'Madder than a boiled owl' and other John Dingell sayings

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep. John Dingell Jr.

When John Dingell spoke, staffers listened.

The one-time dean of the House was known for unique turns of phrase, one-liners and words of advice that became the stuff of legend among aides, who jotted down his sayings for posterity and once printed them on T-shirts for a staff alumni picnic.

“The man was a great thing of Dingellisms,” said John Orlando, who worked as Dingell's chief of staff from 1985 to 1993 and considered the congressman one of his closest friends. 

“That’s what we used to call them on staff. He had dozens of them.”

Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat, retired in early 2015 after 59 years in the U.S. House. 

"Kill the closest snake first," was a reference to eliminating the greatest danger first, said Dennis Fitzgibbons, who worked for Dingell on the Energy and Commerce Committee as staff director.

"Before you sell the bear’s hide, shoot the bear first," was a warning not to get ahead of yourself, Fitzgibbons said.  

"My friend, don’t be difficult to agree with," meant stop talking because you made your point, staffers said. 

"In and out like Murphy’s glass eye" was for when Dingell wanted to be in and out somewhere quickly, said Christopher Schuler, a former spokesman for Dingell.

Orlando shared the following list of other favorite Dingellisms:

"The Senate is where good legislation goes to die."

"The House does the work, the Senate takes the bows." 

"I don't pay you to agree with me."

"It's like when the rooster crows and then says, 'Look at me, I made the sun come up.'"

"I'm madder than a boiled owl."

"He’s/That’s as useless as side-pockets on a cow or feathers on a fish."

"This is not to quarrel, but to ask."

"Like watching your stepmother/mother-in-law drive the Cadillac off a cliff."

"If we were s'posed to talk all the time, God would have given us two mouths and one ear."

"Uncomfortable as a frog in a skillet."

"This bill is like a trash can. You lift the lid and take in the foul smell."

"Lying like a rug."

"Like eating peas on a knife."

"Like a duck on a june bug."

"By the great horned spoon."

"Like the dog that backed into the hot stove." 

"Quit contemplating your navel."

"I hear what you are saying. What are you telling me?"

"Everything ends up being even. The rich man has his ice in the summer and the poor man gets his in the winter."