March 03, 2008
Yachts That Cross in the Night

Late last month I reprinted (reposted?) a piece of mine that originally ran at I argued that Obama shouldn’t be slammed for borrowing words from another man’s speech, since political oratory has the same relationship to plagiarism that life forms have to carbon. As an example, I gave a line I once wrote for Mondale which has since been lifted thousands of times: "In Reagan's America, a rising tide lifts all yachts."

I just now got around to reading all the responses on, and I’m glad I did. The 43rd and last comment rewarded me with one of those surreal flashes where for a moment you wonder whether it’s you or the other guy who just got off the space ship:

Jerome Doolittle was a late arrival (by at least 21 years) to the rising tide metaphor: JFK used it in a speech in Arkansas in 1963: "As the income of Michigan rises, so does the income of the United States. A rising tide lifts all the boats and as Arkansas becomes more prosperous so does the United States". The phrase is also attributed in Wikipedia to Sean Lemass, Irish prime minister, 1959-1964.

What's odd is Doolittle's change of words from "boats" to "yachts". A yacht is a symbol of lavish discretionary income, while a boat is a neutral object. A rising tide that lifts all yachts suggests a tide that favors the rich—or does so to my ear, at least. In 1984, Doolittle lit on what was already a cliche — and seriously weakened it in the attempt to make it his own.



Posted by Jerome Doolittle at March 03, 2008 05:10 PM
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Actually Noah was the first guy to come up with a rising tide lifts all boats. You could look it up. Yeah though the waters lifteth up my boat heavenward it would lifteth up other boats in like measure if there wereth any.

Posted by: Furber on March 3, 2008 7:58 PM

It's a brave new world alright. I hope we like it.

Posted by: Buck on March 4, 2008 4:56 PM

What's more, I heard the term "Bad Attitudes" when I was in grade school -- well before the cretin Doolittle arrived on the scene with this blog. What's odd with Doolittle's usage is that the term actually connotes a slight, or even more than slight, pejorative tone -- whereas Doolittle mistakenly seems to celebrate the "Bad Attitudes" concept as a normative positive, and thus has watered down the term's actual, clearly negative meaning.

I have to agree: Doolittle is an egregious and recidivist term-weakener.

Posted by: on March 7, 2008 1:13 AM

Nice to hear from you, Anonymous. You have perfectly grasped the point of our blog's name.

Posted by: Jerry Doolittle on March 7, 2008 9:41 AM
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