Talk:forget, when up to one's neck in alligators, that the mission is to drain the swamp

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Wiktionary:Requests for verification - kept[edit]

Kept. See archived discussion of February 2008. 07:22, 15 February 2008 (UTC)

Citations[edit]

The very length of the phrase "when you're up to your neck in alligators, it's easy to forget that the initial objective was to drain the swamp" makes it suspect. Googling finds mostly Wiktionary hits.

Google searches:

Variants found at Google books, using the search term google books:"when you're up to your neck in alligators":

  • "When you're up to your neck in alligators, sometimes you forget that your mission is to drain the swamp."
  • "When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's easy to forget you came to drain the swamp."
  • "When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember you came there to drain the swamp.
  • "When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's easy to forget the objective was to drain the swamp."
  • "When you're up to your neck in alligators it's hard to remember to appreciate the beauties of the swamp."
  • "When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember that the original aim was to drain the swamp."
  • "When you're up to your neck in alligators it's hard to remember that your original intention was to drain the swamp"
  • "When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to think about draining the swamp."
  • ... and more.

Hardly ever two found variants match exactly, which distinguishes this entry from most proverbs.

--Dan Polansky 08:32, 6 November 2008 (UTC)

Bowdlerized[edit]

This entry is Bowdlerized in that the word neck — or eyeballs — appears less than half as often as ass in this context if you search with Google. — Robertgreer (talk) 01:31, 27 August 2013 (UTC)

If both forms exist, then we should have entries for both. Equinox 08:42, 27 August 2013 (UTC)
   In the minutes (looking for a good page to link the text "alligator situation" to) that it took me to land here, i noted also "armpits", "hips", and i think "knees" -- that's 6, counting what i also regard as canonical.
--Jerzyt 22:18, 23 January 2015 (UTC)
I've added a usage note mentioning the variability of the phrase. Feel free to expand it. - -sche (discuss) 01:09, 24 January 2015 (UTC)

RFV discussion: January–April 2016[edit]

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forget, when up to one's neck in alligators, that the mission is to drain the swamp

Claims to have passed RFV, but (i) that discussion was about a different form, before the page was moved, and (ii) searching for "alligators, that the mission is to drain the swamp" (i.e. avoiding the variable "one" pronoun part) seems to yield absolutely nothing except copies of our entry. Equinox 16:49, 28 January 2016 (UTC)

