocky, brash, arrogant and loud."

  • The top aphorisms about golf would include the sugary line from the movie "The Legend of Bagger Vance": "Inside each and every one of us is one authentic swing." Also, in an interview in Golf Digest, Bill Clinton said: "Golf is like life in a lot of ways -- all the biggest wounds are self-inflicted." This may be Clinton's only major admission to appear in a golf magazine. But then again, maybe it all depends on what we mean by the word "golf."