World's Most Depressing Motivational Poster

Saturday, November 1, 2008


[seen on wall of prison schoolhouse, Elmira, NY, 2008]

As samueljohnson.com (!?) says:

It's not "can't" with an apostrophe, but the noun "cant," as in overly expressive, extreme thoughts. Johnson has reminded Boswell to moderate his words. It comes from this exchange in Boswell's Life of Johnson:

Boswell. "Have not they vexed yourself a little, Sir? Have not you been vexed by all the turbulence of this reign, and by that absurd vote of the House of Commons, 'That the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished'?" Johnson. "Sir, I have never slept an hour less, nor eat an ounce less meat. I would have knocked the factious dogs on the head, to be sure; but I was not vexed." Boswell. "I declare, Sir, upon my honour, I did imagine I was vexed, and took a pride in it; but it was, perhaps, cant; for I own I neither ate less, nor slept less." Johnson. "My dear friend, clear your mind of cant. You may talk as other people do: you may say to a man, 'Sir, I am your most humble servant. You are not his most humble servant. You may say, 'These are sad times; it is a melancholy thing to be reserved to such times." You don't mind the times. You tell a man, "I am sorry you had such bad weather the last day of your journey, and were so much wet." You don't care six-pence whether he was wet or dry. You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in Society; but don't think foolishly."

6 comments:

Janie 1:48 PM  

can see where your objection comes from, but i don't think it's as egregious or depressing an error as you do.

it's condescending though, if anyone thought "no one [here] will notice what's-wrong-with-this-picture."

it mighta been nice if someone had thought to put "can't" in quotes -- because the concept of "clear your mind of 'can't'" is a decent motivational mantra (if that's what ya need to get ya through the tough times). and it's a fine play on "clear your mind of cant." imoo. just acknowledge the typographical alteration to the original.

but assuming no one in prison'ld notice the alteration... yeah, that's smug. and that kind of smugness (if intentional...), depressing. and maybe that's what you were sayin'.

;-)

j.

Rex Parker 1:54 PM  

It's Wrong. Just Wrong. That's what's depressing. I have no problem with the sentiment. But take Dr. Johnson's name off the thing, for god's sake.

It's a school. A place for learning. Perhaps even a place for learning that "cant" (sans apostrophe) is a word in the English language.

rp

fikink 2:06 PM  

Rex, you have given me a golden opportunity to post the poem that has been in my mind this entire election season, and one which I am sure you have read.
Thank-you and enjoy:

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

Deborah

Colette 10:12 AM  

taliban leader answer is in reference to Mullah Omar, the supreme leader-guy who is in hiding, or I guess not-so-much anymore, in Pakistan.

Leona Raisin 12:15 PM  

Celebrate your favorite word game by opening a fine bottle and pulling the cork 03.

shaun 1:56 PM  

Wow, this has really made an impact on you.

May I suggest you read the Dunciad now, in your present frame of mind and in during this particular election. The 4-book version.

FWIW, I don't think anyone thought "Oh, those prison folk won't get the original anyway." My guess is that whoever made the poster (or their source) thought, "Oh, those silly 18th century folk and their inconsistent spelling and punctuation." (One irony being Johnson was the first major dictionary creator.) Because of course, who has ever heard the word "cant" in this ahistorical, semi-literate world?

But I think the Dunciad and prednisone are a bad combination, making me bitter and fearing the barbarians at the gate.

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