Soft Talk
Inside the Outdoors, July 8
, 2011

It’s funny how one thinks of things out of the blue and then makes something out of it, more so than its original meaning.

Thus was the case when my gray matter stirred up words that eventually ended with an expression that I spit out through my lips – “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” I wasn’t sure that was stated properly, but as you may know me by now, as one of my “friends” puts it, “You know Pee Vee, you’re not right!” Maybe not, but I am who I am, take me or leave me.

So here I was, taking a walk and mumbling the phrase. All kinds of things came to mind.

My first thought was Tiny Tim tip-toeing through the tulips steadying himself with a widdled stick that he had collected along his travels so he wouldn’t fall onto the flowers.

Fishermen balance themselves much the same way when fording the streams, carrying a wading stick to steady themselves while treading the waters to prevent falling.

And as a hiker, I, too, must watch my step so I don’t trip over roots all the time manning a walking stick, here again to steady myself in case a jagger bush decides to attack me or I step on some “black mud” (as opposed to black ice). I can only hope I won’t find myself in the prone position examining the sporangium moss with my nose embedded in the soil. No one wants to taste nature from such a perspective.

So, what do I do when I don’t exactly understand a certain term or expression? You guessed it. I send out one of my favorite surveys and depend upon others to help me get to the bottom of my uncertainty. I received a fair amount of replies that both opened my eyes and also humored me a bit.

Pearl Jackson, from Albany, NY and Eli Brooks from Canton, OH both revealed similar responses – “Walking Tall,” both stated from a movie given that name.

One of our heroes, a soldier serving our country in the military, Terrance Walters, stated, “Trust, but verify, a statement made by Ronald Regan.”

Dillard Masyn from Castle Shannon, PA, said, “My take on this is that one should not made idle threats. If one has a rightful demand on another, one should have sufficient force available to enforce the demand. This is the big stick. One should not be boastful or aggressive. Be sure that the other party knows that the forces are available and will be used if necessary. This is speaking softly.” He added, “This may not fit your survey, but racking a shotgun and pointing it at someone sends a powerful message. As someone once observed, ‘A large bore muzzle pointed in ones direction is pretty much universal language!”’

Ken Lapger of Freedom Falls, Alaska, stated five words that quickly came to his mind – “Persistence, power, grace, defense, and lead.”

Two others included, “You shouldn’t be too opinionated, but you should be ready to define what you believe in” (Nancy Bowlins, Tusca, AL), and “Actions speak louder than words! It’s not what you say, but what you do,” (Derek Drummel, Hannaville, TX).

Lily Arbagale, Pona, IL, put it this way. “It means to talk softly, not to interrupt, but to make a point with a soft voice. Carry a big stick means that you mean what you say and people respect you for that. If something is wrong and you feel it’s your business to let it be known that you think it’s wrong, you don’t need to yell, but you do need to be confident and self assured – state what you feel and mean it…stick by what you think and don’t be swayed by others. The stick is an analogy of ‘beat them off with a (soft stick).”’

Two others, Teddy Maten, Oakmont, PA, said, “I believe it was a quote made by Teddy Roosevelt, which correctly put, was “Speak softly but carry a big stick. It was about foreign policy, suggesting that we play nice, but be prepared to use ultimate force.”

Dr. Frederick Parcel, Pittsburgh, PA, concurred with Teddy. He said, “It means that we do not need to boast when great power is under control.”

From the website,, we learn the actual truth of the matter. The saying is “a form of hegemony and was the slogan describing U.S. President Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.” It was an “idea of negotiating peacefully, simultaneously threatening with the “big stick”, or the military.

My big stick – my fishing rod. Whispering “I got one,” will require some discipline!

- Paul J. Volkmann
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