A History Of The World — In One-Liners

Jun 21, 2013
Originally published on June 18, 2013 11:10 am

Speaking to the Faith & Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" Conference on Saturday, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — in a speech broadcast on C-SPAN — let loose a barrage of bons mots aimed at President Obama and political Washington.

Now that Fox News has re-signed Palin as a commentator, we will likely be hearing a lot more one-liners from the Wit of Wasilla.

In this Twitter Age, in which brevity = wit, we are witnessing the expanding power of one-liners. And the drawbacks.

"One-liners present themselves as final answers, meant to end discussion — like 'Guns don't kill people, people kill people," Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, tells NPR. "The trick, I think, is to respond to the one-liner with a question, like 'Then what are guns made for?' Good questions lead to good conversations, provided we're willing to listen to one another."

Palin is just one among the latest practitioners of the popular rhetorical device. Over the years, the pithy single-sentence comment — from aphorism to zinger — has sparked cultural changes, ignited imaginations, captured comedic moments. Here is a timeline of 10 notable, quotable one-liners.

1) "I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing." Plato, The Republic, 360 B.C.

2) "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Jesus Christ, The Bible, 1st Century, A.D.

3) "To be, or not to be, that is the question." Shakespeare, Hamlet, circa 1600

4) "A long life may not be good enough, but a good life is long enough." Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, 1733

5) "They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm." Dorothy Parker, Fair Weather, 1928

6) "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." President John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 1961

7) "It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence." The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his last sermon, "I See the Promised Land," 1968

8) "My doctor grabbed me by the wallet and said, 'Cough!' " Henny Youngman, 1906-1998

9) "Having the courage to stand up and pursue your dreams will give you life's greatest reward and life's greatest adventure." Oprah Winfrey, O: The Oprah Magazine, 2002

10) "Our government's spying on every single one of your phone calls but couldn't find two pot-smoking deadbeat Bostonians with a hotline to terrorist central in Chechnya — really?" Sarah Palin, Faith & Freedom Coalition conference, 2013

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