There has recently been an excess of speculation in the media
and by the U.S. political class about whether or not there will
be a political “wave” on November 4, 2014.
I have suggested that this is a spinning of punditry wheels
with no destination since a “wave” is in fact the truly undecided
voters going overwhelmingly to one side or the other at the very
end of the campaign, and the more intense motivation to go to
the polls by voters on one side or the other, something that will
not be known until on or about election day.
I am not saying there will be, or will not be, a political wave in
the national midterm elections this year, but I am saying the
wave will not be genuinely evident until the very end of the
The appropriate phrase for this circumstance comes from the
words of a Dallas sportscaster during a football game in 1976
when he said, “the opera isn’t over until the fat lady sings.”
(This now usually generically reduced to "It's not over until
the fat lady sings.")
The word “opera” gives us a clue to what the sportscaster had
on his mind. He was very probably referring to the 19th century
Wagnerian opera series “The Ring of the Nibelungen” and its
concluding work “Gotterdammerung” in which the soprano in the
role of the valkyrie Brunnhilde sings an exceptionally long aria
just before the opera’s end (which is the end of the world of the
Norse gods). The sopranos who traditionally sang this role were
almost always quite corpulent, hence the “fat lady.”
This is a very long opera, and the sportscaster no doubt once sat
The enduring quality of the phrase is not diminished by its
origin in a sports broadcast. I used to think the reference was
to Kate Smith, the great American popular singer of the 1930’s
and 1940’s, but apparently that is not so.
When I write a column entitled “The Fat Lady Is Singing,” the
reader will know that I think we have a wave this year or not.
It was that singular American post-modern philosopher Yogi
Berra who took the "fat lady" phrase to its next, and probably final,
level when he said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”
It is perhaps appropriate, considering its origin, that a sports figure
would have the last word on the subject, as the voters properly also
will have on the election itself.
Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.