By Mark Peters
Some people and characters are forever associated with a word. I dare you to say refudiate, malaise, nanu-nanu, despicable, winning, and meep without thinking of Sarah Palin, Jimmy Carter, Mork, Daffy Duck, Charlie Sheen, and the Road Runner (or Beaker).
Without a doubt, the poster boy for varmint is Yosemite Sam, the rootin’-tootin’, razzin’-frazzin’ cowboy who was so often outwitted by Bugs Bunny in immortal Looney Tunes cartoons. Sam started popping up in the 1940’s, but the OED reveals that varmint (or varment) goes back much further, referring to “An animal of a noxious or objectionable kind” since the mid-1500’s. It’s a variation of vermin, which I was surprised to learn originally applied to reptiles, not rodents, back in the 1400’s. Like beauty, obscenity, and fugliness, vermin-hood and varmint-itude have always been in the eye of the beholder.
Though Mr. Sam never seemed like the reading type—his intellectual rigor rivaled that of a box of rocks—I wonder what his personal book of quotations would look like. I suspect Yosemite would make predictable revisions to suit his personal mission, like so:
“Hell is other varmints.” –Jean-Paul Sartre
“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the varmints.” –William Shakespeare
“Some of us are becoming the varmints we wanted to marry.” –Gloria Steinem
“To use a varmint to show that a varmint is not a varmint is not as good as using a non-varmint to show that a varmint is not a varmint.” –Chuang-Tzu
“My eleven-year-old daughter mopes around the house all day waiting for her varmints to grow.” –Bill Cosby
“Never have varmints, only grandvarmints.” –Gore Vidal
“When I need a little free advice about varmints, I turn to country music.” –George H.W. Bush
“For just one night, let not be co-workers. Let’s be co-varmints.” –Ron Burgundy
“Every woman adores a varmint.” –Sylvia Plath
“Imagine there’s no varmints. It isn’t hard to do.” –John Lennon
“We fought a war on varmints, and varmints won.” –Ronald Reagan
“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘varmint’ is.” –Bill Clinton
“I’m going to take my varmints to South Beach.” –LeBron James
“Omit needless varmints.” –William Strunk Jr.