One man’s list of the top 2548

How can anyone with even the tiniest bit of curiosity resist the opportunity to purchase, for a mere dollar, a book titled, The 2548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said?

I know for a fact I can’t, since I bought the copy I saw at an old book sale for that very price, and without even a moment's hesitation.

A volume of this size obviously involves a good deal of opinion, which made me wonder: what exactly qualifies someone to publish such an anthology? A little Internet research reveals that Robert Byrne, the collector of The 2548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said, had previously written over 20 books, including: The 637 Best Things Anyone Ever Said (in 1982); The Other 637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said (in 1984); The Third - and Possibly the Best - 637 Best Things Ever Said (in 1986); and The Fourth -and by Far the Most Recent - 637 Best Things Ever Said (in 1990). After learning what it would cost to purchase those other four volumes individually, it’s plain to see that my paying just a dollar for all 2548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said in one volume may very well merit inclusion in a future book, The 2548 Smartest Things Anybody’s Ever Done.

The title of Mr. Byrne’s book begs the question: what exactly qualifies a specific group of words for “best”? He relies heavily on a whole lot of well- known people, like Abraham Lincoln (“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”), Malcolm X (“Nonviolence is fine, as long as it works”), and Oprah Winfrey (“My idea of heaven is a great big baked potato, and someone to share it with”).

Some other gems: “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either” (Jack Benny); “An ugly baby is a very nasty object, and the prettiest one is frightful when undressed” (Queen Victoria); and “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it” (Winston Churchill).

But wealth and renown aren’t requirements for turning a memorable phrase. Many of Mr. Byrne’s choices for The 2548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said are of unknown origin, including, “Economists are people who work with numbers, but who don’t have the personality to be accountants;” “Originality is the art of concealing your sources;” and “My karma ran over your dogma.”

My heart jumped when I saw my own name in the book’s index! After all, who wouldn’t feel good about appearing on the same list as Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, and Martin Luther King, Jr.? But I honestly didn’t remember ever saying, “Nothing is illegal if a hundred businessmen decide to do it,” and further investigation revealed those particular words were attributed to Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta who had the temerity to be born with our name a quarter-century before I was.

I’m currently compiling a collection of memorable imaginary utterances, tentatively titled, The 2548 Best Things That Somebody Should Have Said. I’ve already got, “Sorry Mr. President, but the Dallas trip is off,” and “Thanks anyway Mr. Cosby, but I can mix my own drink.” However, that still leaves me 2546 assertions short of a book.

Robert Byrne expired in 2016, rendering him permanently unable to defend his selections, and as such it would be patently unfair to criticize the rationale behind any of his choices for inclusion in The 2548 Best Things Anybody Ever Said.

But there is indeed one person with a legitimate gripe: whoever it was who said the two thousand, five hundred forty-ninth-best thing ever!

Andy Young
June 11, 2023

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