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Pithy Sayings

The English


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So, without wanting to blow our own trumpet or come over all patriotic, I think we [the English] can safely say that our skills in the arts of irony, understatement and self-mockery are, on the whole, not bad.
[From Watching the English by Kate Fox, 2014]

When a disaster comes, the English instinct is to do what can be done first, and to postpone the feeling as long as possible. Hence they are splendid at emergencies. No doubt they are brave—but bravery is partly an affair of the nerves, and the English nervous system is well equipped for meeting a physical emergency. It acts promptly and feels slowly.
[E M Forster in 1920, quoted in Ealing Studios by Charles Barr, 1977]

Good evening again, ladies and gentlemen. This is Captain Eric Moody here. We have a small problem in that all four engines have failed. We're doing our utmost to get them going and I trust you're not in too much distress, and would the chief steward please come to the flight deck?
[British Airways pilot in 1982, quoted in The Culture Map by Erin Meyer, 2014]

Peeled plum tomatoes
To check that the residents of a house are truly English, check the kitchen cupboard. There will be a small sacred space filled with dusty, dented tins of Peeled Plum Tomatoes. It is a form of shrine. They are believed to be provisions for the after-life. This superstition derives from Egypt.
[From My Nightmare in England by Colin Lynes & Kotaro Sarai, 1996]

Wanda, do you have any idea what it's like being English? Being so correct all the time, being so stifled by this dread of doing the wrong thing, of saying to someone "Are you married?" and hearing "My wife left me this morning", or saying "Do you have children?" and being told "They all burned to death on Wednesday." You see, Wanda, we're all terrified of embarrassment. That's why we're so ... dead. Most of my friends are dead, you know. We have these piles of corpses to dinner.
[John Cleese, in the film A Fish Called Wanda, 1988]

Propose to an Englishman any principle or any instrument, however admirable, and you will observe that the whole effect of the English mind is directed to finding some difficulty, defect or improbability in it. If you speak to him of a machine for peeling potatoes, he will pronounce it impossible. If you peel potatoes with it before his eyes, he will declare it useless because it cannot slice pineapples. Expose the same principle or show the same machine to an American and you will observe that the whole effort of his mind is to find some new application of the principle and some new use for the machine.
[Charles Babbage, 1792 to 1871]


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