"We do what we can because we must."
July 19, 2013 7:09 AM   Subscribe

I remember the phrase "We do what we can because we must" from watching TV as a child in the 70s. This phrase was comically reversed in the Portal soundtrack, which generated a meme and rendered it ungooglable. What was the source of the original phrase?
posted by rlk to Grab Bag (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps it is a corruption of the Henry James quote: "We work in the dark--we do what we can--we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art."

If it is from a TV show, it is odd that there is no mention of the phrase on Google Books, or in Google's archives from before the launch of Portal. Are you sure this is the exact phrase?
posted by blahblahblah at 7:16 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I remember this exactly. I wish I could help you identify it - I can't right now - but I just want to corroborate that this was an important phrase, exactly as you quoted it, in some media piece from the 70s. And it was intoned in a clearly paced way - "We do, what we can, because we must."
posted by Miko at 8:00 AM on July 19, 2013

which generated a meme and rendered it ungooglable.

Ah! Just tell Google you don't tell about Portal by grabbing results for the phrase before 2007. Unfortunately, not much comes back.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:31 AM on July 19, 2013

Alternatively, you can exclude from google results by prepending the term with a minus (-).

"we do what we can because we must" -portal -aperture

But that still doesn't find it... I know I've read something about it in recent years. I'll keep digging and post back if I find it.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 1:42 PM on July 19, 2013

This is the earliest citation I can find that is at all like your phrase: "No other possibility is possible -- conditions have changed, the human impact on Earth and on other humans has become so great that we must do now what in the past would have been impossible. We can . . . because we must."
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:57 AM on July 21, 2013

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