Friday, 12 February 2021

When in danger...

In a previous blog post, I quoted a ditty: "When in danger, fear or doubt, run in circles, scream and shout". It was only when that post went live (here), that I realised I had no idea where that couplet had come from. 

It took quite a lot of internet digging to find the quote itself, as I had remembered the quote incorrectly. I had remembered:

"When in danger[, fear] or doubt, run in circles, scream and shout"

But the actual quote was: 

"When in danger or doubt... Run in circles, scream and shout" (Heinlein, 1974, p. 454)

The syllable pattern of the quoted couplet is off though: 6 and 7. Interesting how the memory inserts an extra syllable to make a quote easier to remember... more 'memorable', shifting it to 7 and 7. It is also fascinating that a saying, quoted by a character in a book stays with you for near on forty years!

To add to the - possible - background of this couplet, I found one other early-ish incidence of it online, in a story by Bob Spencer (dated 2001), where it is phrased as I remember it: 

"...reminded me of that old [US] Navy saying, 'When in danger, fear or doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!' "

What is more interesting is that Bob recalls this saying in relation to soloing as a fly boy in the Navy, with his soloing certificate dated 1979. Robert Heinlein was in the US Navy in the 1940s, and has written a few stories about fly boys. There is a story about David Lamb in the same Heinlein novel that my recollection of this saying comes from. It seems possible that the US Navy is the source of the saying, and perhaps the saying itself has evolved in the Navy over time, adding that missing syllable. 

But wait, there's more. Wikiquote list a similar saying under "Panic", citing it as a  "U.S. military saying, e.g. Infantry Journal, Vol. 35, (1929), p. 369.", and wording it - pleasingly 7-7 - as a four line couplet:

"When in danger, When in doubt, Run in circles Scream and shout!"

However, I think I prefer the version that both Bob Spencer and I remember. 

Language is fascinating. 



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