What a bizarre entry. I wouldn't call it a "proverb", as I see some have labeled it; it seems like just a pithy metaphor for distraction. This blog says that it emerged by 1970, but doesn't identify the source, and then goes on to quote an earlier version of the Wiktionary entry. It sounds like something that would have been written for television, or said by a politician. It doesn't seem to have very widespread use, probably because it's quite wordy for such a specific metaphor (hence the numerous variations). I can't imagine anybody looking it up under "forget", which is where it is now. It would make more sense under "up to one's neck in alligators" or perhaps "it's easy to forget". I note that we don't have "up to one's neck"; that redirects to "up to here". I think it might merit its own entry, where variations and elaborations could be sensibly mentioned or cross-referenced. I think it's probably widespread enough to keep, but under a different heading and perhaps with another wording; replace "the mission is" with "one's mission was", "one's intention was", or something similar. I don't know why every word in the phrase is linked. That makes no sense. As far as attestation goes, there's this speech by Ronald Reagan (who described it as an informal American expression) in 1986; this unattributed version published in 1998; this version in 2007; this one from 2009 uses "pool" in place of "swamp", describing the same thing; and there are plenty of other examples with slight variations on Google Books, including one variation that replaces the second clause with "you'd better make friends with the alligators". P Aculeius (talk) 18:03, 28 January 2016 (UTC)
It's a metaphorical situation from which various proverbs (Why else would it appear in The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs?) are drawn. That Dictionary has two 1971 cites for two forms of the proverb. The expression up to your ass in alligators/up to your neck in alligators ("beset by threats that must be addressed" or "extremely busy") is the core expression of the metaphor. Swamp is an obvious extension of the core metaphor. With such a long proverb it is easy to see how there would be many alternative forms. I'd just cite the two variants of the core of the metaphor for now. DCDuring TALK 14:57, 30 January 2016 (UTC)
Yes, it's a proverb, and yes, it's highly variable in many of its parts. Searching on "ass in alligators" and "neck in alligators" shows not only a plethora of variations, it also shows things like "I was up to my neck in alligators", which suggest that this has passed into a collective repertoire of sayings in the US. I've seen this on walls of workplaces, and heard it in folksy speeches and sermons. This is a tough one, because it seems like no two uses are exactly alike, but it's real. Chuck Entz (talk) 18:06, 30 January 2016 (UTC)
I've cited up to one's neck in alligators on Citations:up to one's neck in alligators with approximately the meaning DCDuring describes. Here are some citations of versions of the longer phrase:
  • 1981, INPO Review, volumes 1-5, page 18:
    When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp. If you're in the business of operating nuclear power plants, could be this old aphorism is stuck up on your office wall somewhere.
  • 1988, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, page 1166:
    "If you'll permit an informal American expression on such a formal occasion, 1 usually put it this way: When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember your original purpose was to drain the swamp." [Laughter]
  • 2009, John R. Walker, ‎Jack E. Miller, Supervision in the Hospitality Industry (ISBN 0470077832), page 68:
    It is sometimes difficult to maintain this sharp focus. When you are up to your neck in alligators, it is easy to forget that your objective is to drain the swamp.
  • 2009, John A. Yankey et al, The Nonprofit Board's Role in Mission, Planning, and Evaluation (ISBN 1586861107), page 30:
    A popular cartoon several decades ago showed a man, with only his head visible, being sucked into quicksand and surrounded by alligators. The caption read, "When you are up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember that the original mission was to drain the swamp."
  • 2013, Rita Collett, The Upper Room Disciplines 2014, Enlarged-Print Edition (ISBN 0835811840):
    When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember that draining the swamp was your initial purpose. When immediate circumstances become overwhelming, retaining focused perspective and commitment to God's intentions can be nearly impossible.
- -sche (discuss) 20:36, 30 January 2016 (UTC)
Incidentally, there's a record in The Parliamentary Debates of the British House of Lords where a lord says he heard this phrase from an American; compare the Reagan citation; should be tagged {{label|en|US}}? - -sche (discuss) 20:41, 30 January 2016 (UTC)
The version When you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp. seems to be attested in at least three books. (In one, it is broken up as "When you're up to your neck in alligators," the saying goes, "it's hard to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.")
- -sche (discuss) 20:47, 30 January 2016 (UTC)
Not every saying is a proverb. I think most people associate that word with Biblical proverbs, or ancient sayings that sound like them, rather than things that sound like Uncle Zeke made them up on the spot. While the word can be defined in different ways, descriptions of proverbs often suggest that they're profound metaphors that express deep truths couched in obscure terms. This is more "folksy" (or even "hokey") than profound, and much less deep than a swamp full of alligators. Anyway, that's just my opinion, so it's fine to disagree with it. However, the Ronald Reagan speech was from 1986. The book it was published in may have been printed in 1988 (not sure), but it clearly identifies the speech as being from 1986, and I think that the use of the word is what sets the date, not when it was published. P Aculeius (talk) 22:51, 31 January 2016 (UTC)
Wiktionary formerly made a point of being descriptive and not evaluative in its inclusions and definitions. Though this may be eroding a bit, I don't see why we should make inclusion decisions based on our assessment of the profundity or even truth value of something that some normal humans consider a proverb, nor its age. DCDuring TALK 00:46, 1 February 2016 (UTC)
I wasn't addressing whether it be included, merely the characterization of it as a proverb. Whatever you call it, it's clearly attested. P Aculeius (talk) 03:01, 1 February 2016 (UTC)
I've added four citations to Citations:when you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp of that exact form. - -sche (discuss) 02:08, 18 February 2016 (UTC)
Thus, cited at the lemma when you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp. --Dan Polansky (talk) 12:42, 3 April 2016 (UTC)
I've redirected all the existing variants to that version, which passes the request for verification, since it is cited and none of the authors are referring to literal past or possible future incidents of being covered to the neck in alligators while engaged in the process of draining a swamp. Whether or not it is a "proverb" in any sense, and whether or not it should be included, are RFC and RFD questions I have avoided addressing. - -sche (discuss) 21:37, 17 April 2016 (UTC)