Right Opinion

The 9 Most Terrifying Words

Burt Prelutsky · Sep. 21, 2019

It was the Hollywood sage, Ronald Reagan, who once remarked that the nine most terrifying words in the world were “I’m from the government and I’m here to help!”

If anyone ever utters those blood-chilling words to you, just hand over your wallet and walk away quickly.

Most bureaucrats aren’t evil. The problem is they regard themselves as experts. And not the way that specialists such as brain surgeons or physicists or structural engineers are. Once you work for the government, you’re automatically an expert in everything.

This madness isn’t limited to America. In fact, I heard of a perfect example of bureaucratic incompetence and it involved English officials stationed in India back in the days when the sun never set on the British Empire.

As related by Charles Scaliger in The New American, the authorities had become concerned over the number of cobras slithering around Delhi. Because Hindus both revere and fear that particular snake, the native population was reluctant to kill them. So, the bureaucrats decided to offer sizable bounties for dead cobras.

After a while, they were up to their neck in snakeskins, but the cobra population didn’t appear to decrease. Finally, the authorities discovered that spurred on by the bounties, Indians were actually raising cobras and killing them.

So, naturally, they stopped the bounty system. And, naturally, being bureaucrats, they didn’t anticipate that since they were no longer a source of income, the Indians released their entire stock into the streets.

In the end, Delhi had more cobras than ever.

President Reagan wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised.


Our own version of those British idiots are all battling to be the standard-bearer of the Democrats in 2020. Because they are seeking the nomination of the Donkey Party, they have to appeal to the lowest common denominator in our society. That’s why they all have to call for doing away with cheeseburgers, plastic straws, incandescent bulbs, gas-powered cars, nuclear plants, border walls and ICE agents. In order to finance all the windmills, solar panels, electric vehicles and free stuff for millennials and illegal aliens, they will also be doing away with your life savings.

For obvious reasons, they will be sparing private jets, SUVs, limousines and mansions.


People toss around the word “democracy” as if the word itself had magical powers. That’s why totalitarian regimes will often include the word somewhere in its official designation. Sometimes it’s the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia or the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka or even the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea. But whether it’s one of these places or Algeria, Congo, East Timor or Laos, the chances are you wouldn’t wish to live there.

Sometimes, people forget that a vote of the people put Adolph Hitler, Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama, in office. Even the Electoral College can’t always save you if enough people share a death wish.


One of the worst things about folks like Al Gore and the climate goofballs at the U.N. is that they raise your hopes only to dash them with nary a second thought.

For instance, when Mr. Gore and his acolytes swore that by 2010, the Pacific Ocean would rise up and wash away the coastline of California from San Francisco to the Mexican border, I, who live in the San Fernando Valley, separated from uberliberal Santa Monica, Malibu, West L.A. and Beverly Hills, by the Hollywood Hills and 25 miles away from the ocean, could barely contain my glee. Not only did the future give promise of turning the state Republican, but I anticipated owning ocean front property.

But, the part of the global warming hoax I was always sure would leave Mr. Gore with egg on his face was when he insisted that the melting of the polar glaciers would increase the level of the world’s seas by a full 20 feet.

That’s not the way it works. Just to make sure I remembered high school science, I filled a glass with water and ice all the way to the brim. After a while, the ice cubes melted and not a single drop of water ran down the outside of the glass.

I wonder why Mr. Global Warming didn’t know that. Perhaps he finished the Scotch before the ice had a chance to melt.


The Washington Post and the New York Times have both called for the rest of us to forego beef and start eating bugs. The newspapers claim it would be both healthy and beneficial for the environment.

It struck me as odd because these are the same people who are always fretting about the possible disappearance from the planet of insects nobody’s ever seen. I mean, what if we were to discover that butterflies tasted like chocolate or Al Gore found out that bees taste like booze? What’s that going to do to the balance of nature?

Although it sounds pretty disgusting, I suppose the Post and the Times figured that millions of people have been swallowing their swill for years, so it shouldn’t be a problem getting them to nosh on beetles and grubs.

Going the rags one better, or worse, a Swedish environmentalist has suggested that for the sake of the planet, the human race should consider cannibalism. In order to get over their initial squeamishness, he recommended that they start out by eating their pets.

I believe he meant the inhuman race.

Of course it’s possible he wasn’t being serious. After all, a few hundred years ago, Jonathan Swift of “Gulliver’s Travels” fame suggested in a famous piece, “A Modest Proposal,” that the Irish deal with their famine by eating their young.

However, Swift was recognized as a renowned satirist, whereas the Swedes aren’t noted for their humor. The funniest thing anyone ever said in Sweden was “The Italians call those disgusting things meatballs? Only we Swedes know how to make meatballs!”


People, most of them at any rate, finally caught on to what I was asking for when I invited them to submit the words they loved to hear.

Dee Wells sent along “delicious,” “nestle,” “luscious” and “diaphanous.”

Barbara Hunt offered up “exquisite,” “exuberance” and “exhilarating.” She added the Spanish word for turkey “guajalote,” which she defended on the grounds that it rolls off her tongue. Some people think I’ll believe anything. On the other hand, I was once married to a woman who could tie a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue. She could also pick up coins with her toes. But when she failed to get a job with the carnival, I decided the marriage had no future.

Mike D'Addio came up with “feckless” and “schadenfreude.” Ah, yes, German, the language of love.

Charles Salter, who must have been happy to see summer come to an end, submitted “snowy,” “angel,” “icicle” and “springtime.”

Kathleen Ross came up with “penumbra,” “lambent” and “gloaming.”

Marie Colburn, who clearly isn’t pompous, sent along “pompous,” “biscuit” and “lipstick.”

Chuck Morrison, who might wish to meet Barbara Hunt, sent in three “e” words of his own: “epiphany,” “elegiac” and “eccentric.”

Jack Frank went with “tranquility.”

Charles Schmitz came up with “brethren.”

Garrett Headrick sent along “comity,” “exculpate,” “vitiate” and “asseverate.” Too proud, I guess, to add “eight” and “ate.”

Colette Spangenberger tossed along “serendipity” and “flabbergasted.”

John Sarantos came up with the totally appropriate “penultimate,” since Mickie Johnson concludes this exercise in word play with a simple “rose.”


When Dennis Stockton, my foreign correspondent in Australia, isn’t boxing kangaroos or tossing another shrimp on the barbie, he’s collecting jokes. His latest deals with a couple who check into a cheap hotel.

While the husband heads off to the bar, his wife goes to their room to take a nap.

Suddenly, an elevated train passes by the window, shakes the room and tosses the woman clear off the bed. She lies back down only to be tossed off a second time five minutes later.

She calls the front desk to complain, and the manager comes up to investigate. When he arrives, the woman tells him to lie down on the bed and to be prepared to be hurled to the floor.

The manager is skeptical, but he lies down next to the woman. Just then, the husband enters the room and demands to know what’s going on.

The manager replies: “Would you believe me if I told you I’m waiting for a train?”

Before you say anything, keep in mind that joke traveled 8,000 miles. I bet you’d be tired, too.

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