Opinion

We all say stupid things

Early one morning when I was still at university, a student walked into the communal washroom with a very large, scruffy canine.

“What kind of dog is that?” I asked.

“It’s a rare Albanian, porridge hound.”

“What on earth is a porridge hound?”

“They’ve been carefully bred for centuries in Albania to sniff out bowls of porridge,” he replied pokerfaced. To my shame, I fell for it hook, line and sinker.

“That’s amazing! I had no idea they could breed dogs to find porridge,” I enthused. My response was met with gales of laughter. Mind you, I wasn’t the only student who fell for the Albanian-porridge-hound story that day.

Because, no matter how bright we think we are, we all do and say stupid things.

Take for instance the renowned British scientist Lord Kelvin. He blithely predicted that radio had no future, x-rays were a hoax and that heavier-than-air flying machines were “impossible.”

He wasn’t alone. Astronomer Sir Harold Spencer Jones announced that space travel was “bunk.” His timing was most unfortunate. Less than two weeks later the Russians launched Sputnik.

And who can forget the greatest mind of the 20th century, Albert Einstein. Even the good doctor messed up when he wrote, “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.”

It isn’t just our gullibility or propensity for predicting that gets us into trouble. Sometimes in the heat of debate we slip from the sublime to the ridiculous. Consider Ronald Reagan.

He famously said that "Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do." Yes, we all know how unpleasant it is when the Douglas firs start racing their engines at Cathedral Grove.

And then there’s Dan Quayle. During his political career, Dan exuded malapropisms and verbal blunders.  Dan’s understanding of geography seemed particularly questionable.

"I love California; I practically grew up in Phoenix." He also had a great belief in education.

"Quite frankly, teachers are the only profession that teach our children."

But it was his grasp of the obvious that really shone. "If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."

Actually Dan is an intelligent, accomplished man. He just gets flustered in the spotlight. I often wondered if that’s what happened to Kim Campbell when she famously said that “elections are no time to discuss serious issues.”

Not so. Poor Kim was misquoted. She actually said that a mere 49-day campaign was not enough time to discuss serious social issues. But that’s politics, I guess.

Of course the most fascinating slips of the tongue belong to celebrities. Sometimes even seasoned performers can suffer from nerves.

A case in point was Brooke Shields who, when trying to explain her anti-tobacco activism, said, “Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost an important part of your life.”

Then there was Samuel Goldwyn who said, “I don’t think anybody should write his autobiography until after he’s dead.”

Mind you, sports celebrities are not immune either. After a head injury, the incomparable Dizzy Dean noted that, “The doctors X-rayed my head and found nothing.”

Yogi Berra advised “Always go to other people’s funerals otherwise they won’t come to yours.” And Greg Norman said, “I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father.”

Probably the most unfair quote ever circulated was attributed to Mariah Carey.

She is famous for saying that "Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry. I mean I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff."

The truth is she never said any such thing. She was being lampooned on a comedy show and people just assumed it was true.

So what’s the most regrettable quote ever? I think it belongs to General Jon Sedgwick of the Union Army.

When warned of the danger of Confederate sharpshooters, the general replied derisively, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist...”

As you may have guessed, it was his last quote too.

Ray Smit is the author of The Trouble With Tapioca now available at Amazon.com. His columns appear every other Thursday. He can be contacted at Raymondsmit@shaw.ca

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