Sunday, September 15, 2013

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

"I've never been in the business of woulda, coulda, shoulda."

- ex-Pm Kevin Rudd, 
during campaigning, declining to answer what the Labor Party 
could have done differently to avoid losing ground.

The curse, or blessing, of being inquisitive is that when you hear, read or see something interesting, you start wondering how it came about. The next thing you're looking it up on the net, get involved in various side trails and diversionary topics and you realise some time later that hours have passed.

Hearing Kevin Rudd use the above words started me thinking about where the phrase originated. My understanding of the phrase was that it was coulda, woulda, shoulda, not the order that Rudd used, and that it means that there is no point in dwelling on what could have been done and what should have been done, don’t dwell on the past, move on.

Some items of interest:


It is likely that the phrase was already in use in the 1920’s insofar as Theodore Drieser has a line in his American Tragedy, published in 1925: "I coulda chucked my job, and I woulda." 


By the 1970’s the phrase had become associated with failed opportunities in sport.


The earliest published use of the full phrase appears to be in The Washington Post of Dec. 7, 1978 by sports writer Gerald Strine commenting on the New England Patriots football team: 

"The Pats coulda, shoulda and woulda been ahead of the Cowboys by at least 16-3 at halftime . . . but three field goals were blown."


Former basketball coach and player, now basbetball exec, Pat Riley in his book The Winner Within

“There's no such thing as coulda, shoulda, or woulda. If you shoulda and coulda, you woulda done it.”


The phrase has also come to be used in song lyrics, some examples below.


Some quotes and usages:

At a press conference prior to running for Pres, Hilary Clinton was asked “You and your husband knew or should have known that Whitewater was not cash-flowing and that notes or debts should have been paid"?

She replied:

"Shoulda, coulda, woulda. We didn't."


"That's the way it could have been.
Oh, that's the way it should have been.
If I had met you way back then,
That's the way it would have been."

- Tammy Wynette, That's the Way It Could Have Been


“Should of been, could of been
Would of been dead
If I didn't get the message
Goin' to my head
- Red Hot Chili Peppers, Suck My Kiss


“Coulda Woulda Shoulda
(But I didn't do that)
Just throw in everything you've got 
Coz in love there's no holding back”

- Celine Dion, Coulda Woulda Shoulda


"As we drive along this road called life, occasionally a gal will find herself a little lost. And when that happens, I guess she has to let go of the coulda, shoulda, woulda, buckle up and just keep going."

-  Sarah Jessica Parker playing Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City


“Shoulda, woulda, coulda. They were the Three Stooges of regret. All they were good for was saying whoop-whoop-whoop and smacking each other over the head.”

-Thea Harrison, Storm’s Heart


Captain Hindsight is a superhero from South Park. In the first episode in which he appeared Captain Hindsight arrived at the scene of an oil spill and explained to the crowd the precautions that should’ve been taken to prevent the disaster. Suddenly relieved, the crowd applaud as Captain Hindsight leaves behind the devastated beach. In later episodes he flies around the world providing hindsight after catastrophes without actually doing anything helpful.


And another noted devotee of the words and the philosophy behind them:

“Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda!”

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