As a child, I read comic books incessantly (the sale of my collection helped fund my freshman year at MIT), leading my mother to lament, “You’re turning your mind into a wastebasket.
Sometimes, in odd moments, her voice comes back to me (of course, the construct of her I carry inside of me is quite vivid). There have been disruptions in our daily routine this week, and I thought, as I rose this morning, “Well, we’re on an asymptotic approach to normal.” Thanks to said MIT education, that phrase went into the wastebasket (it means getting ever closer without actually getting there).
Then, it hit me: my MIT education was a lot like what an actor does when they prepare for a role; I hung around for four years, observing, learning how scientists and engineers acted and talked. Then (somehow) I graduated and left to make the movie that was my life. But like an actor, I never really learned to be a scientist or an engineer.
Thus, I say “Close enough for government work,” without ever having done any, or having had to measure anything precise. My entire career in journalism was based on my computer knowledge from MIT, which was trivial. “I’m not a computer scientist, but I do play one on television,” and, in the newsroom, for that matter.
(Fun Google hole: Search for “I’m not a doctor, but I do play one on television”) My contribution to that discussion: the phase was already a comic catchphrase in 1972, when it was included in a parody commercial on the MIT FM radio station (I have the audio tape to prove it). Apparently, it wasn’t Robert Young/Marcus Welby who said it first… or was it?