Teaching Mark Twain with Comical Quotes
"What's that noise?" I wondered. I looked out my classroom door and noticed numerous students slamming their fingers with rocks. "Is school starting to get to you?" I asked.
"Yes, it is, sir," one replied. "Every time I seem to be making progress with the opposite gender, someone comes up, says something clever, and runs off with my hottie. I try to say something clever in return, but all I can think of are Monty Python lines. Chicks don't dig Monty Python anymore." I found out who this young man's English teacher was. It was Mr. Neverdate in room 523. I marched to his room. As I entered, he was forcing a staple gun into his belly button.
"I can't do it!" he screamed. "These kids never laugh at my jokes. I wish I knew some funny Mark Twain quotes or something. I could use funny Mark Twain quotes to teach English or to just brighten up my day."
"Well," I interrupted. "I can help."
Great Quotes of Mark Twain
Quote: Sufficient unto the day is one baby. As long as you are in your right mind don't you ever pray for twins. Twins amount to a permanent riot; and there ain't any real difference between triplets and an insurrection. (Speech Given in 1879)
Comment: Anyone with a baby understands. Anyone with twins is wincing. Anyone with triplets is crying.
Quote: There's nobody for me to attack in this matter even with soft and gentle ridicule--and I shouldn't ever think of using a grown up weapon in this kind of a nursery. Above all, I couldn't venture to attack the clergymen whom you mention, for I have their habits and live in the same glass house which they are occupying. I am always reading immoral books on the sly, and then selfishly trying to prevent other people from having the same wicked good time. (Letter to the Denver Post)
Comment: Mark's satirical letter reveals the folly and hypocrisy of censorship, more specifically, the banning of Huckleberry Finn from Denver's public library.
Quote: Have a place for everything and keep the thing somewhere else; this is not advice, it is merely custom.
Comment: I can honestly say I follow this custom.
Quote: I have studied it often, but I never could discover the plot.
Comment: Twain refers to the dictionary, not Moby Dick.
Quote: Many public-school children seem to know only two dates--1492 and 4th of July; and as a rule they don't know what happened on either occasion.
Comment: Here's what happened on the 4th of July.
Quote: The business aspect of the Fourth of July is not perfect as it stands. See what it costs us every year with loss of life, the crippling of thousands with its fireworks, and the burning down of property. It is not only sacred to patriotism and universal freedom, but to the surgeon, the undertaker, the insurance offices - and they are working it for all it is worth. (Speech, July 4, 1899).
Comment: Four months after my wedding, I attended a 4th of July party at my wife's cousin's house. They had fireworks wars. The highlight--my 92-year old Grandma being set on fire by a Roman Candle. Patriotism at its finest!
Quote: I will set it down here as a maxim that the operations of the human intellect are much accelerated by an earthquake. Usually I do not think rapidly--but I did upon this occasion. I thought rapidly, vividly, and distinctly. With the first shock of the five, I thought--"I recognize that motion--this is an earthquake." With the second, I thought, "What a luxury this will be for the morning papers." With the third shock, I thought, "Well my boy, you had better be getting out of this." Each of these thoughts was only the hundredth part of a second in passing through my mind. There is no incentive to rapid reasoning like an earthquake. I then sidled out toward the middle of the street- and I may say that I sidled out with some degree of activity, too. There is nothing like an earthquake to hurry a man when he starts to go anywhere. (New York Daily Review).
Comment: Diarrhea has a similar effect.
Quote: Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a congressman can.
Comment: Twain liked to insult fleas.
- Write a few quotes on the board and analyze them in a class discussion. Use this analyzing humor in literature lesson plan to review or teach irony, meosis, hyperbole and other literary devices used to create humor.
- Read and discuss these quotes as an introduction to Twain's short story (Here's a teacher's guide to "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.).
- Assign students to find humorous quotes by other authors. American humorists include Ring Lardner, Phillip Roth, James Thurber, Kurt Vonnegut, Art Buckwald, Al Franken, Ogden Nash, Dorothy Parker, SJ Perlman, Woody Allen, Will Rogers, Andy Rooney, Bill Simmons, Steven Wright and many more.