by Ed Snow
A snappy statement is a crease in the pants of a speech. Numerous, and sometimes overlapping, literary categories exist for the many forms of such a zinger: maxim, aphorism, apothegm, epigram, quip, proverb, witticism. Affected Americans like me sometimes call it a bon mot, reminiscent of a tasty bit of chocolate. Once a saying gets a following it becomes an adage. If it’s really successful it becomes a cliche. Everyone wants to author, but no one wants to use, a cliche.
I ask you to help me come up with the top 10 Mormon one liners.
But first, here are a few of my favorite non-Mormon quips:
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society. [Mark Twain]
I can resist everything except temptation. [Oscar Wilde]
Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. [Groucho Marx]
Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. [H.L. Mencken]
We are never as happy or unhappy as we think. [La Rochefoucauld]
You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think. [Dorothy Parker]
As for Mormon bon mots, the earliest collection of “The Prophet’s Maxims” was less than … maximized. It was more like reproducing everything available from Joseph Smith’s journals as if all of it had been written on gold. More like brass plates in this case:
The man who willeth to do well, we should extol his virtues, and speak not of his faults behind his back.
A man who wilfully turneth away from his friend without a cause, is not easily forgiven.
The kindness of a man should never be forgotten.
That person who never forsaketh his trust, should ever have the highest place of regard in our hearts, and our love should never fail, but increase more and more, and this is my disposition and these my sentiments.
Not that there’s anything wrong here, it’s just not exactly Oscar Wilde. These statements seem to be mere notes, rough drafts, maxims in progress perhaps. As Mark Twain said, “It is more trouble to make a maxim than it is to do right.” A better considered collection of Joseph Smith’s bon mots appears in a speech by B.H. Roberts (circa 1908) that included some of Joseph’s scriptural contributions, in addition to his more personal statements. Says Roberts without hesitation: “They are destined to become generally accepted principles of truth. They will become household aphorisms.” I can’t argue with him about the following examples he cites:
The glory of God is intelligence.
A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge.
Adam feel that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.
Wickedness never was happiness.
I teach men correct principles and they govern themselves.
What else belongs in the top 10 Mormon Sayings? Naturally we’d want to include everything we can from J. Golden Kimball. The problem is most of J. Golden’s quips can’t be divorced from the context of a story. But certainly his, “I’d rather be a Mormon going to hell than not be a Mormon and not know where the hell I’m going,” stands on its own, as do several others. And, just because it is a mere couplet, let’s not exclude Lorenzo Snow’s, “As man is God once was, as God is man may become,” from the top 10 Mormon aphorisms. Any others?
 See any edition of C. Hugh Holman’s A Handbook to Literature for definitions of these terms.
 This zinger was the result of a challenge posed to Parker to produce a sentence with the word “horticulture” in it, which she did instantly. See The Best of Dorothy Parker, Folio Society, 14.
 See TPJS, 31; HC 1:444. A later collection published by George Q. Cannon was an improvement, but still underwhelming–see his biography Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet, Deseret Book, 527-532.
 Yet Twain also said, “It is noble to be good; it is still nobler to teach others to be good — and less trouble.” Perhaps it is easy to tell others to do right, harder to do right, hardest to tell, with style, others to do right.
 Joseph Smith, The Prophet-Teacher, by Brigham H. Roberts, with an introduction by Sterling M. McMurrin, published by the Princeton Club of Princeton University, 1967.