Goering on war

I’m currently reading Albert Speer’s Inside the Third Reich. It’s a remarkably personal take on what it was like to be around Hitler between 1933 and 1945. In the book, Hermann Goering comes off as such a pompous buffoon that it’s hard to believe he was Hitler’s hand-picked successor. I wanted to learn a little more about Goering, and in doing so I came across the following remarkably current quote from this page on the Nuremberg war crimes trial. In it, a psychologist named Gustave Gilbert is observing that, contrary to what Goering is implying, the people don’t want war.

Goering: “Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

Gilbert: “There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

Goering: “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

That’s a good one to keep in mind as election time rolls around.

Lumped words and their sources

Years ago I was in church watching an organist perform, and as he reached a feverish crescendo in the piece I said to myself, “Wow, he’s really pulling out all the stops.” It was only at that moment that I realized this was the literal origin of that particular figure of speech. Every time I had used the phrase “pull out all the stops” before that moment, I had been treating it as a single lumped-together word whose meaning I understood but whose derivation was unknown and unsought.

A figure of speech is a sort of lumped word once it comes unhinged from its source. “Hook, line, and sinker” is easy enough for anyone to work out; “lock, stock, and barrel” is somewhat more puzzling. And when someone speaks of their “salad days“, what are they talking about? You can picture someone being tarred and feathered, but if you say someone has been drawn and quartered, do you realize how gruesome the image is you’re calling up? And is the phrase you’re on the verge of saying “cut and dried” or “cut and try”?

All the links in the phrases above point to The Phrase Finder, a fun reference on the origins and correct usage of phrases. Use the Phrase Finder and avoid lumpy language. For instance, if you like the phrase “rule of thumb“, you should look up its origin (or perhaps its supposed origin) and see if you still like it…