Source of the Week: A shipwreck pleasantry

 

A seaman, who had escaped a dreadful shipwreck, was asked by a religious lady how he felt when struggling. “Well, ma’am, very wet.”

Shipwrecks seem to turn up just about everywhere. More than 12,000 hits came up when I recently searched “wreck” in a new newspaper database.  That’s a lot of wrecks. A significant number of those 12,000 hits were not about specific shipwrecks, but they linked to articles that used the word “wreck” as a metaphor. Scan through them and you get the sense that more than a few young women, careers–“prospects”–not to mention the federal government all routinely faced metaphorical shipwreck. Even more people, institutions, and ideas had already been “shipwrecked,” as the saying went. Shipwrecks became such common cultural references during the late nineteenth century that they entered the realm of the banal. This shipwreck “Pleasantry,” published in Chicago’s Inter Ocean on March 29, 1874, is a perfect example. There are hundreds like it.

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