The stupid things people say are now collected in a book

September 27, 1993|By Loraine O'Connell | Loraine O'Connell,Orlando Sentinel

If you've ever said something really stupid, watch out. You might find yourself in the next edition of "The 776 Stupidest Things Ever Said," by Ross and Kathryn Petras (Doubleday, $8.99).

In it, the authors present a wealth of malapropisms, misstatements and doublespeak, not to mention egregious examples of the tongue-tied, addle-brained and just plain tactless utterings of dozens of people throughout history.

The Petrases, who are brother and sister, are self-described "media junkies." They culled their gems from newspapers, magazines, television shows and private collections. They came up with the 776 figure in a roundabout way.

"Our mother used to give us '752 reasons' why we couldn't play football, '752 reasons' why we couldn't go out," says Ross Petras. "It was her generic number.

"So our working title was 'The 752 Stupidest Things Ever Said.' "

But their editor wanted a larger number -- somehow or other, they ended up at 776.

Pretty stupid, huh?

Most of the quoted folks in the book are politicians, athletes, sportscasters, business honchos, artists and Hollywood types, whose verbal gaffes are recorded for posterity and sometime become the stuff of legend.

Who hasn't heard Yogi Berra's thought-provoking admonition: "You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there."

Or his verdict on a trendy restaurant: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

And who can forget former Vice President Dan Quayle's stirring words to the United Negro College Fund: "What a waste it is to lose one's mind -- or not to have a mind. How true that is."

The fund's slogan, of course, is "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

But we've all been guilty of foot-in-mouth disease at one point or another. Fortunately, most of us slip up only occasionally.

But what of people who do it -- or did it -- regularly? What's behind the mutilated metaphors (such as movie mogul Sam Goldwyn's "You've got to take the bull by the teeth") and muddled meanings (such as former President Gerald Ford's "Things are more like they are now than they have ever been")?

"In some instances, slips are caused by fatigue," says Don Williams, a professor of communication studies at the University of Florida. "If you're mentally tired -- not necessarily yawning -- you're not as sharp."

Of course, there's also "the person who's such a dud that he or she doesn't have any appreciation for tact."

Dan R. Eddy Jr. comes to mind. Mr. Eddy is described in "776" as "a member of the Texas Good Neighbor Commission, a state agency charged with promoting good Texas-Mexico relations."

Eddy's comment after a visit south of the border: "If I never get to Mexico again, it wouldn't bother me. I don't like the food or the climate."

Among the notable quotables in the book is Bill Peterson, ex-Houston Oiler and Florida State coach. His most memorable comment was, "They gave me a standing observation."

Mr. Williams says such misuse of words can be ascribed to "functional illiteracy."

People who erroneously swap one word for another, unrelated, word "are not illiterate in terms of reading, but there's a functional illiteracy where they don't know differences in meaning," Mr. Williams says.

Then there are Freudian slips, in which "you actually say what's on your mind but didn't want to say it," he explains.

Under the rubric of "Freudian slips," the authors of "776" quote Ronald Reagan in a speech on U.S. efforts to help the Third World: "The United States has much to offer the third world war." The Petrases note that Reagan "repeated this error nine times in the same speech."

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