This article is part of Indianapolis Monthly’s 2016 Indiana Bicentennial coverage, which includes our list of the 200 Hoosier Hall of Fame picks, designated throughout in bold or highlighted. For more on this celebration of the state’s first two centuries, click here.
“What this country needs is a good 5-cent cigar.”
Although his time as vice president was mostly forgettable, North Manchester, Indiana native Thomas Riley Marshall had one claim to fame: credit for a quote that was, in its day, as famous as “You, sir, are no Jack Kennedy.” Marshall muttered the quip during a senator’s speech about what the country needed. A newspaper reporter attributed the crack to Marshall, who was merely repeating a line from Hoosier Kin Hubbard’s Abe Martin cartoon.
“It’s a doozy!”
Is “doozy” derived from “daisy,” mid-1700s slang for “beaut,” as asserted by dear old Merriam–Webster? Or did the word come from the super-posh Duesenberg “Duesy” roadster, considered the height of luxury during the Jazz Age (and winner of a few 500s), as put forth by the New Dictionary of American Slang? A representative from the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn guesses that while the word may have come before, the popularity of the Indy-made car—driven by jim-dandies from Clark Gable to the Duke of Windsor—reinforced the phrase; the tagline “It’s a Duesy” even appeared in ads for the Model J.
“I dood it!”
Few personas dreamed up by acclaimed radio and TV actor Red Skelton became as beloved as the “Mean Widdle Kid,” also known as “Junior.” The mischievous character’s laugh line, “If I dood it, I get a whipping … I dood it!” became such a phenomenon that newspapers even heralded the WWII bombing of Tokyo with “Doolittle Dood It!” headlines. In latter years, the clown from Vincennes, Indiana took to painting them, leaving some of his works and memorabilia to Vincennes University, where they are part of the performing-arts center and museum of American comedy built in his name.
“It ain’t Vendell Villkie!”
Call him the old-school Donald Trump. Elwood, Indiana, native (and IU grad) Wendell Willkie won the GOP presidential nomination in 1940 by emphasizing his business cred as a CEO. He lost to FDR, but that didn’t stop Merrie Melodies from using Willkie as a punchline in a cartoon a few years later. When a sprite attempts to sabotage Bugs Bunny’s WWII plane, Bugs ponders, “Could that have been a … gremlin?” The gremlin screams in a Germanic accent, “IT AIN’T VENDELL VILLKIE!”—and the WWII–era “duh” was born.
“Fencerow to fencerow”
It’s difficult to imagine a U.S. secretary of agriculture saying anything that would resonate for decades after leaving office. But Earl Butz did. The son of farmers from near Albion, Indiana, Butz held the post in the Nixon and Ford administrations after serving as Purdue’s dean of the College of Agriculture. His now-famous phrase plotted the extent to which American farmers should plant their crops under new federal policies—in other words, on every possible acre and inch—and became shorthand for the nation’s rapid transition from small family farms to industrial-scale operations driven by world commodity markets.
“Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.”
Timeless as it is, the Indianapolis 500 also reflects the times. When Janet Guthrie became the first woman to start the race in 1977, longtime speedway owner Tony Hulman revised his ritual pre-race PA directive to the field of 33. After some debate, he settled on, “In company with the first lady to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, gentlemen, start your engines.” Which has a kind of convoluted Victorian elegance, but not the more succinctly satisfying ring of the version into which the phrase has evolved.