Duly Quoted

Whenever someone's a smartypants, the Meaty Quote File is there!

Whenever someone’s a smartypants, the Meaty Quote File is there!

Years ago, when my niece, Lauren, was about two years old, she coughed.

Perhaps the cough was a bit louder or longer than usual. Maybe it was a tad phlegmy. Perhaps it was followed by a hiccup. I’m not sure, but something about this cough made it more special than other coughs. The cough’s significance, however, did not escape my sister, Gina.

Gina proceeded to feel Lauren’s forehead, press her ear up against her chest, and look in the child’s mouth, ears, and nose.

My grandmother and I watched this do-it-yourself doctoring with fascination. When Grandma and I weren’t staring at Gina’s antics, we glanced at each other and chatted telepathically:

“Lauren just coughed, right? We didn’t not see something, right? Is the kid bleeding out her eyes? Is her skin sloughing off? Did she cough up a less essential internal organ – like a gall bladder or a meatball-size chunk of liver?”

Eventually, Gina completed her examination and declared that an appointment with the pediatrician would be necessary. “Just to be safe,” she said with an assertive nod.

At that, Grandma turned to me, sighed and said, “That sister of yours takes those kids to the doctor if they fart crooked.”

I then laughed for the next three days.

That line, in my view, is the quintessential Grandma quote, a fine example of her crass and caustic German humor. But the writer part of me digs the line, too, because it does such a good job in describing who the speaker is. It’s a line with a built in backstory.

First off, doesn’t that line seem tailor made for an elderly person? It’s a great zinger, but the zinger doesn’t sound modern. “Fart crooked?” There’s a sort of do-it-yourself old-fashioned construction to the phrase. (It reminds me of a bon mot from an older woman I used to work with; she described her old car as a “turd boiler.”) Someone who says “fart crooked” (or turd boiler) probably also says “clicker” instead of “remote” and “ice box” instead of “refrigerator.”

“Fart crooked” suggests a working class background to me, too — though I’m not exactly sure why. I’m stereotyping, I suppose. “Fart crooked” just doesn’t seem to be a natural fit for The Lord of the Manor.

Also a line like that can only be uttered by a parent, I think. It suggests a certain type of parent, too – one who says, “Get outta my house and don’t come back ’till supper.” Such a parent does not take a kid to the doctor because of a cough – and is more than happy to mock a parent who would. Grandma’s line declares, “I speak from experience. And you know nothing.”

See why the writer in me loves that line? It’s not just a fart joke. It’s a fart joke with subtext! When I write characters for the stage, I love to discover lines that not only show a character’s personality, but also suggest a character’s life story.

Like most writers out there, I have a file filled with Story Ideas. I also have a binder ring of Meaty Quotes. In it are dialogue snippets that I hope to use in a story someday. I recommend this technique highly. Even if you never use any of the quotes, the file will always be good for a few laughs.

Most of the quotes I have accumulated have been uttered by members my family — so my file doubles as an instant fond-memory generator.

My Grandma has been dead for many years now, but her smart remarks live on. And I still can’t help but laugh.

63 thoughts on “Duly Quoted

  1. “a fart joke with subtext”—Well, it doesn’t get any better than that. 😉

    Wonderful post. I never thought to collect quotes from my family members, but what a great idea. I only wish my own grandmother was still around, because I’m sure she had a collection of great zingers, too.

  2. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes!!!!!! Family paydirt! That’s one of the many reasons I love going back to the midwest to visit all the relatives. There are lots of interesting expressions used to comment on other people and their actions or to simply discuss the weather. The Bay Area is stuffed with people who’ve had all the interesting words and phrases edgimicated out of them, so their comments are more dull but pristine. That’s also why I love British humor. It is often biting and original.

    I don’t have an organized quote file (disorganized, yes), and it’s high time I made one. I hadn’t thought about the ring thing. That makes them readily accessible, doesn’t it? Hmmmmmm

    And it sounds like you’re revisiting your stage characters. Am I right?

  3. Love the quote binder. I have them scattered and in my “notes” on my iPhone. A physical backup would be nice.

  4. A superb quote! Your Grandma’s certainly worthy of a dedicated quote collector like yourself. I love that idea of a ring of quotes. My sister has started keeping a book for each of her kids, of the funny things they’ve said as they’ve grown up (they’re currently 14, 12 and 8) one of which involved my nephew’s response to a poem I’d written, which talked about ‘an over active inner child’ and he said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know Harula was pregnant?!’ Classic! H xxx

  5. ‘It’s a line with a built in backstory.’ So glad you shared the line and the backstory with us. So many times we hear something intriguing, but instead of hearing the backstory we usually on get ‘you had to be there’. Not satisfying at all! Thanks for the backstory!

  6. That quote is brilliant! So is your idea of collecting them on a ring the way you do. Your Grandmother sounds like she could have given the, “Shit My Dad Says” guy a run for his money. Now there is a conversation I would like to be a fly on a wall for.

  7. Haha! “Fart Crooked” for a novel has bestseller written all over it. What a phenomenal thing to say. I have a journal with novel ideas where I also add life quotes as they happen. Good tool!

  8. Oh your Grandma is a woman after my own heart. Thank you for your post also, because I feel like I can finally admit something I have been hiding for so long: I fart crooked. There, I said it. It feels so good to let it out. Even if it comes out crooked.

  9. Oh that IS good. And your analysis seems spot on. She was on to a winner by just using the fart word anyway, but the addition of “crooked” is fantastic. I’m sure you could do a great doodle to accompany that quote.

  10. Thanks again for brightening the start of an otherwise rather gloomy day. I felt like I was sitting next to Mrs. D and holding back my laughs at the antics. She certainly was a “straight shooter” (pun definitely intended), and one of the favorite people in my life. . . .

  11. Fabulous writing advice. I’m going to steal it and share it with my creative writing class. We’ll see who can come up in the next couple of weeks with the best ‘fart’ quote. Ur, I mean, interesting quote.
    Gotta go now, can’t find my clicker anywhere (and what the hell is a ‘remote’?)

  12. That’s so funny. I collect quotes like they are treasure, and many of mine are from family too. I don’t, however, have them compiled neatly on a ring of cards. Project!

  13. I thought I had left a comment, but cannot find it. Hm, not sure what that is saying about me. Anyway, I love this idea. I love it so well, I took some of your other advice and stole the idea. Bought index cards to use and have the metal ring, just need the single paper punch. Maybe you have one of those I could, um, borrow? Great idea! 🙂

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