Sunday, February 18, 2018

342. Gilded Phrases: They Provoke, They Inspire, They Kill


     A woman who loved to see well-groomed dogs was walking down a street in New York.  Seeing a man approaching with a really well-groomed dog, she said, "Gorgeous!"  "I know," said the man.  "I work out a lot."

     Walking on Bleecker Street for three blocks, with its pricey designer clothing and perfume stores, I saw seven empty storefronts, often with the sign  RETAIL  SPACE  AVAILABLE. Are tenants finally refusing to pay exorbitant rents?  One can hope.

      Recently I located an old friend I hadn't seen in decades by googling her name on the Internet.  Surprised, since I thought she had left the city long ago, I got her phone number and phoned.  We both went to the same college, Pomona, in southern California, but we didn't know each other there; we met here in New York.  She answered.
     "Hello," I said.  "This is Cliff Browder, Pomona, class of '50."          "I can't give any money!" she almost screamed.  
     "I don't want your money, not one cent," I quietly explained. "I'm an old friend who wants to say hello."
      She softened at once, explaining that she got so many phone solicitations that she was always ready to say no.  No explanation was necessary, since I get them too and go to the phone teeming with hostility.  And the conversation proceeded genteelly from there.


         A college roommate once told me long ago of attending a military school where, over the entrance, were the words ENTER, THAT YE BE MEN.  He had found it quite moving, and still did, when he told me of it.  Recalling that recently, I began pondering the statements and phrases that embed themselves in our minds and motivate us, whether in a positive or negative way.  Many came to mind, and I labeled them Gilded Phrases.  Here are some of them.

Ecrasez l'infame (Crush the infamous).  This phrase appears in Voltaire's letters, without his ever defining precisely, and consistently, what he meant by "l'infame."  It can be taken to mean the Catholic Church, but it can be interpreted more broadly, albeit vaguely, as whatever he (or anyone) views as objectionable or repressive.  So whatever it is, let's crush it.

Deus lo vult (medieval Latin for God wills it).  The much-acclaimed motto of the First Crusade, 1095.  Gilded Phrases can send men marching off to war.

La propriété, c'est le vol (Property is theft).  The dramatic affirmation of the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in a publication of 1840.  Gilded Phrases can be provocative.

Today Germany, tomorrow the world.  Attributed to Hitler in the 1930s, and certainly expressive of his nationalistic thought.

Yes, we can!  Used by Barack Obama in his successful 2008 presidential campaign, and chanted by his followers throughout. He at first thought it corny, but his wife convinced him otherwise.  So Gilded Phrases can inspire and sustain a political campaign.

Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.  Spoken in 1798 by Robert Goodloe Harper, a U.S. senator from Maryland, when he heard that Talleyrand had demanded a bribe to stop French ships from attacking American ships.

Cotton is king!  Proclaimed by Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina in 1859, and repeated by Southerners thereafter. The Panic of 1857 had stricken the commercial North but left the agricultural South untouched, encouraging Southerners to think the South invincible in its brewing struggle with the North.  Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

Remember the Maine!  A popular slogan in America's brief war with Spain in 1898.  The battleship Maine had exploded and sunk in Havana harbor, and the Spaniards, who then ruled Cuba, were blamed, though later evidence suggested an internal explosion. And what was a U.S. warship doing there anyway, when Cuba was a Spanish colony?  But Gilded Phrases are great wartime cries.

The war to end wars.  A popular slogan in the U.S. during our participation in World War I, 1917-18, showing our perennial need to turn wars into noble crusades.  No such illusion plagued us during World War II, as I recall.

De l'audace.  Encore de l'audace.  Toujours de l'audace.  (Hard to translate.  l'audace = audacity, boldness, daring.  One translation: To dare, and again to dare, and without end to dare!)  Spoken by Danton, a fiery revolutionary, in 1792, when the French Revolution was threatened by foreign and royalist armies. The result: the September massacres, when hundreds of suspected royalists were slaughtered.  Gilded Phrases can have dire results.  

America First!  A motto of isolationists in the months preceding our entry into World War II, when isolationists debated interventionists.  I heard it often in the Midwest.  An America First Committee was active 1940-41, but was dissolved when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, ending the debate.  But the sentiment persists today, witness our president.

