Boil the ocean!

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Boil the ocean!

Post by Archived Topic » Thu Jun 10, 2004 6:01 am

Who replied, "Boil the ocean," when asked what to do about the problem with U-boats during World War I? Was it Will Rogers or Mark Twain? I have seen it attributed to both. --D. Sper, Michigan
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Boil the ocean!

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Jun 10, 2004 6:15 am

If those are the two choices, it would have to be Will Rogers because Clemens died in 1910 and World War I didn’t start until 1914. It is possible there was some U-boat activity before the war, but I don’t think as early as 1910. Will Rogers lived till 1935 (died in a plane crash).

Ken G - June 22, 2002
Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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Boil the ocean!

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Jun 10, 2004 6:29 am

I take it that's your bottom line, Ken...
Reply from Erik Kowal ( - England)
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Boil the ocean!

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Jun 10, 2004 6:44 am

I was reminded of Will Rogers' response to a reporter's [Pierce Gardner's] question on how he would deal with the Nazi U-boats: "Boil the ocean." "But how would you do that?" the reporter continued. Without a beat Rogers replied, "I'm just the idea man here. Get someone else to work out the details."
Bob Holman, "Joseph Brodsky & the American Poetry & Literacy Project: The Poet Is Gone, The Poems Live On" at
http://poetry.about.com/library/weekly/aa072997.htm

Reply from Susumu Enomoto (Shiraokamachi - Japan)
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Boil the ocean!

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Jun 10, 2004 6:58 am

Susumu, Love it. The second part was easily as good as the first. What a gem. Thanks.

Ken
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Boil the ocean!

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Jun 10, 2004 7:13 am

I've been doing research on the Web to authenticate the specifics of the story mentioned by Susumu. I've found many similar references to the one he cited. However, I've also found references to an almost identical quote by Mark Twain (but not related to WW1). For example, check out the following links:
http://www.nandotimes.com/special_repor ... 6411c.html
http://www.reporternews.com/1999/opinion/tuf0104.html

That's why I posted the original question. I'm trying to find an original or reliable source for the story.

By the way, it's interesting to note that the phrase "boil the ocean" has been adopted by the computer and business world to mean "to try something way too heroic or ambitious, when a lesser accomplishment would suffice."
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Boil the ocean!

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Jun 10, 2004 7:41 am

I can't believe this! I've been searching for the source for this quip myself - to no avail. I also heard it with the "second part" about not knowing how, just having the solution. I have assumed it was Will Rogers but have been unable to locate it in any searches by his name or quotes.
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(Note: The following response was posted about 6 months after the above postings. It was entitled "boil the ocean (redux)" and I have here consolidated it with the original posting)

The question of spurious quotes (and Martin Porter’s “Principles for Quotations”) as raised by Erik Kowal in the posting ‘the hottest places in hell’ reminded me of some legwork I had done in April of last year in reference to the posting BOIL THE OCEAN. I never did find a definitive answer to the question (but one good enough for me) and so had dropped it. But in light of Erik’s comments, I’ve decided to piece together what I did find.

