By: Adam McGovern
June 30, 2022

Introduction to a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, delivering brief remarks on mottos, mantras, speeches, slogans, and other words to live by. Series edited by Adam McGovern.



There are not one but two “me”s in “meme.” We may not be the only communicating animal, but we’re the only one who seems to need its own stories told — and preferably in the terms most agreeable to us. We can’t choose our families or fates, but we do pick our personal mottos and mantras. These definitions of our self seldom come in our own words, but we make them our own. A personal credo can be a shorthand calling-card of our identity to those outside us; a scriptural or philosophical quote can open a window to our understanding of our inner selves. There was a beginning before the word; other species don’t use language as we know it at all, and humans probably gestured and danced before they spoke. But the word is what we depend on and always return to, and that’s as a plain as a text-only phone plan, despite perennial epitaphs for reading and writing and premature proclamations of image as king.

And yet, the fewer words the better — that’s as plain as the acronyms in your phone-texts, or as mystifying as the tetragrammaton. Quotes are excerpted from speeches and inscribed on granite walls; lone lines of poems or song lyrics are preserved in tattoos; expressions from scripture or Shakespeare are singled out and set apart, with the rest filled in by the heart’s understanding. One of God’s spoken names is HaShem, or, “The Name” — the short is sweet and, we believe, self-explanatory. Religious commandments and recovery commitments are capsule words to live by; and epigrams, office motivational posters, t-shirt slogans, cookie fortunes, engravings on jewelry are like incantations, equations, that shape life in ways we can make sense of.

Sometimes words are our bonds — the chyrons of cable news filtering out meaning, the buzzwords of demagogues rushing us to judgments without deliberation. Figures we defer our moral discernment to can be “saying out loud what everyone is thinking.” But scholars, prophets, protectors of the best in human possibility and survivors of the worst, can “say what I always felt but didn’t know how to.” To both our benefit and regret, for all the human race’s millennia of language and ideas, our prime directives and mission statements tend to be 25 words or less.

Blurb Your Enthusiasm is HILOBROW’s short answer, its contributors covering the favorite fragments or aphorisms that compose the captions of our lives. Rules for a writer’s own voice are retrieved by Lucy Sante and Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons; an old arts & crafts coat-of-arms gives Lynn Peril contradictions to consider while a childhood graffito persists as a paradox for Miranda Mellis to ponder; Ran Xia and myself recount the truths that sometimes must be spoken first by fictional characters; and Bishakh Som traces her outlying tribe to a liberating pop lyric while Art Wallace relives the folly of conformity revealed in a long-ago school pep song. Crystal Durant, Heather Quinlan, Adrienne Crew, and Mimi Lipson decode words passed from elders to children, to learn what lessons may be lost in transmission and what meanings can be gained in reception. Josh Glenn and Julia Lee Barclay-Morton trace the origins and afterlives of their favorite quotes, to confirm that context is everything (and many things); Andrea Diaz and Stefene Russell swirl thoughts with a movement and musicality that pierces the din and clears clouds around an understanding that is way beyond words themselves.

And more writers will be joining them to continue the thought over the series’ three-month run. We hope you’ll stay with us too, though we all know that these 25 essays will still be just preamble — to our sorrow as individuals and also our collective relief, we can be sure that the last word never comes.


BLURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Ran Xia on BLACK CROW BELIEFS | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on LEFT-CORNER BRICK | Andrea Diaz on JOY IS RESISTANCE | Lynn Peril on TO THINE OWN SELF | Miranda Mellis on THE FUTURE IS PASSÉ | Bishakh Som on LET THE WEIRDNESS IN | Lucy Sante on FLAUBERT’S PERFECT WORD | Stefene Russell on CRYSTAL SETS | Crystal Durant on LIFE IS A BANQUET | Adam McGovern on EVERY MINUTE AN OCEAN | Josh Glenn on LUPUS LUPUM NON MORDET | Heather Quinlan on SHUT UP, HE EXPLAINED | Adrienne Crew on WATCH YOUR PENNIES | Art Wallace on COME ON AND GIVE A CHEER | Julia Lee Barclay-Morton on WILLIAM JAMES, UNADAPTED | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on TO EACH HIS OWN | Nikhil Singh on ILLUMINATE OR DISSIPATE? | Mimi Lipson on CHEAP FOOD TASTES BETTER | Kahle Alford on NOT GONNA CRACK | Michele Carlo on YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT | Marguerite Dabaie on WALKING ON WATER | Raymond Nat Turner on TRYIN’ AND TRANEIN’ | Bob Laine on WHEN YOU GROW UP | …AND TWO MORE!