Paul Greenberg

During the Democrats’ riotous convention in Chicago back in 1968, he assured the press that the police weren’t there to create disorder, they were there to preserve disorder! Which cleared that up.

To be really satisfying, an Irish bull must offer more than low comedy; it must have an air of pretension and sophistication, as in Paul Krugman’s contribution to my collection. For example, it’s hard to beat a classic formulation by Clarence Manion, a law school dean and minor ideologue in the 1950s who earned a place among the immortals with this towering piece of bloviation:

“There is every reason to believe that Republican forms of government, every branch of which is constitutionally committed to the protection of unalienable individual rights, could and would permanently solve the political aches and pains of the whole world. But there, as here and everywhere, mere form without substance must collapse of its own weight.”

But if you like your Irish bulls short and snappy, consider the collected works of the late great Sam Goldwyn, who infamously observed that a verbal contract wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

The Hollywood mogul could scarcely open his mouth without putting his foot in it. Among his finer productions: “Anybody who goes to a psychiatrist should have his head examined,” and “I’m living beyond my means, but I can afford it.”

Tastes vary, and some will prefer Yogi Berra’s (convoluted) way with words. As in: “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”

The genuine Irish bull, says Francis Griffith, must be unintentional, spoken rather than written, and not be altogether absurd. It must be an accident of language, not mere gibberish.

The great charm of any Yogi Berra-ism is that we all know what the speaker meant. As when Al Gore, in his otherwise undistinguished — and unending — presidential campaign of 2000, attacked his opponent’s record by warning that “a zebra cannot change its spots.”

I could go on forever but, to commit a final Irish Bull, I think I’ll just commence right here.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.