[What follows is not for the faint of heart – so those types might want to quit right here! But I thought these findings were interesting, and hopefully a few others might also]
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At the time the question was asked (4/18/02), BOIL THE OCEAN produced over 500 Google hits. Of the Twain/Rogers-related ones, Rogers was in the lead but the majority were related to the computer/business jargon adaptation of the phrase: BOIL THE OCEAN – To attempt something too ambitious; a futile effort. ‘We (at least those of us at Microsoft, ….) believed it was better to build a solid and extensible foundation rather than attempt to BOIL THE OCEAN and submit a huge pill for the world to swallow in one gulp.’
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As the story goes, a reporter asked either Will Rogers or Mark Twain what he would do about the World War I submarine (U-boat) threat (and this was the form of the statement of the original posting) and his reply supposedly was ‘boil the ocean.’ Then, when asked how he would accomplish this, his alleged answer was “I’m only an idea man.” It’s a great story and a great ‘quote.’ Several people replied to the posting and cited various sources as saying it was a either a Roger’s or Twain quote. My own comment at the time was that if those were the two choices, I would probably choose Rogers because of the time frame (Twain died in 1910). [However, I later realized, after reviewing some submarine history, that it actually could have been Twain. And then sometime later I learned that some of the’ reliable’ sources were talking about Will Rogers and WW II U-boats (Rogers died in a plane crash in 1935). But, by this time I had given up on both attributions as most likely being bullshit, and pursued it no further.]
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The original question that I was asking myself was how could this quote (if they actually said it) not be definitely attributed to one of these two men, whose every public word had been so thoroughly documented? This question bugged me for quite some time and I ended up doing a bit of research. I checked the quotes of each man, read up on the history of the submarine to see if it was even feasible that Twain could have said this, and read up on what type of things Rogers was saying in his WW I years to see if it made any sense that he might have said it this. I also tracked down every reference given in the ‘boil the ocean posting’ and, in addition, many others.

My conclusion was that IF it was said by one of the two (and I see no record that it was) and IF, for some unfathomable reason, it was never recorded (at least I couldn’t find it and I looked ‘real hard’), the one who said it would have to have been Mark Twain – if it was said in reference to WWI. And in this case the question would have to have been misstated by the poster of the question and others, and must have been (a) in reference to the time ‘leading up to WW I’ and not ‘during WW I’ or (b) not necessarily been about U-boats (although it could have been) but instead about submarines (see below) in general – and in that case, it might been asked many years earlier. Also, to be consistent with this time frame, Rogers would not have been asked (nor would he have been making pronouncements on) such questions at the point in his career – but Twain could have been.

In thumbing through the book of Rogers quotes Will Rogers Speaks by Bryan Sterling, a few relevant points struck. Firstly, of the hundreds of Rogers quotes in the book, ‘boil the ocean’ was not among them, which seems very odd, if he had actually said it because many of those hundreds were much less memorable than that one. And also it seems very unlikely that an author who so meticulously researched Roger’s life (1879-1935) and quotes would have missed it if it existed. The next thing I noticed was that the earliest quote in the book was from 1919 and it became clear to me that reporters just weren’t much quoting him earlier than that (ranch hand in U.S. and Argentina, broke horses for the British Army in Johannesburg, wild west shows, and circuses in Africa, Australia, New Zealand, 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, and hired by Ziegfield in 1924 for the Ziegfield Frolic and later the Follies (famous American musical variety show which ran from 1907-31), etc. The few early quotes I did find were all of the ranch joke variety or related to local news, or the local politics of the towns (often small ones) where Rogers was appearing. It looks to me as though reporters were not asking Rogers questions about, nor was he making pronouncements on, world issues until years later.
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After following the attribution trail and wading through numerous quotes which probably propagated through the ‘copies o f copies process’ and after carefully backtracking on dates, I convinced myself that the American poet Bob Holman was the main source of the propagation of the probably bogus attribution to Will Rogers and WWI. Wordwizard Susumu had found the following source for the quote [but had incorrectly stated that Pierce Gardner was the reporter asking Rogers the question – Pierce Gardner according to ‘The Browser’ (Harvard Magazine – see below) was actually the reader asking for authentication in that magazine in the January-February 2000 issue, and the reporter couldn’t very well being asking about authentication of his own question to will Rogers some 50 years earlier unless by some amazing coincidence there were two different Pierce Gardners involved]: "Joseph Brodsky & the American Poetry & Literacy Project: The Poet Is Gone, The Poems Live On" which was an article by Bob Holman about the life of Joseph Brodsky, the American Nobel laureate in poetry, who had recently died:

