Title Search

One of the little advantages of living in the pre-Internet world was that it was far easier to flatter myself, in my cleverer moments, that I’d had an original idea. It now requires only a trivial exertion to confirm that I haven’t.

Sometime back in my early adulthood, in a particularly satisfying moment of conversational effervescence, I observed that “a man’s speech should exceed his grasp, or what’s a metaphor?” This nifty bon mot delighted my interlocutors, and pleased me no end. I fancied myself on a par with Shaw and Wilde for witty originality, until one day I Googled the damned thing and found that it had been offered up, with slight variations, by plenty of other wags before me (all of whom probably thought as well of themselves as I did for coming up with it).

One of the harder problems I face in confecting these little posts is what to call them; I’ll sometimes spend as long on the title as the post (not always, as you can see). I’ve learned, though, that when, after concentrated effort, I’ve come up with something gratifyingly snappy and playful, I usually find that other folks — multitudes, often — have beaten me, as it were, to the punchline. For example, after finishing a minor post the other day about the great orator Churchill’s views on the evolutionary history of Man’s political life, I seized upon the title The Origin of Speeches. You can imagine how chopfallen I was to find 2,980 results on Google, including its having been used for the title of a published book.

Oh well, I’m sure I’m not the only one in this boat. We like to flatter ourselves, but given how many speakers and writers have been at this game for thousands of years, I’m starting to realize that — hmmm, let me think of the right way to put this — original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not have possibly met.


  1. Charles says

    That last one was a joke, right?

    Trying to coin a new and pithy gem of speech is probably impossible, and that impossibility is probably one thing that drives writers to write novels: the more words you slap together, the less likely it is that someone slapped them together in the same way before you.

    Posted April 2, 2008 at 4:08 am | Permalink
  2. JO says

    I am supposed to be working on legal blogs, you are a guilty diversion.

    It doesn’t matter if millions have said it before you, if you can find just ONE who hasn’t heard it before, what does it matter?


    Posted April 2, 2008 at 11:58 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    I do apologize, JO.

    I can see your point, but in one’s more ambitious moments one hopes for a larger and more sophisticated fan base than the one you propose.

    Charles – impossible? As far as I can tell, originality is just a matter of timing.

    Posted April 2, 2008 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  4. JK says


    I find it most clever to begin… “Now mind I heard this first in elementary school and since I’ve generally jumbled most of what I picked up there, this may not be as it was first said and so Dear Reader, this may turn out to be both clever and original.”

    This dadgone internet thingy does lend itself to being used maliciously by any who might wish to impugn any otherwise real cleverness. However the Shirrelle’s did win in their suit against Mr. Harrison did they not? Well if I’ve misnamed or misspelled either party then it is original is it not?


    Posted April 2, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    I am reminded of the quote attributed to Samuel Johnson:

    “Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”

    Posted April 2, 2008 at 2:11 pm | Permalink
  6. JK says

    Yes quite apt. Rather like a physicist replying to a fellow, “That is a novel way to think of it, I’ve never heard it expressed quite like that. How is it that you are unable to balance your checkbook?.”


    Posted April 2, 2008 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

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