Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lincoln's Bad Habits

Continuing the Lincoln jokes discussion…

It seems there is a controversy being waged over the Interweb about Lincoln’s use of profanity, particularly in the Spielberg movie. Famous Lincoln historian Doris Kearns Goodwin says she saw 40 drafts of the movie script and never had a problem with the language, and on the other side, equally famous historian James McPherson says, “The profanity actually bothered me, especially Lincoln’s use of it. It struck me as completely unlikely -- a modern injection into Lincoln’s rhetoric.”

I wasn’t aware of this controversy until recently, though I have to admit that I was slightly taken aback when in the movie Lincoln told a (funny) joke which of course I can’t remember, but I believe it contained the word “bastard” or some other mild profanity. I was taken aback, not because of the word, but because they had Lincoln utter it. After years of researching Lincoln for both, In Time of War, the fifth book in the Pastmaster series, and Abraham Lincoln: Detective, the first book in the Lincoln detective series, it was clear to me, Lincoln never swore. He made fun of minorities by telling ethnic jokes in broad dialect, and he told slightly “off color” jokes, but he never swore. He also never smoked (more on that later) and he never drank. I believe many people thought that Lincoln swore because of the off color jokes. Here’s an example of a joke I have Lincoln tell in my Lincoln Detective book, and his explanation of why he told it. Lincoln’s jokes were almost always used to make a point:

"One day," Lincoln began, "a little boy ran into the house where his father the farmer was eating his lunch. ‘Dad, dad’ the boy called, all excited. ‘Come quick! The hired man is out in the barn with the maid! They’re up in the hayloft and they’ve both got their pants down around their ankles! You’d better get out there fast, I think they’re fixin’ to pee all over our hay!’"
            After a moment’s silence there was a roar of general laughter.
"My point being," said Lincoln, mildly, after the crowd quieted, "is that there can easily be two separate interpretations of the same set of facts."

No curse words, but slightly off color. Did Lincoln actually ever tell this particular joke? Maybe. One thing I am sure of, he would have thought it was funny.

The picture at the head of this entry, Lincoln smoking a pipe, I cobbled together when I needed something as an illustration for the book when I put it up as a Kindle. I took a standard picture of Lincoln and put a calabash pipe – the sort famously smoked by Sherlock Holmes – in his mouth, attempting to make the visual point that the book was about Lincoln as a detective. It never occurred to me that most of the rest of the world wasn’t aware that Lincoln never smoked, meaning that most of the rest of the world missed my little joke. I even got emails asking the origin of this particular portrait of Lincoln.

So in my books, Lincoln doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink and her certainly never curses. Take a lesson, Spielberg. And check out my Lincoln version:


1 comment:

  1. Dag nabbit. Hollywood can't get a dang thing WRITE.