Dateline, 7/29/97: “His program sounded perfect to me, but it also angered me. I was reminded of Will Rogers’ response to a reporter’s question on how he would deal with the Nazi U-boats: ‘Boil the ocean.’ ‘But how would you do that?’ the reporter continued. Without a beat Rogers replied, ‘I’m just the idea man here. Get someone else to work out the details.’ I had been engaged as a poetry activist in the trenches for years -- couldn’t our Poet Laureate do something, not just speak it? ……..” [Note: Holman is talking about Nazi U-boats. World War I ended in 1918 and the precursor to the Nazi Party, the German Worker’s, didn’t even come into existence until after that!]
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It is interesting to follow the trail of how others subsequently picked up on Holman’s statement without any attribution. Here are some examples. The following quotes appeared on the following dates and in the following newspapers:

1/4/99, The Abilene Reporter-News http://www.reporternews.com/1999/opinion/tuf0104.html; 9/21/01 The Cincinnati Post http://www.cincypost.com/2001/sep/22/edita092201.html – look familiar?; 9/16/01 http://www.africafederation.org/thought ... /WT20.html ; 9/22/01 The Standard-Times, SouthCoast, Massachusetts http://www.s-t.com/daily/09-01/09-22-01/a10op061.htm , by Jay Ambrose who writes for the Scripps Howard News Service – he’s a plagiarist (didn’t change a word), unless he was editor of the Abilene Reporter-News several years earlier and also wrote the 1999 story (which is possible); and 5/7/02!! from http://www.polkonline.com/stories/01019 ... ddam.shtml (Polk County Florida) in an article entitled ‘Dealing with Sadaam Will Be Difficult;’ – TALK ABOUT THE PROLIFERATION OF A RUMOR, NOTE: NO SOURCES EVER GIVEN.

Some fairly respectable types also fell into the trap: Mark Alan Hughes of the University of Pennsylvania (Distinguished Senior Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Center of Government and Director, Fels Policy Research Institute) –10/10/01: “When someone asked Will Rogers what to do about the U-boat menace during World War I, he said, ‘Boil the oceans. That’ll force all the subs to the surface.’ Asked just exactly how to boil oceans, Rogers dismissed the question as mere detail.” [note: no source cited]
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It should be noted that I did find a quote of the quote in a statement from 13 years earlier (1984) in an article by, Raymond J. Bakke, who was a professor of ministry at Northern Baptist Seminary in Lombard, Illinois (see http://www.urbana.org/_articles.cfm?RecordId=312):

