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Dr. Mardy's Quotes of the Week
October 8-14, 2023 | THIS WEEK'S THEME: “Enemies and Frenemies”
Opening Line of the Week
The Ordeal of Richard Feverel is a classic in world literature. Because of its strong psychological orientation, it is regarded by many critics as the first modern novel in English literature. I feature it here because the opening words describe something readers had never before seen—a book dedicated to the author’s enemies.
This Week’s Puzzler
On October 9, 1987, this woman died at age 84 in Washington DC. At her death, she was one of the most familiar names in American culture. An obituary in The New York Times said of her: “She had enough careers to satisfy the ambitions of several women, but none tied her down for long. She was often on lists of the world’s 10 most admired women, but her glamorous existence and tart tongue drew criticism, sometimes partisan, sometimes envious.”
In 1903, she was born in New York City to a former chorus girl and an orchestra violinist. Only eight when her parents separated, she and her mother struggled financially, but it didn’t stop her from dreaming of an acting career (at age ten, she even served as an understudy to Mary Pickford in a Broadway play). By her teenage years, she was so beautiful that heads turned wherever she went. At age 18, upon meeting Elsa Maxwell, the socialite said in reference to her great beauty: “I’ll have her to one of my parties. Whatever happens then, she’ll get a rich husband.”
She ended up marrying two rich husbands, the first was the son of a Manhattan multi-millionaire and the second—perhaps the most famous magazine publisher of all time—became wealthy as a result of his own efforts (to mention his name would give away her identity).
After the first marriage ended, her society friend Conde Nast arranged a job for her as a caption writer at one of his publications, Vogue magazine. She performed so well in that position that she was hired as a writer at Vanity Fair, and she ultimately rose to Managing Editor of the magazine.
In the 1930s, she turned her attention to writing, publishing Stuffed Shirts (1931), a book of short stories that did only so-so. She experienced far more success as a playwright, with The Women (and its all-female cast) becoming a smash hit on Broadway in 1936 (in 1939, it was adapted into a popular Hollywood film).
In the 1940s and beyond, politics became her preoccupation. Elected to congress in 1942, she served two terms. A bona-fide star in the Republican Party, she went on to serve in a number of government posts, including an ambassadorship to Italy in 1953 (she was the first American woman appointed to an ambassadorial post). In 1983, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.
In her long and fascinating life, this week’s Mystery Woman authored many highly quotable observations, but none more interesting than one she made at age 78:
Who is this person? (Answer below)
Have “Warm Personal Enemies” Improved Your Life?
I was a Dick Cavett fan in the 1980s and can still clearly recall the episode in which this week’s Mystery Woman made her now-famous remark. Her unusual way of describing enemies made quite an impression at the time, and it was soon being repeated all over the place.
At the time, the phrase warm personal enemies rang a bell in the back of my mind, but this was in the pre-Internet era, so there was no way to do a quick search. I spent the next year patiently going through my personal quotation collection, and was thrilled when I finally found the same intriguing phrase in a book I’d read nearly two decades earlier. In Skyline: A Reporter’s Reminiscence of the 1920s (1961), Gene Fowler wrote:
“Everyone needs a warm personal enemy or two to keep him free of rust in the movable parts of the mind.”
Was this week’s Mystery Woman inspired by Fowler’s earlier observation? Who knows for sure, but since she repeated his exact words, it is certainly possible. Imagine, then, my surprise when twenty years later, I discovered that the first appearance of the phrase actually came seven decades earlier, when the artist James McNeill Whistler wrote in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (1890),
“I’m lonesome. They are all dying. I have hardly a warm personal enemy left.”
Was Fowler inspired by Whistler? Again, who knows for sure. But when I came upon the Whistler quote, I found myself wondering, “Was he also inspired by an earlier author?” After spending months searching for an answer, I found nothing definitive, but I believe it is entirely possible that he was inspired by a passage in Anything for a Quiet Life, a 1621 play by the English playwrights Thomas Middleton and John Webster. In the play, a character says:
“My nearest/And dearest enemy.”
Since enemies are typically denigrated, disparaged, and demonized, it may seem odd to find them described as “warm and personal,” or “nearest and dearest.” And, to go back to the Opening Line of the Week, readers of the era must have found it unusual to see enemies held in such affection that a book would be dedicated to them.
This is a truly fascinating phenomenon—a bit puzzling at first, perhaps, but easy to understand after only a little reflection. Enemies do not have our best interests at heart, and may even revel at our setbacks and failures. But enemies also stiffen our spines, keep us on our toes, and help us figure out who we are, what we stand for, and much, much more. Many writers and thinkers have explored this topic over the years, and here are three of my favorite observations on the theme:
In the Western tradition, the great value of enemies has been recognized for millennia. In Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers (3rd c. A.D.), Diogenes Laërtius offered this 5th c. B.C. observation from the Greek philosopher Antisthenes:
“Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.”
The notion of benefiting from an enemy also goes back thousands of years in the Eastern tradition. In Live in a Better Way: Reflections on Truth, Love, and Happiness (2002), Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama wrote:
“We cannot learn real patience and tolerance from a guru or a friend. They can be practiced only when we come in contact with someone who creates unpleasant experiences. According to Shantideva, enemies are really good for us as we can learn a lot from them and build our inner strength.”
