Opinion: Wit and wisdom from Abe Martin


Commentary by Ward Degler

I was cleaning out some files the other day and stumbled on one I had labeled “Wit and Wisdom.” It contained a half-dozen pages of one-liners by Frank McKinney Hubbard. Hubbard himself claimed to have gotten them from a Brown County hillbilly by the name of Abe Martin.

Some of you may remember “Abe Martin” as a daily cartoon in the Indianapolis News. Hubbard lived at a time when a cartoonist could point out a man’s foibles without belittling him or declaring war on his tribe.

“Abe Martin” first showed up in our local paper in 1904 and continued to amuse and irk folks until Hubbard’s death in 1930. By that time, the cartoon was printed in some 300 newspapers nationwide. I think the News continued to re-run the cartoon until it ceased publication in 1999.

Without naming names or starting political fires, “Abe Martin” exposed the idiosyncrasies of human behavior in a way that had everyone looking in the mirror to see if the day’s taunt was personal.

As an example, Abe pointed out that, “We’d all like to vote for the best man, but he’s never a candidate.” He also showed us that, “Some folks can look so busy doing nothing, that they seem indispensable.” Then, he added, “Honesty pays, but not enough to suit some people.”

A few of my favorites, as true today as they were then:

  • “A man who owns his home is always just coming out of the hardware store.”
  • “Boys will be boys, and so will a lot of middle-aged men.”
  • There “isn’t much to see in a small town, but what you hear makes up for it.”
  • “It’s hard to tell what does bring happiness, since both poverty and wealth have failed.”
  • “It’s going to be fun to see how long the meek can keep the earth once they’d inherited it.”

There were some others in the file that probably didn’t come from “Abe Martin.” Someone said, “Life isn’t fair, but it’s better than the alternative.” And this, “Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.” And, “Make peace with your past so it doesn’t spoil the present.”

I also jotted down these odd factoids:

  • “There are at least six people in the world that look exactly like you and there’s a 9 percent chance you will meet at least one of them.”
  • “A person’s height is determined by their father, their weight is determined by their mother.”
  • “Stomach acid is strong enough to dissolve razor blades.” Interestingly, so are most soft drinks.

And, a final word from Abe Martin: “Live so you can at least get the benefit of the doubt.”

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