In 1914 the Germans were sinking U.S. ships in the North Atlantic. It was a turkey shoot because the Germans had the U-boat and we didn't. Somebody asked the American folk philosopher Will Rogers what we ought to do about it. He thought about it a moment and said, "Well, I think you should boil the ocean." The man was incredulous. "Boil the ocean?" "Yes," said Rogers. "I think if you heated up the Atlantic ocean, the submarines would rise to the surface and you could capture them." "But how do you boil an ocean?" the man asked. Rogers responded, "I've given you the solution. It's up to you to work out the details." The original, however, was most likely said by someone or other long before that. But all attributions I could locate appeared to follow from Holman’s statement.
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I subsequently sent an e-mail to Mr. Holman describing the controversy to him and said that all indications were that he was the main source of recent Roger’s attributions – and could he tell me what his source for that assertion was. In a very nice e-mail, he stated that he had just made that statement off the top of his head as an example of a point he was trying to make but had absolutely nothing to back that up! – he was aware of the quote, but not the source. [could have been Rogers, could have been Twain, could have been neither.] INTERESTING!.
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SUBMARINE HISTORY: Skip ahead if you’re not interested in submarine history (and haven’t already fallen asleep)! The first serious discussion of a ‘submarine’ was in 1578 by William Bourne, a British mathematician and writer on naval subjects. Bourne did not actually construct his boat, and Dutch physician and inventor Cornelius van Drebel is usually credited with building the first submarine in 1624. The first design for an armed underwater craft was by two French priests in 1634. In 1776, the U.S. ‘Turtle’ tried to attach an explosive to the HMS Eagle in New York’s Hudson River and failed. Robert Fulton (of steamboat fame), under contract to France, designed, built, and delivered a submarine to Napoleon in 1801. The, recently recovered H.L. Hunley (Confederate Army hand-cranked, submarine sunk the USS Housatonic in 1864 by ramming it with a torpedo which stuck in its wooden hull as the Hunley withdrew) was the first successful military use of a submarine to engage and sink a warship. England built the world’s first full-powered submarine (45 foot, steam-powered) in 1879 followed by improved designs in 1886 (50 ton ‘Nautilus’); Spain in 1888 (70 foot, 87 ton, twin screws – with two 30 hp electric motors; France in 1893 (266 ton for the French Navy) followed by the beginning of the French submarine fleet in 1899 with a yet improved 168 ton, 111 foot model. The modern submarine age, however, was born in 1898 when the U.S. successfully test-fired a blank torpedo (the 17.7 inch ‘Whitehead’) at the USS Kersage demonstrating that, had it been live fire, the ship could have been destroyed. In 1899 Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson denounced submarines as ‘underhanded, unfair, and damned UNENGLISH.’ In 1900 the U.S. bought the torpedo-armed 74 ton, 53 foot ‘Holland VI (designed by Philip Holland) and the Royal Navy, increasingly alarmed by the sudden proliferation of submarines in the American and French fleets, ordered 5 improved design Holland’s and in 1904 staged a simulated attack on a cruiser off Portsmouth. ‘Japanese, and Dutch and Russian navies soon bought their ‘Holland’ submarines also. The Imperial German Navy launched their first version of the U-boat (‘unterseeboot’), the U1, in August of 1906.
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The point is that the submarine and its capabilities and the obvious drift of world tensions, with the distinct possibility of war (even if the U.S. would not be in it), would have been fully apparent to Twain before his death in 1910. He had actually made a transatlantic crossing shortly before his death to receive an honorary degree in England and was clearly well-aware of the submarine/torpedo danger. And, in fact, just 4 years later the German U-boats did torpedo 3 British cargo ships off the cost of Holland and later in 1915 there was the infamous sinking of the British passenger ship the ‘Lusitania.’ However, the question, if it existed at all, could have been about the danger of U-boats before the war or it might have even been a hypothetical asked years earlier, long before the time of the U-boat, perhaps even in the 1800’s, about how one would deal with the possibility of ‘enemy submarines.’ Also, maybe the question should not have been ‘Was it Will Rogers or Mark Twain?’ but ‘who was it who said’ or possibly’ did anyone (other than some clever writer of fictional quotations) ever say’ BOIL THE OCEAN.
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The Browser (Harvard Magazine) has a section called ‘Chapter and Verse’ which is a question and answer section for people looking for sources and authentication for ‘not-so-famous lost words.’ In the Jan/Feb 2000 issue the 3rd authentication request was: “Pierce Gardner [I’m assuming he’s the writer (maybe wrongly), since the next question is asked by James Mc Court (of Angela’ Ashes?), and another (but in a different issue) by Patricia T. O’Connor, former editor of the New York Times] for proof that Will Rogers replied, ‘Boil the ocean,’ when asked what to do about U-boats.” I checked every subsequent issue and the statement was never authenticated and it seems to me that it would be safe to assume that if readers and question writers of this august magazine – definitely heavy duty literary/academic types – knew that Rogers or Twain had actually said it, they certainly would have jumped all over that.
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Ken G – February 9, 2003
Submitted by Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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Re: Boil the ocean!

