If ever there were a week we could have used Winston Churchill, huh?
But then, doesn’t someone say that pretty much every week?
Churchill is the dictionary definition of Great Leader, the name so often dropped it’s a wonder he stays on his pedestal. It’s all a bit much, especially when we are told to look to Winston in our perilous fight against, say, overflowing inboxes.
Does he deserve such adulation? Christopher Hitchens, my go-to on the matter, did the research and sneered appropriately at those American (always American) politicians who reverentially invoke the finest hour when they’re deciding what to have for lunch. Hitch found the Churchill cult as full of holes as he found every other religion. But in the end, he arrived here:
Winston Churchill may well have been on the wrong side about India, about the gold standard, about the rights of labor and many other things, and he may have had a lust for war, but we may also be grateful that there was one politician in the 1930s who found it intolerable even to breathe the same air, or share the same continent or planet, as the Nazis.
Churchill’s wit, like his leadership, is held up as pure, unadulterated perfection. In reality, he spent a good seven decades incessantly talking and writing, happily repurposed every good line he came across, and like all the Great Wits, has had all manner of lines he never uttered credited to him. (The comedian Michael O'Donoghue famously wrote an exceedingly vulgar parody of “The Churchill Wit” which, if you have the stomach for it, is a perfect counterbalance to all the hosannas.)
The secret to all his successes: A good deal of luck and a great deal of planning. He devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches, as one of his rivals noted, and it was not only true but admirable. When he was lucky enough to be in a public situation requiring a quip, he was prepared enough to have one. (“And if you were my wife, I would drink it,” his retort to a woman who said she’d poison his coffee if he were her husband, wasn’t an original.) On the occasions he didn’t have a line at the ready, well, as he said:
“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”
Yes, we could really use Winston Churchill right now. But not because we need rousing speeches, clever comebacks, or an impossible icon. What we need is what made the man a legend: A good deal of luck and a great deal more planning.
Quick quips; lightning
Everyone knows the obvious lines; here are some deep cuts:
“What can you do with a man who looks like a female llama surprised when bathing?” — of Charles de Gaulle.
“Occasionally he stumbled over the truth but he always picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.” — of Stanley Baldwin.
“He was not in complete harmony with the normal.” — of T.E. Lawrence.
“Some kind of velvety cool blackness. Of course, I admit I may be wrong.”— of what death must be like.
“We are all worms. But I do believe I am a glow-worm.”
This marks the 39th issue of Get Wit Quick, a weekly newsletter that abides by this Churchill line: “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. ... The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more.” There’s lots more WSC in Elements of Wit: Mastering The Art of Being Interesting. Be a glowworm and tap the ♥️ below.