Throughout history, there have been numerous observations on the theme of friends that are bad for us, and—as you’ve now seen here—there are many observations on a complementary theme: enemies that are good for us. One other important observation that also reflects this latter theme came in a 1977 essay by Jessica Mitford that was published in both The New York Times and London’s Daily Mail. The piece had an intriguing title—“The Best of Frenemies”—and it included this thought:
“Lifelong enemies are, I think, as hard to make and as important to one’s well-being as lifelong friends.”
Frenemy is what linguists call a portmanteau, or a blend word, in this case merging the words friend and enemy. The earliest appearance of the word in print—but in a slightly different spelling—was in 1891, when an unnamed author used the coinage “frienemies” without explanation in an issue of The Champion, a Norton, Kansas newspaper.
In 1932, the American gossip columnist Walter Winchell also used the word frienemy in an article on Broadway pals. But the first appearance of the word frenemy in print, according to the linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer, was in a December 1938 Better Homes and Gardens column, where Harlan Miller wrote about his young son:
“For use in his endless war games with spears and bows and arrows, our 5-year-old has coined one of the most useful new words of the year 1938—‘frenemy,’ a person who is your friend part of the time and your enemy the rest of the time.”
Over the next several decades, frenemy was used here and there, but it was pretty much unknown in the broader culture when Mitford published her 1977 article—and that changed everything. The placement of the word in two prestigious publications played a major role in launching the word as a cultural meme. Even though the word quickly became fashionable in popular culture, it wasn't until 2008 when The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Merriam-Webster Dictionary finally included entries on it (it would take another three years for The American Heritage Dictionary to follow suit).
Given what I’ve said so far, you would think that dictionary definitions of frenemy would reflect both friends who can be dangerous and enemies who can be beneficial—but that is not the case:
As you see here, these entries from three major dictionaries focus only on friends or faux-friends who also behave like enemies. In my view, this is a major oversight, for the definitions completely fail to capture the type of person discussed earlier—an enemy whose presence in our lives has resulted in our becoming better people. I’m now in the process of urging the editors of all three dictionaries to provide more precise—and, in my view, more accurate—definitions in future editions. For example, the OED entry would be significantly improved if it were worded something like this:
“Someone who combines the characteristics of a friend and an enemy, including (1) a person with whom one is friendly, despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry, and (2) a person who is critical and even antagonistic, but is beneficial to our functioning.”
Thanks for indulging me in my brief lexicographical foray. Now let me bring my remarks to a close by asking you a question: “What role have enemies played in your life, and have any them ever played such a significant role that they might be described as a frenemy?”
As you reflect on the question, let your thinking be stimulated by this week’s selection of quotations on the theme:
When my enemies stop hissing, I shall know I’m slipping. — Maria Callas
Some people are better served by their bitter-tongued enemies than by their sweet-smiling friends, because the former often tell the truth, the latter, never. — Cato the Younger
Understand that some of your enemies are amongst your best friends. — Jean Cocteau
Love your enemies, for they tell you your faults. — Benjamin Franklin
An intimate friend and a hated enemy have always been indispensable to my emotional life. I have always been able to create them anew, and not infrequently my childish ideal has been so closely approached that friend and enemy have coincided in the same person. — Sigmund Freud
I owe much to my friends; but, all things considered, it strikes me that I owe even more to my enemies. The real person springs to life under a sting even better than under a caress. — André Gide
The wise person finds enemies more useful than the fool does friends. —Baltasar Gracián
If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding. — Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama
It is said we learn truth from our enemies. The knowledge of ourselves is a difficult study, and we must be willing to borrow the eyes of our enemies to assist the investigation. — Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee
You can learn from anyone, even your enemy. —Ovid, in Metamorphoses (1st c. A.D)
I call to the world to distrust the accounts of my friends, but listen to my enemies, as I myself do. — Walt Whitman
For source information on these quotations, and many other quotations on the topic of ENEMIES, go to Dr. Mardy's Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations.
Cartoon of the Week
Answer to This Week’s Puzzler:
Clare Booth Luce (1903-87)
In 1935, she married Henry R. Luce, publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines, and they remained together until his death in 1967. I learned only recently that, despite being staunch Republicans and stalwart political conservatives, the couple had an “open” marriage (her lovers included Joseph P. Kennedy and the writer Roald Dahl).
One of the most quotable women of the twentieth century, Luce authored scores of memorable observations. Here’s a sampling of her best:
I’m in my anecdotage.
No good deed goes unpunished.
QUOTE NOTE: Luce was quoted as saying this in a 1956 book written by her former social secretary, Letitia Baldridge, and she is widely credited as the author of the saying. However, subsequent research has demonstrated that gossip columnist Walter Winchell made the same remark fifteen years earlier.
A hospital is no place to be sick.
Widowhood is a fringe benefit of marriage.
A man’s home may seem to be his castle on the outside; inside it is more often his nursery.
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can make you awfully comfortable while you’re being miserable.
Dr. Mardy’s Observation of the Week
Thanks for joining me again this week. See you next Sunday morning, when the theme will be “Lying to Oneself.”
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Regarding My Lifelong Love of Quotations: A Personal Note
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