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Dec 03, 2010 6:37 am

While thumbing through my collection of ripped out magazine and newspaper pages with words and phrases underlined in red (which I will never get to looking up or doing research on in my lifetime), I came across the phrase BOIL THE OCEAN, an expression I don't think I've heard or seen since the above discussion. So, just to demonstrate that it still lives, here's a quote:
<2010 “ ”Most critically, Obama misjudged the locus of the country's anxiety: the economy. Instead of concentrating on jobs, jobs, jobs, he made the decision to ‘boil the ocean’ and go for everything, from comprehensive health reform to global warming to a world without nuclear weapons . . . and the beat goes on.”—U.S. News & World Report, 21 January, page 83> [[by the now defunct magazine's owner Mortimer B. Zuckerman]]
Note: In a news archive which includes newspapers and magazines from around the world, BOIL THE OCEAN appeared 100 times in the last 10 years. It is not doing well. (>;)
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Ken — December 2, 2010
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Re: Boil the ocean!

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Dec 03, 2010 7:43 am

The subject of this thread reminds me of a comment that (at least according to Wikipedia) was made by Lew Grade, the Ukrainian-born British media mogul, about one of his films, Raise the Titanic:

"In 1980, Grade backed an expensive 'all-star' film version of Clive Cussler's best-seller Raise the Titanic. Released the same year as The Empire Strikes Back, the middle of the original Star Wars trilogy, RTT flopped as audience tastes had changed. With his typical Jewish chutzpah Grade himself remarked that "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic"."

We shall probably never know whether Grade's remark was an extemporaneous quip or an intentional, if indirect, reference to 'boil the ocean'.
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Re: Boil the ocean!

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Fri Dec 03, 2010 12:47 pm

Cecil B. DeMille utilised another dramatic method of exposing underwater menaces.
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Re: Boil the ocean!

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Dec 03, 2010 3:01 pm

King Canute was less successful, though his seaside exploit did at least give us the expression "paddle your own Canute".
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Re: Boil the ocean!

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Fri Dec 03, 2010 5:41 pm

That's past its Seller-by date.
944 years past.
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Re: Boil the ocean!

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Dec 04, 2010 6:21 pm

On QI this week, the possibility of determining height above sea-level by determining the local boiling-point of water was discussed. Apparently, the pressure drop as one ascends gives rise to a 1 C degree drop in the BP for every 1000ft gain in altitude - so water boils at 71 deg C at the top of Everest.
Sandy Toksvig pointed out the ridiculous stereotyping of the early 20th Century Himalayan climbers: "We need to know how high we are. I know - let's make a cup of tea!"
Stephen Fry extended the model to comment on how much the BP of water would have increased at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Alan Davies pointed out that there could be quite a difficulty in brewing tea at this location.
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Re: Boil the ocean!

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Dec 04, 2010 7:12 pm

Not to mention drinking it, or keeping the biscuit plate dry when it is being passed around.

However, I would argue that the main issue of relevance for the successful brewing of tea at the bottom of the ocean is not whether the water used reaches its boiling point, but simply whether it gets hot enough to leach out the components of the tea from the tea leaves. From that perspective you could expect better results at the bottom of the Marianas Trench than at the top of Everest: atop Everest it would be impossible to get the water hot enough unless the tea was made in a sealed vessel like a pressure cooker, which would effectively increase the boiling point of the water.

Even that would only partially solve the problem, because as soon as you opened the pressure cooker a lot of the liquid in the tea would explosively boil off (i.e. you would have a two-phase eruption of fluid due to the sudden expansion of water changing from a liquid to a gaseous phase). This would continue until enough heat had been lost from the tea as a result of all this boiling over to bring down the temperature of what remained to just below 71 deg. Celsius.

Basically, you would have to wait to open the cooker until its contents had cooled to less than 71 deg. in order not to lose a lot of it.

Mind you, at the top of Everest you should not have to wait that long, especially if a windstorm was occurring during the tea-making process and promoting rapid cooling.
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Re: Boil the ocean!

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Dec 04, 2010 8:21 pm

Yes, there are some terrible brews in the Himalayas.
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