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Chapter & Verse

Correspondence on not-so-famous lost words

January-February 2015

Diana Westgate seeks the complete words of a sonnet written to someone old who remained interested in the aspirations of younger people. She thinks it includes the phrases “grim desire to possess” and “younger hearts grow dim.”

Niels Proctor writes, “In the 1982 puzzle book The Secret, by Byron Preiss, the verse that is thought to apply to Boston includes these words: ‘Near those / Who pass the coliseum / With metal walls.’ Some people have suggested that ‘coliseum with metal walls’ was once used to describe the Harvard stadium. Does anyone happen to know the source of the phrase?”

Diana Avery Amsden hopes, in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, that some reader can identify the wit(s) who first declared, “A fortune-hunter is a man without any dollars who is trying to find a rich woman without any sense” and “Marriage is like a game of cards. You need only two hearts and a diamond to start, but after a while, you wish you had a club and a spade.”

“elephants coming two by two” (July-August 1988). John Reading recognized this phrase as a garbled excerpt from the chapter heading to Rudyard Kipling’s short story “My Lord the Elephant,” collected in Many Inventions (1893). “Each as big as a launch in tow” refers to the “long-black-40-pounder-guns” dragged by the elephants.

“All science, all religion” (November-December 2014). Colleen Bryant used ProQuest to track down this assertion by Norman Thomas in his article “Civil Liberty: A Look Back and Ahead,” published in the Sunday New York Times Book Review of November 28, 1954.

“Lazy people” (November-December 2014). Peter Baylor offered Algernon’s comment “It’s awfully hard work doing nothing,” from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, as a possible variant of the idea. An anonymous correspondent wrote, “This reminds me of a similar usage here in the Mid-South Appalachians: Carrying too many things at one time is referred to as a ‘lazy man’s load,’ a phrase directed in a joking way toward someone thus attempting to avoid additional trips from point A to point B.” And as we went to press, George Bason sent more information on his own query, after further research: “I somehow came across a version saying ‘Lazy folks take the most pains,’ which was attributed to one John Wesley Monette, who lived from 1798 to 1851 and whose papers are in the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library Manuscripts Division—but again no luck; and finally I found that Benjamin Franklin wrote in the Pennsylvania Gazette of February 18, 1734 or 1735, that ‘tho’ it be true to a Proverb, That Lazy Folks take the most Pains’—but he failed to provide any source for that ‘Proverb.’”

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