There are certain queer times in this life when you find yourself lost for words. Your tongue feels lethargic, like the old lady’s tabby used it to teach knot tying to the local Boy Scout troop.
Where can you turn for succor? How about the greatest work of literature you have almost certainly never read.* Melville’s Moby Dick; or, The Whale, is on the short list of great American Novels.** Read it, and never again be at a loss for words.
Without further adieu, the most appropriate quotations From Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:
#8 Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.
Most Appropriate Usage: Let’s say you wake up in a strange dorm room. You drank so much the night before you don’t remember what happened. You look to your left, and find you share the bed with a naked, snoring, not very attractive member of the opposite gender.*** Oh, regrets! Use this line as you grab your clothes and make your way to the door.
#7 Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed.
Most Appropriate Usage: You are meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time. They are Upper East Siders, the sorts of people that look down upon anyone in a lower tax bracket. You are an aspiring artist, and the thought of working in an office makes you nauseous. When they mention that they would never allow their child to move into a Brooklyn studio apartment, that’s when you bring up this line.
#6 Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.
Most Appropriate Usage: Your best friend just got married, and you were maid of honor/best man. You drank way too much at the reception, and when the rabbi approaches you to say job well done, you punch him in the eye. He talks to you of blasphemy. Luckily you have this ready retort in your pocket.
#5 Cannibals? Who is not a cannibal? I tell you it will be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgement, than for thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate de fois gras.
Most Appropriate Usage: Your plane has recently crashed over the Andees. Food is scarce. With little chance of survival, you decide to eat the flesh of one of the dead passengers. This act of desecration does not sit well with some of the other passengers. Let them know what you think of their puritanical convictions with this little ditty.
#4 What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike. And all the time, lo! that smiling sky, and this unsounded sea! Look! see yon Albicore! who put it into him to chase and fang that flying-fish? Where do murderers go, man! Who’s to doom, when the judge himself is dragged to the bar?
Most Appropriate Usage: You have been found guilty by a jury of your peers. The judge asks if you have anything to say for yourself before he passes sentence. Luckily, you memorized this paragraph in Mrs. Libby’s English class.
#3 Call Me Ishmael
Most Appropriate Usage: You are an American agent, captured behind enemy lines by the North Koreans. Your interrogator demands to know your name, rank, and serial number. You say nothing, except to repeat the single most famous opening line in American literature, over and over again.
#2 Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act’s immutably decreed. ’Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders. Look thou, underling! that thou obeyest mine. (134.43)
Most Appropriate Usage: Your spouse has just caught you cheating. Rather than allow him/her to get the upper hand, you refuse to be bowed. Let him/her know in no uncertain terms that you are not responsible for your actions.
#1 There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.
Most Appropriate Usage: This time it’s you who are getting married. The minister asks you to say your vows. Of course you have chosen to write them yourself. You pull out a little piece of notebook paper, and read this quotation. Fifty years of marital bliss ensues.
*Unless of course you have never read Don Quixote. And you call yourself literate!
**The short list: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
Moby Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville
That is all.
***Works equally well for a member of the same gender.
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