After reading the headlines about the US Federal government shutdown and re-opening with many members of Congress making this assertion…”This will never ever happen again!” I reacted vocally by saying “Famous Last Words” in a sarcastic manner. A student of mine looked at me with a blank face wondering what I meant by that statement. As a person who is prone to irony, I must admit I say this quite a bit. It’s my way of poking fun at people’s lame assertions. Or as the Canadians say (in French): Ce genre de propos reviennent souvent hanter ceux qui les ont tenus.
This expression is actually used quite frequently to describe words which come back to haunt us as they prove to be false or proved wrong by future events. This expression was probably made famous by a U.S. Civil War General John Sedgwick as he was standing on a battlefield nonchalantly remarking to his subordinates that the Rebels “couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance” right before he was struck down by a sniper. After pronouncing those words, he became the highest ranking Union casualty in the civil war.
Many times in a last ditch effort to be funny (literally!), famous last words are inscribed on tombstones (many of them compiled by Kathleen Miller’s book below). Consequently people smile instead of crying when they come to visit your (yes…we’ll all go one day…) grave site. In this way, you will have the last laugh! With the approach of Halloween, some of these “famous last words” inscriptions will once again be in the limelight (or under the moonlight if you’re out and about on Halloween or All Saints Eve):
Others at random (some unknown):