My granddaughter found this old book of epigrams that I bought in junior high school. I got it at a time when I started seeing myself as smart. Being able to pull quotes from smart people made me feel smarter. I loved epigrams because they are, as Oscar Levant put it, wisecracks that played at Carnegie Hall.
But I learned more from epigrams than how to sound smart. They taught me how to make my points succinctly and with a dash of humor. I also learned the hard way that a quote from a famous person doesn’t prove a point. Just because Oscar Wilde said something witty, it doesn’t make your position valid. You have to build your argument, but the right epigram can help drive the point home.
Here are some of my favorite epigrams from the book and what I learned from them.
I found the following cartoon on Twitter. It took me a few minutes on Google Translate (most of which was spent navigating the Russian keyboard) to get the translation. It loosely translates to “Don’t feel bad we don’t celebrate Halloween in Russia!” (Then how do you know when to release horror movies? Or give out fun-size candies?) The Russians agreed, “Why should we celebrate some stupid Western holiday?”
A consequence of a global society is navigating through cultural markers that don’t make sense to us. You try to contact a business associate in another country and find their office is closed because of a national holiday you didn’t know existed. And cultural symbols in one country don’t make sense in another. No one in the Southern Hemisphere is dreaming of a white Christmas. It’s the beginning of summer!
But are these cultural differences such a bad thing?
These days, we have no shortage of terrible things to write about and ways things can get worse. From threats by North Korea, political turmoil in Europe, a continuing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, and raging bedlam in Washington, DC, we appear to be careening towards catastrophe.
At these moments, we as writers need to sit down quietly and ask, “What do we want the world to be?”