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By Jim Rhodes
The thumping sound you just heard was me patting myself on the back.
I hope you’ll forgive me for bragging, but I can’t help it. I just saw my byline in the August pages of The Economist.
I am a faithful reader of The Economist. I have been in love with the weekly magazine for a good many years. A few weeks ago a headline in the magazine caught my eye. It read: “It’s Not the Heat; It’s the Cupidity.”
I immediately thought to myself, “That’s a cute and catchy phrase, but if I’m not mistaken it’s not original. Surely a journal with The Economist’s reputation for probity should have given credit to the writer who originated it.”
I quickly turned to my bookshelves and extracted a slender volume of whimsical essays from the American writer S. J. Perelman. Sure enough, there was a chapter with exactly the same headline.
In case you’re interested, Perelman was a force of nature when it came to light saucy satire. He was a prolific contributor to the New Yorker magazine for over three decades, scripted the dialogue for a couple of Marx Brothers films in the 1930s and won an Oscar for Best Screenplay for “Around the World in 80 Days.” Among the characters populating his pages were Urban Sprawl, architect; Whitelipped & Trembling, brokers; Chalky Aftertaste and his Musical Poltroons, a ragtime band; Sir Hamish Sphincter, British diplomat, and Marcel Riboflavin, French police detective. He died in the 1970s. His books are happily still in print and can be purchased at the usual online sources.
I was moved to rise to Perelman’s defense in the form of a letter to the editor of The Economist. It was published in last week’s issue (Aug. 5-11), squeezed between letters from luminaries such as Qatar’s UN ambassador and a Professor from University College London.
I’m sure readers were amused by the clever headline, “It’s not the heat; it’s the cupidity,” for the Free exchange column on climate change (July 15th). It’s a great line. S. J. Perelman, an American humorist and screenwriter, coined the phrase in his delightful travel chronicle, “Westward Ha!,” in the late 1940s. Perelman and Al Hirschfield, a cartoonist for New Yorker magazine, were commissioned to undertake a round-the-world trip mostly by slow steamer, presumably with an eye to replicating the success of Mark Twain’s “A Tramp Abroad” more than 60 years earlier. The serialized illustrated essays were compiled and published in book form in 1947.
Actually, this was my second letter published in The Economist. The first was about a year ago, commenting on passive and active verbs in the English language. See https://issuu.com/fernandorodriguezangeles/docs/the_economist_usa_julio_23/12.