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Chapter & Verse

Correspondence on not-so-famous lost words

March-April 2016

Dan Jacobson asks if anyone can provide definitive attribution for the assertion, “From the music they love, you shall know the texture of men’s souls.” That line, he writes, is quoted in the 1949 movie The Passionate Friends, where the character played by Trevor Howard states, “I copied it out a book of Galsworthy’s to impress you.”

“a bad 15 minutes at the end” (January-February). Laurence Senelick replied: “The quotation seems to be a literal if awkward translation of the French catchphrase un mauvais quart d’heure. The notorious highwayman Cartouche (1693-1721) is supposed to have remarked, after he was sentenced to be broken on the wheel, “A mauvais quart d’heure is soon over!” It became proverbial very quickly. In his Systeme de la nature (1770), Baron d’Holbach extended it to the axiom that “Most criminals envisage death as merely un mauvais quart d’heure,” and Cartouche’s remark is quoted verbatim in Antoine Servan’s Le Soldat citoyen (1780).

“My Little Papaya Tree” (January-February). Michael Saxton wrote, “Try Googling ‘and a mynah bird in a papaya tree’ to get a Hawaiian version of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas.’ I heard this long ago on The Midnight Special, WFMT, Chicago.” According to a 1979 article by Michael Scott-Blair of the Copley News Service, quoting UCLA folklorist Joan Perkal, the list runs: 12 televisions, 11 missionaries, 10 cans of beer, nine pounds of poi, eight ukeleles, seven shrimps a-swimming, six hula lessons, five big fat pigs, four flower leis, three dry squid, two coconuts, and….”

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