If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him: Poynter’s 8 lessons from Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra said you could learn a lot by watching. You can also learn a lot by listening and reading.
Roy Peter Clark collected Eight language lessons from Yogi Berra at Poynter.org, and yes, those lessons come from some of Yogi’s malopropisms, which, Clark points out, often have a “stab of truth behind them.”
Sometimes the utterances of Berra, who died this week at 90, were just a little silly. “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded” is my favorite one of those. That’s more of an example of verbal sloppiness than folk wisdom. Berra obviously meant “Nobody I know goes there anymore.” But Clark digging into Yogi’s wit and wisdom shows how fruitful, and just plain interesting, it can be to examine someone’s words closely. An example:
“I’m as red as a sheet.” Yogi said this after he flubbed his movie line in a Cary Grant/Doris Day movie “That Touch of Mink.” Lesson: It always helps to tweak the predictable. Who would remember this if he said, “I’m red as a beet” or “white as a sheet.” So did the blood rush to his face or rush from his face? In essence, Yogi doubles-down on his embarrassment, reminding us that a mash-up need not be a mix-up.
That reminds me of one of my favorite phrases, which I heard as a kind of Yogi-ism years ago, though not from Yogi Berra. A customer at a shipping counter where I worked, a gregarious Irishman, meant to tell me that whatever choice I was offering him didn’t matter. Either was good.
“Ah, six o’ one, 12 o’ the other,” he said. Not only do I remember that phrase from a meaningless retail encounter decades ago, but I’ve used it myself ever since in place of the banal “Six of one, half a dozen of the other.” I love a nice tweaked cliché, don’t you?
Public domain photo via Wikipedia.