Humor on the Hoof
("Speaker's Handbook of Epigrams and Wlttieisms," by Herbert V. Prochnow; 332.pp. Harper and Brothers, New York, 1955; $3.96)
But you've never heard of Herbert V. Prochnow. Well, President Eisenhower has. Just last week he appointed Mr. Prochnow, who is vice-president of the First National Bank of Chicago, to be Deputy Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs. "Time" magazine has, too. In its October 17 issue "Time" points out that Mr. Prochnow pronounces his name to rhyme with stock low (seems sort of self-disparaging for a banker), that he is one of Chicago's most popular after-dinner speakers, and that he has written such books as 1001 Ways to Improve Your Conversation and Speeches, Meditations on the Ten Commandments, and, most, recently, Speaker's Handbook of Epigrams and Witticisms. There is one good quality of Mr. Prochnow's however, that "Time" forgot to mention. This is his modesty. Anyone who has read Speaker's Handbook of Epigrams and Witticisms must realize that its author is one of the most modest men in the world.
The book, as its title implies, contains epigrams and witticisms that may be of use to the public speaker. In all, Mr. Prochnow has compiled more than 5,000 of these expressions. You'd think, though, that since the author is such an accomplished speaker himself, he would have designed the book primarily for other good speakers. But this is not true at all. Why, Mr. Prochnow in his preface comes right out and says that any sort of person may find the book interesting. All you need, he promises, is the ability to "enjoy wit tersely expressed, and short, pithy sentences that ingeniously state a thought or idea... Within a few words confused thinking is clarified and a great truth revealed." Mr. Prochnow must like the epigrams and witticisms in his book very much.
And some of them certainly are clever On the subject of "Home," for instance, there is the statement by Robert Frost: "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." A brilliant saying in the topic of "Economics" goes like this: "When we speak of bum steers in the stock market, we aren't talking about farming." This last saying certainly embodies" a great truth," just as Mr. Prochnow promised. Its author, incidentally, is Herbert V. Prochnow.
Indeed, Mr. Prochnow has been much too modest with us. We had no idea, on reading his preface, that many of the brilliant epigrams and witticisms he was talking about were his very own. We did not imagine that he himself had thought up more than 200 of the epigrams in his book, whereas only 49 of them were by William Shakespeare. We had not the slightest inkling that Mr. Prochnow could also put his brilliant, pithy thoughts into verse, as he does on the subject of "Sleep":
"If you'll snore loud and deep,
You'll have a sound sleep."
On the same page with this inspired thought, a poor playwright like Shakespeare, who can only say something about "Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care," must suffer by comparison. When you come right down to it, it was very generous of Mr. Prochnow to give as much space as he did in his book to people like Shakespeare, Shaw, Oscar Wild, Rochcfoucaulde, and so forth.
Perhaps this self-effacing generosity was one of the qualities that brought Mr. Prochnow to the attention of President Eisenhower. Or perhaps the President, who has always appreciated political impartiality, was impressed by such Prochnow opigrams as: "Hard times are those periods when the right to strike seems less important than the right to work." At any rate, we wish Mr. Prochnow luck in his new job at the State Department, and we hope he thinks up many more ways "to point out the foibles of men, to goad them into action, to shatter their pride, and to awaken humor."