April 25, 2004

Have X, will travel

Here's another phrasal template ("snowclone"): searching Google for "have * will travel" turns up X = browser, children, spacesuit, OOPL, geocache, computer, rocket, transgenes, dog and some 215,000 others. Well, 215,000 pages containing such a sequence, anyhow. The origin of the phrase, of course, is the 1950s TV western Paladin, whose hero sported the business card shown on the right.

What brought this up was a piece by Sam Hughes in the most recent Penn Gazette, entitled "Have drill, will travel". It's about Doc Holliday, who got his DDS in 1872 from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery, which later became part of Penn's School of Dental Medicine. I enjoyed the movie Tombstone, in which Val Kilmer played Doc, but I don't remember a role in it for Doc's girlfriend Big Nose Kate, née Mary Katherine Haroney, whose father was personal surgeon to the Emperor Maximillian. She met Holliday in 1878, in Fort Griffin, Texas, where in order to help him escape the consequences of knifing another gambler, she "set a fire in the hotel as a diversion, then used a pistol to persuade the reigning deputy to let him go".

The Holliday piece in the Gazette is a sidebar to an article entitled "Dentist of the Purple Sage", about western novelist Zane Grey (originally "Pearl Zane Gray"), who got his DDS from Penn in 1896. The title is a take-off on Grey's classic Riders of the Purple Sage. One interesting aspect of Hughes article is that he starts it off with a reference to the 19th-century American practice of organizing academic life around inter-class brawls, one of which figured in Grey's autobiographical (non-western) novel The Young Pitcher. All this is by way of agreeing with Semantic Compositions that today's students definitely embody "a shift in cultural attitudes and academic training, both of which indicate a present-day emphasis on material acquisition over other goods", such as fighting skills.

Seriously, SC is only talking about changes since the 1960s, and he's interested in the balance between material goals and "metaphysical well-being", and he cites some persuasive evidence, and he hedges his discussion in many appropriate ways. So I shouldn't kid him about his left-handed defense of Camille Paglia.

As further support for the hypothesis of cultural changes among today's young people, I can't resist quoting from Hughes' description of Grey's initiation into the life of the mind at Penn:

It began when he attended an anatomy lecture in an amphitheater--presumably in the building now called Logan Hall--and made the mistake of sitting in a row traditionally reserved for upperclassmen. A big, blond, "husky-voiced sophomore" got to his feet and roared: "Watch me throw Freshie out!"

Freshie may have been scared, but he wasn't budging. When the sophomore tried to pull him away, Pearl [remember that 'Pearl' was Grey's original first name] gave him a violent shove that sent him backward over a row of seats into the midst of his classmates.

Here's how biographer Frank Gruber, drawing on Grey's unfinished, unpublished autobiography, put it: "Pandemonium broke out. The sophomores rose en masse to get to Pearl, and the freshmen spilled down from their heights to rescue their champion. The amphitheater became a scene of riot, and when it was over Pearl was stark naked, except for one sock. His clothing had been torn from him, including his shoes."

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 25, 2004 09:36 PM