Harvard in Epigram

"Your wooden arm you hold outstretched to shake with passers-by."

Word of Fred R. Shapiro, J.D. ’77 (’80), in these pages first came in 1979 after he revived tiddlywinks at Harvard. At the North American Continental Team Championship meet at MIT that year, Shapiro, president of the Harvard Tiddlywinks Society, told a magazine reporter the history of tournament tiddlywinks, which the reporter revealed in a lengthy feature, “Relatively New Indoor Sport Sweeps about 125 People” (May-June 1979, page 37).

Shapiro has gone on to become associate librarian and lecturer in legal research at the Yale Law School. The Yale Book of Quotations, edited by him, has just been published by Yale University Press. A dictionary of quotations is a guide to the spirit of its time. As Joseph Epstein notes in the foreword, this one “shows a strong increase over its two main rivaling volumes, The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, in material from American literature and journalism, popular culture, computer culture, and contemporary proverbs.” Singer and songwriter Bob Dylan, for instance, gets a whopping 27 entries, plus a photograph of himself in shades.

The index lists no mots about tiddlywinks, but it does include references to Harvard and to Yale. Harvard presidents of the past century or so cited by Shapiro include Charles W. Eliot, with two entries, one being: “Enter to grow in wisdom./Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind,” the inscription carved in 1880 on the Dexter Gate to Harvard Yard.

President A. Lawrence Lowell has one entry, quoted in Reader’s Digest in May 1949, on why universities have so much learning: “The freshmen bring a little in and the seniors take none out, so it accumulates through the years.”

James Bryant Conant’s four entries include: “Behold the turtle. He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out,” quoted in The American Treasury: 1455-1955, edited by Clifton Fadiman, 1955.

Derek Bok has two entries. The first is from his article “A Flawed System” (Harvard Magazine, May-June 1983, page 38): “There is far too much law for those who can afford it and far too little for those who cannot.” The second was attributed to Bok in Paul Dickson’s The Official Rules (1978). An earlier occurrence, without attribution to any individual, was in the Washington Post of October 6, 1975: “If you think education is expensive— try ignorance.”

No utterances of Presidents Lawrence H. Summers, Neil L. Rudenstine, or Nathan M. Pusey are noticed by Shapiro. He gives six references to Harvard in general and three to Yale.

Among Harvard’s entries is, of course, Arthur Twining Hadley’s remark in 1906 in the Chicago Daily Tribune, “You can always tell a Harvard man when you see him, but you can’t tell him much.” And William F. Buckley’s judgment in Rumbles Left and Right (1963): “I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.”

Ever playful, Shapiro cites a remark by Dorothy Parker reported by Alexander Woollcott in While Rome Burns (1934): “And there was that wholesale libel on a Yale prom. If all the girls attending it were laid end to end, Mrs. Parker said, she wouldn’t be at all surprised.”

And finally, punks. “He had the good looks of a Sicilian dandy and the composure of a Harvard graduate, but under that high-priced façade he was a street punk named Ponti. The younger.” ~From Black Alley (1996), by Mickey Spillane (1918-2006). R.I.P.

~Primus V

You might also like

Steven Pinker on Apple’s Vision Pro

Professor of psychology on the science and history behind the Vision Pro.

The State of Black America

Harvard African American scholars take stock of a difficult moment. 

Threats Foreign and Domestic

Joseph Nye discusses geopolitics and Harvard’s challenges.

Most popular

Labor Litigator

Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan takes on the app economy.

A Postmodern Youth

Tahmima Anam’s Bengal trilogy finds a resting place.

Convocation 2017: What Should an Education Be at Such a Moment?

Speakers reflect on the goals of a liberal arts university. 

More to explore

Photograph of Winthrop Bell 1910

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Illustration of people talking to each other with colorful thought bubbles above their heads

Talking about Talking

Fostering healthy disagreement

Vacationing with a Purpose

New England “summer camps” for adults