Quotation Man: Dr. Mardy Grothe Visits Southern Pines
"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer."
Decades ago, this line from Thoreau's "Walden Pond" was the first inspirational quote college student Mardy Grothe posted on his "Wall of Quotes." Hundreds more found their way into a folder he labeled "Words to Live By."
Over the years, he collected hundreds of thousands of statements that inspired or challenged him in some important way, including the one he adopted as his motto: "If it is to be, it is up to me."
"At the beginning of my quotation-collecting career," Grothe recalls, "I noticed that a fair number of my favorite observations were introduced with the word 'if.' I didn't give the matter a whole lot of thought back then, but I did think it was of enough interest that I created a special folder to store what I called my 'iffy' quotations. I now understand the critical role this simple two-letter word plays in human discourse, and I have come to believe 'if' is the biggest little word in the English language."
Grothe put his "Words to Live By" file to good use as America's most popular quotation anthologist and the author of four "word and language" books, including "Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You" (1999); "Oxymoronica" (2004), "Viva La Repartee" (2005), and "I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like" (2008).
A few years ago, when he began work on a book of aphorisms, he was surprised to discover many people weren't sure what an "aphorism" is, even though they come in contact with them every day.
"Technically," Grothe says, "an aphorism is a brief observation that attempts to communicate some kind of truth about the human experience."
"To measure the man, measure his heart." or "He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help."
Some are called "proverbs" or "truisms."
"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." "If you want something done right, do it yourself."
Others have become so popular, they're considered clichs.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." "If life hands you lemons, make lemonade."
"Most aphorisms don't begin with the word 'if,' but many thousands do," the author says.
For his new anthology of 2,000 aphorisms that begin with the word "if," he coined a new word for the book's title, "Ifferisms," which he will present at The Country Bookshop on Monday, Sept. 21 at 4 p.m.
"Dr. Grothe's is one of the most popular authors we've ever had speak here," Bonnie Johnson, manager of the 57-year-old independent bookshop on Broad Street in Southern Pines, says of his appearance last fall. "We expect a big crowd for him again this year."
For the 18 chapter titles, Grothe used even more "ifferisms." The chapter on "Ages and Stages of Life" is headed "If You Rest, You Rust." The chapter on gender dynamics is called, "If the World Were a Logical Place, Men Would Ride Side-Saddle." Other titles include, "If You Want a Friend in Washington, D.C., Get a Dog" (politics and government), and "If You Aren't Fired with Enthusiasm, You'll Be Fired with Enthusiasm" (business and management).
In addition to quotations, Grothe includes brief commentaries about the author or the context of the statement.
For example, in the late 1940s the Air Force embarked on the riskiest research project of all time. In a test to reveal the effect of rapid deceleration (600 miles per hour to zero in two seconds) on a pilot who ejects from a supersonic aircraft, Air Force engineer Capt. Edward Murphy Jr. designed sensors to measure the g-forces on their human guinea pigs. Each time, the technician wired the sensors wrong.
"If there's more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then somebody will do it that way," Murphy said at the time. By the mid-1950s, the expression "Murphy's Law" -- "If anything can go wrong, it will" -- became part of popular culture.
In a 1956 interview, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles said, "If you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost."
This "ifferism" is now regarded as the origin of the term "brinkmanship," which Dulles explained as "the ability to get to the verge without getting into the war."
Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren frequently used "ifferisms" in their advice columns. In response to a woman who was about to wed a man with whom she had been having an extramarital affair, Landers wrote, "If you marry a man who cheats on his wife, you'll be married to a man who cheats on his wife." Van Buren wrote in her column, "If you want your children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders."
In her column about a Texas congressman, Dallas Times Herald political reporter Molly Ivins wrote, "If his IQ slips any lower, we'll have to water him twice a day." Howls of protests followed from the man's supporters and even from nonpartisans. In response, the newspaper put up billboards which proclaimed, "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?" It turned out to be one of the most successful advertising slogans in journalism history -- all because of an "ifferism."
Anyone who can recite lines from Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If," ("If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you") they're quoting "ifferisms."
On a less serious note, "ifferisms" that end with an unexpected twist are always good for a laugh. Alice Roosevelt Longworth had cushions embroidered with the saying, "If you haven't got anything good to say about anyone, come sit by me." One of history's most popular admonitions is given a new meaning in this altered ifferism: "If at first you don't succeed, skydiving's not for you."
Grothe, psychologist, management consultant, public speaker, and "quotation maven," and his wife, Katherine Robinson, live in Raleigh, where he is working on future "word and language" book projects.
For information about the event, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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