The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations, by Fred Metcalf. New York: Viking. 448. $19.95. As a good dictionary should, this one goes from A to Y. Z gets left out - I guess nobody can think up a joke about our old friend Zed.
Here are drolleries and epigrams from the famous and anonymous collected for writers, speechifiers, browsers, office wits, and whoever needs an original joke. Fred Metcalf admits in his foreword that much of the humor is cynical, malicious, scurrilous, and racy. It is, but not all of it. He says, with a sigh, that he feels this is the temper of the '80s. But I'm happy to join him in his hopes for a future edition with ``sparkling streams of whimsy and innocent merriment.''
Let us say you are running for Dog Catcher. Good speeches are always needed for such arduous campaigns, and you can only make just so much fun of Alpo.
Quickly take up this handy thesaurus, looking under D for dog, and you will find this gem from Robert Benchley, who never was a mailman, as far as I know:
``A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.''
Or you might rely on this one: ``A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself.'' - observation from a jaundiced Josh Billings, circa 1919.
While you've got everybody roaring with these quotes, remember Josh Billings's other remark: ``Laughter is the sensation of feeling good all over, and showing it principally in one spot.''
Dorothy Parker thought that ``wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.'' James Thurber stopped drawing long enough to notice that ``humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.''
But it is for A.P. Herbert to leave us with the deepest and grandest thought of all: ``There is no reason why a joke should not be appreciated more than once. Imagine how little good music there would be if, for example, a conductor refused to play Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on the grounds that his audience might have heard it before.''
That may be stretching it, but if in your official capacity you have caught any stray dogs, give them a pat and look under C for Cats.