Power to the people!  A popular slogan among student radicals of the 1960s in their revolt against the establishment.  Also adopted by the Black Panthers.  Of course one can ask: Which people?

Workers of the world, unite!  Right out of Marx and Engel's Communist Manifesto of 1848.  And don't say Gilded Phrases can't have repercussions.  This one has been reverberating ever since.

Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable! The words of Senator Daniel Webster, of Massachusetts in his 1830 debate with Senator Robert Haynes of South Carolina, a champion of states' rights.  Often hailed as the most famous speech in the Senate's history, with these words appearing on the pedestal of a statue of Webster in Central Park.  

          So there you have it: this post is all about big words.  Gilded Phrases are short, memorable, quotable.  The excite, they provoke, they inspire.  They can lead to patriotic renewals and reforms, and to wars, revolutions, massacres.  And today?  How about "America for Americans," "Make America great again," "Me too."  Let's not get too carried away.  We may regret it later; time will tell.


All books are available online as indicated, or from the author.

1.  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (Mill City Press, 2015).  Winner of the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  All about anything and everything New York: alcoholics, abortionists, greenmarkets, Occupy Wall Street, the Gay Pride Parade, my mugging in Central Park, peyote visions, and an artist who made art of a blackened human toe.  In her Reader Views review, Sheri Hoyte called it "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City."

If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you.  An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017.


"If you want wonderful inside tales about New York, this is the book for you.  Cliff Browder has a way with his writing that makes the city I lived in for 40 plus years come alive in a new and delightful way. A refreshing view on NYC that will not disappoint."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Bill L.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

2.  Bill Hope: His Story (Anaphora Literary Press, 2017), the second novel in the Metropolis series.  New York City, 1870s: From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, young Bill Hope spills out in a torrent of words the story of his career as a pickpocket and shoplifter; his brutal treatment at Sing Sing and escape from another prison in a coffin; his forays into brownstones and polite society; and his sojourn among the “loonies” in a madhouse, from which he emerges to face betrayal and death threats, and possible involvement in a murder.  Driving him throughout is a fierce desire for better, a persistent and undying hope.

For readers who like historical fiction and a fast-moving story.


"A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure.  A must read."  Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.

"This was a fun book.  The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character.  I would recommend this."  Four-star LibraryThing review by stephvin.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

3.  Dark Knowledge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2018), the third novel in the Metropolis series.  Adult and young adult.  A fast-moving historical novel about New York City and the slave trade, with the sights and sounds and smells of the waterfront. 

Browder - Cover - 9781681143675-Perfect - 2
The back cover summary:

New York City, late 1860s.  When young Chris Harmony learns that members of his family may have been involved in the illegal pre-Civil War slave trade, taking slaves from Africa to Cuba, he is appalled.  Determined to learn the truth, he begins an investigation that takes him into a dingy waterfront saloon, musty old maritime records that yield startling secrets, and elegant brownstone parlors that may have been furnished by the trade.  Since those once involved dread exposure, he meets denials and evasions, then threats, and a key witness is murdered.  Chris has vivid fantasies of the suffering slaves on the ships and their savage revolts.  How could seemingly respectable people be involved in so abhorrent a trade, and how did they avoid exposure?  And what price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?

Early reviews

"A lively and entertaining tale.  The writing styles, plot, pace and character development were excellent."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by BridgitDavis.

"At first the plot ... seemed a bit contrived, but I was soon swept up in the tale."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by snash.

"I am glad that I have read this book as it goes into great detail and the presentation is amazing.  The Author obviously knows his stuff."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by Moiser20.

Just released; available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

4.  The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), the first novel in the Metropolis series, tells the story of a respectably raised young man who chooses to become a male prostitute in late 1860s New York and falls in love with his most difficult client.

What was the gay scene like in nineteenth-century New York?   Gay romance, if you like, but no porn (I don't do porn).  Women have read it and reviewed it.  (The cover illustration doesn't hurt.)


"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read."  Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.

"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same."  Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.

"The detail Browder brings to this glimpse into history is only equaled by his writing of credible and interesting characters.  Highly recommended."  Five-star Goodreads review by Nan Hawthorne.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

                *                 *                 *                  *

Coming soon:  Again, no idea.

©   2018   Clifford Browder

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