Zombie wisdom

A mind is a terrible thing to taste.

The phrase “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” was coined in 1972 by Forest Long, an adman, as part of a UNCF campaign. It has since become “part of the American vernacular”.

Though the slogan is widely known, many people are unaware of its origin. (I was, until I began writing this post.) More recently, the UNCF made the phrase more prominent in its logo.

None of which has anything to do with zombies, but I was interested to discover that the phrase is so new: it has the feel of folk wisdom about it.

And I liked the graffito; zombie puns aren’t very common on the streets of Galway.


12 Responses to Zombie wisdom

  1. John Cowan says:

    Or as J. Danforth Quayle, Vice President of the United States (1988-92) had it, “You take the UNCF model that what a waste it is to lose one’s mind or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.” This is often remembered as some variant of “A mind is a terrible thing to lose, that is, if you have a mind in the first place.”

  2. Stan says:

    John: I imagine Quayle’s mind is a terrible thing to face.

  3. wisewebwoman says:

    I’m with you, I thought it folk wisdom also.

    Love the graffito, very witty.


  4. Sheila Ryan says:

    I’d no idea the phrase had attained such status outside the US, which may reveal a more provincial outlook than I care to admit.

    I cannot read nor hear it absent the triggering of memories of print or TV solicitations from the United Negro College Fund (a moniker that already sounded old-fashioned when the phrase was coined).

  5. Stan says:

    WWW: I asked a few people about it, and they either had never heard of the expression or, like you and me, had believed it to be older than it is.

    SlideSF: Thanks — that might be what inspired the graffiti artist (or maybe they conjured it up independently).

  6. Jonathan says:

    The above-quoted zombie begs the question as to whether the brain is where the mind is located in the first place… (I’m reminded of a Monty Python sketch where Michael Palin, playing a Gumby, goes into a doctor’s office shouting “My brain hurts!” John Cleese, playing a Gumby doctor, says that he must examine Michael Palin’s brain, and starts unbuttoning Palin’s trousers. Palin exclaims: “No! The brain in my head!”)

  7. Stan says:

    Sheila: I don’t know how well known the slogan is outside the U.S., or even in Ireland. I wouldn’t say I’ve come across it often; it’s probably more a case of having heard it once or twice and liking it enough to retain it in memory. The Ministry album might explain its (variant) appearance on an empty storefront in Galway. (The spam filter swallowed your comment, for some reason, hence my delay in replying.)

    Jonathan: Tempted as I am to ponder at length the question of where the mind is located, I think it would be better if I put it aside for another occasion and another context! I don’t remember that Python sketch, but your retelling it made me laugh — and reminded me of a Seinfeld gag involving imaginary chess.

  8. Or as I say when I’m loosening the belt a notch during the wedding speeches, a waist is a terrible thing to mind. Saving that one for just the right weight-loss-as-part-of-a-calorie-controlled-diet campaign. No doubt one will be along any second now…

  9. Stan says:

    Good one, Nick. “A waist is a terrible thing to mind” would also be an effective slogan for an irresistible after-dinner snack.

  10. Stellan says:

    In “The Callahan Touch” (1993) Spider Robinson manages to have a character quip “A waste is a terrible thing to mind” after a set-up that cannot readily be summarized…

  11. Stan says:

    Stellan: Heh. This is a technique much used and loved by Flann O’Brien, too: no pun too low, no set-up too elaborate. The reader’s pleasure must lie partly in the pain.

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