Tippecanoe and Tyler Too: Famous Slogans and Catchphrases in American Historyby Jan R. Van Meter
“By necessity, by proclivity, by delight,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said in 1876, “we all quote.” But often the phrases that fall most readily from our collective lips—like “fire when ready,” “speak softly and carry a big stick,” or “nice guys finish last”—are those whose origins and true
“By necessity, by proclivity, by delight,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said in 1876, “we all quote.” But often the phrases that fall most readily from our collective lips—like “fire when ready,” “speak softly and carry a big stick,” or “nice guys finish last”—are those whose origins and true meanings we have ceased to consider. Restoring three-dimensionality to more than fifty of these American sayings, Tippecanoe and Tyler Too turns clichés back into history by telling the life stories of the words that have served as our most powerful battle cries, rallying points, laments, and inspirations.
In individual entries on slogans and catchphrases from the early seventeenth to the late twentieth century, Jan Van Meter reveals that each one is a living, malleable entity that has profoundly shaped and continues to influence our public culture. From John Winthrop’s “We shall be as a city upon a hill” and the 1840 Log Cabin Campaign’s “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” and Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” each of Van Meter’s selections emerges as a memory device for a larger political or cultural story. Taken together in Van Meter’s able hands, these famous slogans and catchphrases give voice to our common history even as we argue about where it should lead us.
“As Van Meter argues, these are important ‘memory devices for a larger story.’ . . . The author has thoroughly researched all the catchphrases . . . . This book would make delightful in-flight reading or a nice gift for a trivia buff. Recommended.”—Choice
"This book would make delightful in-flight reading or a nice gift for a trivia buff."
“Van Meter writes a brief essay setting each quote in historical context, and his compositions are concise, lucid and factual. Together, they make up an excellent refresher summary of American history. . . . This is a pick-and-choose book, both entertaining and informative. And if you can master all fifty-seven quotes, one might safely say, ‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.’ ”
“As the great philosopher George Santayana would have said, ‘those who cannot remember the past . . . should simply read Jan Van Meter’s Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.’ Van Meter’s greatest hits collection of slogans is the catchiest ever retelling of American history. It’s like the greatest minds of Madison Avenue sat down to write a history book. They don’t make sound bites like they used to!”
“Van Meter’s book is a delightful, richly informative, deeply researched, and fully contextualized work. It is also significant because so many of these slogans permeate American discourse and illuminate national values. Moreover, it’s also fascinating! Who knew that ‘duck and cover’ came from cold war security concerns?”
“I read Tippecanoe and Tyler Too with immense enjoyment. Van Meter has selected the most interesting and important phrases in American history and written wonderful essays explaining the origins, significance, and context of each. These essays not only illuminate but also entertain as they present the fascinating background of the slogans that have played such a crucial role in our political and cultural life, ranging from ‘I have a dream’ to ‘Say it ain’t so, Joe.’ I eagerly compared the information about origins with that in my now-standard volume, The Yale Book of Quotations, and was impressed to find that in a number of instances Van Meter has unearthed earlier evidence than that in the YBQ.”
“Jan Van Meter has written a fascinating, eclectic history of America, wound around the slogans and catchphrases that have punctuated the past four centuries. His prose pleases, his knowledge imparts confidence, and his selection of memorable phrases will delight all who vaguely remember them from their youth.”
That the LC subject headings use miscellanea six times in this book's CIP data shows its neither-fish-nor-fowl nature. Van Meter, a retired public relations executive, examines five dozen phrases, most historical ("fifty-four forty or fight!") but some from sports and pop culture ("say it ain't so, Joe!"). Yet the book isn't about the slogans themselves, their origins or their legacy; they are an excuse to walk through American history. "The buck stops here" provides the life of Harry Truman, and "old soldiers never die" gives the story of the Korean War. It is as if Van Meter is writing for an audience completely ignorant of history. He also ignores how some phrases, such as "Give me liberty or give me death," first appeared decades after they were supposed to have been uttered, akin to Parson Weems's story about Washington and the cherry tree. Librarians should instead be sure to have Ralph Keye's scholarly and broader The Quote Verifier, which is focused on the words and their origins.
Michael O. Eshleman
- University of Chicago Press
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- 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Meet the Author
Jan R. Van Meter is a former public relations executive, CIA intelligence analyst, English professor, and speechwriter.
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