Off topic: Robert Benchley, 1889-1945, doyen of American humor, writer, actor, critic
Thread poster: Narasimhan Raghavan

Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:58
English to Tamil
+ ...
Aug 28, 2005

I am afraid the present generation (including young translators of course) is not aware of the devastating humor of Robert Benchley. Back in the sixties, when I was an engineering student, many a fellow student took to slowly sliding away from my proximity, as I was prone to break into howls of laughter on reading him while travelling in buses. They didn't want the fellow passengers to associate them with this mad young fellow laughing his head off. I give below some quotes of his. Enjoy a good weekend.

Quotes taken from

1. A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down -- very important traits in times like these. (Chips Off The Old Benchley)

2. A lot of people say: "I'm no good in the morning until I've had my coffee." I'm no good in the morning even after I've had my coffee. (My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew)

3. A man's whole life could be changed by such a fortuitous slip of the rubber...
An electron was a particle of negative electricity (one which knows when to say "No") (Pluck and Luck)

4. Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment. (Chips off the Old Benchley)

5.Anyone will be glad to admit that he knows nothing about beagling, or the Chinese stock market, or ballistics, but there is not a man or woman alive who does not claim to know how to cure hiccoughs. (My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew)

6. Anything can happen, but it usually doesn't. (My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew)

7. Charlemagne either died or was born or did something with the Holy Roman Empire in 800. [Making a list of things he learnt during his first year at Harvard]

8.Dachshunds are ideal dogs for small children, as they are already stretched and pulled to such a length that the child cannot do much harm one way or the other.

9. Drawing on my fine command of the English language,...I said nothing. [In response to the person at Averell Harriman's house who said, "Say something funny, Mr. Benchley."]

10. Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with that it's compounding a felony.
Even nowadays a man can't step up and kill a woman without feeling just a bit unchivalrous...

11. I am more the inspirational type of speller. I work on hunches rather than mere facts, and the result is sometimes open to criticism by purists. (My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew)

12. I can't seem to bring myself to say, "Well, I guess I'll be toddling along." It isn't that I can't toddle. It's that I can't guess I'll toddle.

13. I do most of my work sitting down; that's where I shine.

14. I had just dozed off into a stupor when I heard what I thought was myself talking to myself. I didn't pay much attention to it, as I knew practically everything I would have to say to myself, and wasn't particularly interested. (Chips off the Old Benchley)

15. I have tried to know absolutely nothing about a great many things, and I have succeeded fairly well.

16. I know I'm drinking myself to a slow death, but then I'm in no hurry.

17. I take it for granted that I am growing older, although, except for a slight arteriosclerosis and an inability to hear, I would never know it. (No Poems, or Around the World Backwards and Sideways)

18. If there is one thing that I resent (and there is), it is to be told that I resent being told anything. It drives me crazy. (My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew)

19. If you think that you have caught a cold, call in a good doctor. Call in three good doctors and play bridge. (From Bed to Worse)

20. It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.

21.Let's get out of these wet clothes and into some dry martinis.

22. One evening I had been working late in my laboratory fooling round with some gin and other chemicals. (Do Insects Think? Some Data on the Reasoning Power of the Wasp.)

23. [Reviewing the New York City Telephone Directory] But it is the opinion of the present reviewer that the weakness of plot is due to the great number of characters which clutter up the pages. The Russian school is responsible for this. (Of All Things)

24. Sand is also a good place on which to write, "I love you," as it would be difficult to get into court after several years have passed. (No Poems, or Around the World Backwards and Sideways)

25.Tell us your phobias and we will tell you what you are afraid of. (My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew)

26. The only cure for a real hangover is death. (My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew)

27. The surest way to make a monkey of a man is to quote him (My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew)

28. "The work can wait," I said, quoting our business motto. (My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew)

29. There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not. (Of All Things)

30.Thus in our whole body, there are perhaps (six times seven is forty-two, five times eight is forty, put down naught and carry your four, eight times nine is seventy-two and four is seventy-six, put down six and carry your seven and then, adding, six, four, three, one, six, naught, naught, naught, naught), oh, about a billion or so of these red corpuscles alone, not counting overhead and breakage. (Pluck and Luck)

31. When I was a child I was of an affectionate disposition, but not enough to get arrested. (From Bed to Worse).


P.S. I don't envy the translators, who were assigned to translate Benchley into German, French et al.


Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:28
English to Turkish
+ ...
I don't know why... Aug 29, 2005

... other household members are now sliding away from my proximity, and they're doing it fast! but... this is fabulous, and I should certainly write this down somewhere:

Anything can happen, but it usually doesn't.

And should not forget to mention NY phone book bit when discussing Russian literature next timeicon_biggrin.gif

Thank you, Narasimhan, for sharing it here!


Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:58
English to Tamil
+ ...
This is what Connie writes Aug 30, 2005

Taken from

Robert Charles Benchley
A VERY funny author, NOT THE AUTHOR OF "JAWS" (Peter is his grandson.)

Benchley himself best explains why he's a favorite. A few quotes:

"What is the disease which manifests itself in an inability to leave a party -- any party at all -- until it is all over and the lights are put out? It must be some sort of pernicious inertia."
-- Toddling Along

" If the children of today can get electric grain elevators and tin automobiles for Christmas, why aren't they that much better off than their grandfathers who got only wristlets? Learning the value of money, which seems to be the only argument of the stand-patters, doesn't hold very much water as a Christmas slogan. The value of money can be learned in just about five minutes when the time comes, but Christmas is not the season."
-- A Good Old Fashioned Christmas

"In America there are two classes of travel--first class, and with children. Traveling with children corresponds roughly to traveling third-class in Bulgaria.
"...Those who have taken a very small baby on a train maintain that this ranks as pleasure along with having a nerve killed. On the other hand, those whose wee companions are in the romping stage, simply laugh at the claims of the first group."
--Kiddie Car Travel

"When you consider that the world is full of men who can't stoop over to tie their shoes without bumping their head, women to whom left and right are interchangeable as a matter of principle, young people whose parents are still wondering when they are going to develop mentally beyond the age of nine--all driving automobiles--then the logical ending to the whole situation is for all the automobiles in the world to pile up on top of one another at one big cross-road.
"I, myself, am aghast at the possibilities of such a catastrophe when I think of what might happen in my own case if Nature really took its course when I am at the wheel, and there must be millions of people driving who are no better equipped than I am to guide a motor vehicle through any more of an emergency than a sudden light breeze."
-- Lucky World!

In fact, I get hysterical just thumbing through the Table of Contents of any Benchley Collection.

Mistaken Notions
All Aboard for Dementia Praecox
Read and Eat
Talking Dogs
My White Suit
What--No Budapest?
Do We Sleep Enough?
Hedgehogs Wanted
Sweet Solitude
Penguin Feud
Coffee Versus Gin
Inherent Vice: Express Paid
The Sunday Menace
The collection titles themselves are hilarious:
My Ten Years in a Quandary (and how they grew)
After 1903-- What?
No Poems (or around the world backwards and sideways)
The Treasurer's Report (and other aspects of community singing)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (or David Copperfield)
From Bed to Worse (or comforting thoughts about the bison)
I could go on and on and on and on...(some say I do)

Now back to Raghavan. I perfectly understand, what Connie means when writing about getting hysterical just thumbing through the Table of Contents of any Benchley Collection. Especially the one about Budapest.

In one of his reviews of a play, Benchley wrote that the play is supposed to take place in a city called Budapest, but there is no city by that name. This enraged a reader, who wrote to him saying that Budapest is the capital of Hungary and Hungary is in Europe. He further suggested that Benchley take his money back from his geography teacher. In reply Benchley penned the article, "What - no Budapest?" He says that he stands by what he says. He then says, "There is no such place as Budapest. Perhaps you are thinking of Bucharest,...and there is no such place as Bucharest, either." The article continues in this vein proving his point, atleast to his readers.


[Edited at 2005-09-26 16:41]


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Robert Benchley, 1889-1945, doyen of American humor, writer, actor, critic

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