A Brief History
On September 2, 1901, the then Vice President of the United States, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt first used his famous phrase “Speak softly and carry a big stick” in a speech at the Minnesota State Fair. Presidents and other famous people have often uttered lines that has become closely associated with that person. Here 10 of the author’s favorite utterances by famous people are listed.
10. “I am not a crook.” Richard Nixon.
Twice elected vice president twice and twice elected president, and this simple line is how he is remembered. This was one tortured, weird guy.
9. “Well, there you go again.” Ronald Reagan.
“…there you go again” what?! Telling the truth?! When confronted in presidential debates with actual facts contrary to the reality that he would have preferred, Reagan used this idiotic line against Jimmy Carter and then against Walter Mondale. Incredibly, it worked, and the points failed to hurt Reagan. In fact, many Americans thought it was profound. (Too bad he did not also use “It is what it is.”)
8. “Thank you, thank you very much.” Elvis Presley.
Such a simple phrase, and yet most people know exactly who you are imitating when you utter it. Another favorite thing Elvis liked to say was “taking care of business” or TCB.
7. “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Clark Gable.
With this most famous line from the most-watched movie of all time (Gone With The Wind, 1939), Gable as Rhett Butler blew off Scarlett O’Hara, and men have copied the quote ever since, but usually without oozing the manliness of Gable.
6. “The Buck Stops Here.” Harry S Truman.
If only all politicians would live by this concept! As president, Truman had this phrase sitting on his desk as a reminder to anyone who came into his office that he was taking responsibility for whatever went on. You will notice there is no period after his middle initial. This is because he did not have a proper middle name, just the letter “S.” Perhaps that means his middle name was actually “S?” Go figure.
5. “I ain’t an athlete, lady. I’m a baseball player.” John Kruk.
Major league baseball player John Kruk was an All Star 3 times and twice finished in the top 5 in batting. Apparently not a role model, he uttered his famous quote while he was eating, smoking and drinking beer after a woman had chastised the overweight ballplayer for setting a bad example since he was an athlete. This man is an inspiration to most American men.
4. “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy.
This remark is definitely one of the greatest lines ever spoken by an American president, and it is the line most often associated with JFK. The words had some credibility because Kennedy himself was a war hero who had nearly died in World War II , and he had served in the Senate and White House despite being rich enough to not have to work. Furthermore, his service to his country eventually cost him his life.
3. Veni, vidi, vici. Julius Caesar.
I came, I saw, I conquered. A boast to be sure, but a true one. And what did he get for his troubles? A bunch of guys in togas stabbing him to death! Julius Caesar also popularized the phrase Jacta alea est (“the die is cast”), but the first quotation just sounds better.
2. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Bill Clinton.
In an ill-advised attempt to retain some kind of dignity, Clinton tried to lie his way out of a humiliating revelation about his personal life. It did not work, and 8 years of an entire presidency is mostly remembered by this single sentence.
1. “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Theodore Roosevelt.
This great line by one of our greatest presidents in regard to his foreign policy is indeed profound (Think of Dirty Harry talking softly while packing his big .44 caliber Magnum.).
Question for students (and subscribers): What other catch phrases or signature lines captivate you? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
For another interesting even that happened on September 2, please see the History and Headlines article: “September 2, 1666: The Great Fire of London.”
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For more information, please see…
Bartlett, John and Geoffrey O’Brien. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Little, Brown and Company, 2012.