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So Very Jerry: Can you decode the governor’s speeches?
Photo illustration by Trevor Eischen

So Very Jerry: Can you decode the governor’s speeches?

Speech, someone quasi-famously said, is the mirror of the soul.

Wait—you don’t recognize that observation made by the ancient Roman scribe Publilius Syrus? Bet your governor would.

This week Jerry Brown delivers his 16th annual State of the State address—a record unparalleled by any governor in California history. If true to form, his speech will again resemble a postdoctoral seminar, studded with arcane inspiration (Publilius would be right at home here). Think you can keep up?


Which American singer did Brown quote in his 2017 speech?

Linda Ronstadt

Bob Dylan

Woody Guthrie

Barry White

Brown quote: “Let me end in the immortal words of Woody Guthrie: ‘This land is your land, this land is my land/From California to the New York Island/From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters/This land was made for you and me.’”


Which Bible story has Brown referenced in two State of the State speeches?

King Solomon’s judgment that two women should spilt a baby

Noah building an ark to save the world’s animals from massive flood

Joseph advising Pharaoh to save grain for years of famine

David using a slingshot to slay a giant named Goliath

Brown told this tale in 2013 and again in 2014, when he said: “We can’t go back to ‘business as usual.’ Boom and bust is our lot and we must follow the ancient advice, recounted in the Book of Genesis, that Joseph gave to the Pharaoh: Put away your surplus during the years of great plenty so you will be ready for the lean years which are sure to follow.”


Brown references “California: The Great Exception” (a book written in 1949 by Carey McWilliams) in how many of his State of the State speeches?




All 15 thus far

Brown called California “the Great Exception” in his speeches in 1982, 2011, 2016 and 2017.


Which acclaimed Dutchman did Brown quote in his 2017 speech?

Jacobus Arminius, 16th century theologian

Hugo Grotius, 17th century philosopher

Jan Ingenhousz, 18th century scientist

Vincent van Gogh, 19th century painter

Brown quote: “As Hugo Grotius, the famous Dutch jurist, said long ago, ‘even God cannot cause two times two not to make four.’”


Which American scientist did Brown quote in his 2015 speech?

Marie Curie, Nobel Prize-winning chemist

Carl Sagan, astronomer who researched extraterrestrial life

Claudia Alexander, NASA geophysicist

Edward O. Wilson, world’s leading expert on ants

Brown quote: “Neither California, nor indeed the world itself, can ignore the growing assault on the very systems of nature on which human beings and other forms of life depend. Edward O. Wilson, one of the world's preeminent biologists and naturalists, offered this sobering thought: ‘Surely one moral precept we can agree on is to stop destroying our birthplace, the only home humanity will ever have…”


Which line by 17th century English poet John Donne did Brown quote in his 2017 speech?

“Be thine own palace, or the world's thy jail.”

“Nature's great masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing.”

“Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

“Death is an ascension to a better library. ”

Brown quote: “As the English poet, John Donne, said almost 400 years ago: ‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’”


Which famous Spaniard has Brown mentioned in two different State of the State speeches?

Saint Teresa of Avila, 16th century Catholic saint

Diego Velazquez, 17th century painter

Gaspar de Portola, 18th century explorer

Francisco Franco, 20th century dictator

Brown referenced Portola in 2013 and again in 2015, saying: “In the last four years, in the last 40 years, yes ever since Gaspar de Portola in 1769 marched along the King's Highway, California has met adversity with faith and courage. We have had setbacks and failures, but always in the end, the indomitable spirit of California has triumphed.”


Which intellectual figure did Brown *not* quote in his 2013 speech?

Oliver Wendell Holmes, U.S. Supreme Court Judge from 1902-1932

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, 16th century French writer

William Butler Yeats, 20th century Irish poet

Hannah Arendt, 20th century political theorist

Brown habitually quotes a vast array of esoteric sources—but in case you haven’t noticed by this point, they’re almost all guys.

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