Many pearls of wisdom have sustained man through the ages, mostly suggestions or commands exhorting him to do the right thing. “Speak softly and carry a big stick”, “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer”, and “Take things one day at a time” are a few examples.
The majority of such nuggets of advice are in the form of aphorisms and proverbs that are intended to influence, advise or inspire, and are usually phrased positively.
But as is evident from previous Vocab columns, there will always be one wordsmith who is fond of doing things differently, or who has time hanging heavily on his hands, or both – which we think led Dr Mardy Grothe to compile a whole book of quotations that phrase advice in the form of negatives. He calls them ‘neverisms’.
Now we all remember “Never give a sucker an even break” (W C Fields) and “Never send a boy to do a man’s job” (a 19th-century New York newspaper ad). Dr Grothe has amassed nearly 2,000 quotations that all begin with the word “Never”.
They all fit into a category of human discourse that Willard R Espy once described as “Dissuasive advice given with authority”. Perhaps humans comply better when asked not to do something. The book has many referenced and well-known lines such as “Never cross a bridge until you come to it”, “Never judge a book by its cover”, and among the hundreds of quoted people are Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr, Harvey Mackay, Richard Nixon, John Steinbeck, and James Thurber. Dr Grothe also relates the stories behind many of them. For instance “Never underestimate the power of a woman” started as an ice-cream company slogan promoting home delivery.
Its chapters include human relationships, sports, business, the entertainment world, and others, and their headings are neverisms in themselves:
Never Go to a Doctor Whose Office Plants Have Died Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste Never Give In. Never, Never, Never, Never!
Never Approach a Woman From Behind
Never Change Diapers in Mid-Stream Never Judge a Book by Its Movie Never Cut What You Can Untie.