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People Top 5
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- March 16, 1992
- Vol. 37
- No. 10
Phrasemaker Ashleigh Brilliant Coins Epigrams That Would Drive Oscar Wild
Some people should be required to wear warning signs.
This started out to be a good day—but then I got up.
No, the right word is Brilliant—not brilliant as in genius, but Brilliant as in Ashleigh Brilliant, coiner of these and almost 6,000 other salable sayings over the last quarter-century. Brilliant, 58, calls himself he world's only professional epigrammatist, and, working three months out of the year, pulls down $100,000 per annum publishing his minimaxims, which he calls, naturally, Brilliant Thoughts.
"Nobody else seems to be a able to do what I do," says Brilliant. "It's much larder than it looks." He adds, sort of epigrammatically, "Brevity is not an indication of superficiality."
The London-born Brilliant began putting his thoughts on postcards in 1967 and selling them in drugstores, student stores and bus stations in the San Francisco Bay Area. That first year, he had only 20 publishable—and copyrighted—thoughts. Now he comes up with more than 300 a year. He has published seven books at his wisdom, and the numbered postcards—which he calls Pot-Shots—sell in thousands of outlets worldwide. He also is syndicated in 14 newspapers. So far, "I may not be totally perfect, but parts of me are excellent," coined in 1973, is probably his most famous line.
Like all artistic trailblazers, Brilliant had to set the rules for his new form. Very early on, he says he decided to limit himself to 17 words per saying, partly because haiku poetry contains 17 syllables. He also avoids puns or slang or any reference to trends—in an effort to keep his work, as he says, "universal."
Brilliant often cribs the artwork from so-called clip art-books of uncopyrighted, generic drawings-and then copy rights the whole package. He rationalizes this by saying: "All I feel is admiration for the dead artists and pleasure at being able to rejuvenate their work."
When he's not working, Brilliant and his wife, Dorothy, 60, travel a lot mainly to exotic locations. But on the job, Brilliant is single-minded, holing up in a cramped room above the garage of his cottage in Santa Barbara, Calif. Inspiration can come from anywhere-overheard conversations, talk radio, books, movies. "I just sort of get into a rhythm when I'm doing these full-time," he says. "I never have writer's block."
As for the future, well Pot-Shot No. 5,000 may have an answer: I must stay alive until my work is done-but after that, what excuse will I have?
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