Make Your Editor Cry: Are Beasts more Savage than Breasts?

Make Your Editor Cry:  Are Beasts more Savage than Breasts?

And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.
—1 Samuel 16:23 (NKJV)

In the short animated film Hurdy-Gurdy Hare (1950), the great American philosopher Bugs Bunny once said, “They say music calms the savage beast.”

The problem, of course, is that this is a misquote.

No shame on the waskwy wabbit. Bugs was just paraphrasing an earlier misquote. This phrase about music soothing “savage beasts” can also be overheard near the end of the film Mighty Joe Young (both the 1949 original which Bugs was probably quoting, as well as the 1998 Charlize Theron/Bill Paxton remake). But talk of music soothing “savage beasts” is found again and again in popular culture from newsprint and literature to film, shorts, and TV shows throughout the years.

The original phrase deals with a savage breast.

It comes from a poem (later made into a play) penned by William Congreve in 1697 called The Mourning Bride.

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.

Interestingly, in the very same play contains this little gem:

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.

From which of course we get the misquote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

NOTE: Before the nitpickers take me to task on the philosophical chops of that waskwy wabbit, consider that Bugs has appeared in more than 150 films, earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, TV Guide ranked him number one atop a list of the 50 greatest cartoon characters of all time, and he was the first animated character to ever get his face on a US postage stamp.

Professor Bugs also very often alludes to scripture–and just as often to the detriment of the unchurched and ignorant public. Before Bugs came along, a reference to Nimrod, the biblical figure and “mighty hunter before the Lord” from the Book of Genesis implied courage, fortitude, might, and overcoming adversity. British explorer and Antarctic specialist Earnest Shackleton even christened his ship Nimrod in 1909. Consider that when Bugs Bunny called his nemesis Elmer Fudd a “poor little nimrod,” a sarcastic reference to Fudd’s skills as a hunter, suddenly, the entire philosophical meaning of the word changed for every generation that followed. Now a “nimrod” is a fool, a jerk like Elmer Fudd, rather than “mighty hunter before the Lord.” In other words, you nitpickers, if you ignore Bugs Bunny, I might have to ask “What’s up doc?”

A more correct paraphrase would have something to do with soothing a savage breast, not a beast.

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