It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

Yogi Berra? Jim Prior? Clifford Terry? John Anders? Tish Baldrige? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

helm01Dear Quote Investigator: Déjà vu is the eerie and intense sensation that something you are experiencing has happened before. This feeling is often illusory because the event being experienced is genuinely novel. The term déjà vu can also be used to simply reference an event or circumstance that has happened many times before.

Yogi Berra is famous for his magnificent baseball skills and for his comical statements known as Yogiisms. Here are two humorously redundant or exaggerated phrases containing “déjà vu”. The second is usually attributed to Yogi:

It’s déjà vu again.
It’s déjà vu all over again.

I have been unable to find a solid citation ascribing this sentence to Yogi, and I know some Yogiisms are misquotations. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Analysis of this quotation is complicated by the conflicting testimony provided by Yogi Berra. In 1987 the New York Times language columnist William Safire spoke to Berra by phone, and Berra denied that the phrase was his. However, by 1998 Berra had embraced the quotation, and he presented a scenario circa 1961 in which he made the remark during a baseball game. Of course, it is unfair to demand from a person perfect memory for all utterances. The details for these citations are given further below.

The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in a Florida newspaper in 1962. A humorous love poem titled “Thanks To You” by Jim Prior used the expression in the first line of the first verse. The poem was composed of six verses, and these were the first two: 1

It’s Deja Vu again
Out of the blue again
Truer than true again
Thanks to you.

It’s homerun time again
Rhymes seem to rhyme again
My chimes can chime again
Thanks to you.

The jocular tone suggests to QI that the author knew the phrase was pleonastic. Semantically, he could have said “It’s Déjà vu”, but the longer phrase fit the rhythm and rhyme scheme.

The more elaborate statement: “It’s déjà vu all over again” appeared in a movie review in the Chicago Tribune in 1966. The singer and comedian Dean Martin starred in a vehicle called “The Silencers” which spoofed the secret-super-spy genre popularized by James Bond extravaganzas. The reviewer was not impressed by the fancy gizmos and the provocative women featured on screen: 2

It’s déjà vu all over again—the usual gaggle of gimmicks [miniature hand grenades disguised as coat buttons, a gun that shoots backwards], and the familiar covey of quail [Stella Stevens, Daliah Lavi, Cyd Charisse, Beverly Adams] that frequently makes the put-on more of a take-off.

This is the earliest known citation for the most common modern version of the saying, and it is listed in the Yale Book of Quotations. 3

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1974 the Dallas Morning News used the title “Deja Vu, Again” for an article by a sports columnist who was unhappy with the performance of Southwest Conference basketball teams. Once again the important NCAA tournament would not include teams from the conference: 4

“Deja Vu, Again” article by John Anders

In March 1979 the Chicago Metro News used an instance of the expression while discussing the possibility of disrupted transportation networks in Chicago, Illinois: 5

So don’t expect any better service from those a great many of us depend on for transportation. If we have another snow storm, it’ll be deja vu all over again.

In August 1979 the Boston Globe published a nostalgia-infused article about Mackinac Island. The writer described multiple locations on the island where he felt déjà vu. He also mentioned a song he overheard at the Lamplighter Bar: 6

They are singing “D-U-Double N-I-G-A-N spells Dunnigan” as they did last summer, and scheming the same plots.
Deja vu, again.

In 1981 the Washington Post discussed Nancy Reagan’s project to redecorate the White House. The reporter referred to an earlier similar venture led by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy: 7

One guest remembered another White House refurbishing project, the one by Jacqueline Kennedy, who also came under criticism. “She was criticized for everything. It’s déjà vu all over again,” said Tish Baldrige, her social secretary at the time.

In April 1984 a women’s softball player named Kim Seitzinger employed the saying: 8

“I just knew I had to do it,” said Seitzinger. “I’m in shock. My heart is beating. I can’t believe it. “After that bad throw (in the fifth), I thought it was deja vu all over again.”

In July 1984 the saying was linked to Yogi Berra in the pages of the Wall Street Journal by Gordon S. Macklin who was president of the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD). At the time there was a strong rivalry between two large markets for securities: Amex and NASDAQ. Macklin was responding to criticism contained in a letter: 9

Commenting on the Amex letter, Gordon S. Macklin, NASD president, said the Amex complaint is an old one. “As Yogi Berra would say, this is deja vu all over again.”

Note that this remark is ambiguous because of the phrase “would say”. Macklin may have been repeating something he believed that Yogi Berra had said. Alternatively, Macklin may have been presenting a prototypical Yogi-ish statement without claiming that Berra actually said it.

In September 1984 The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article about a half-marathon race which included a quotation from the winning runner Dean Matthews. He employed the saying without attribution: 10

Matthews knew of Murphy’s good finishing kick, but he was determined not to be outsprinted. “Last week, I was outkicked in the last 100 meters by Rod Dixon in a 10,000-meter race in Portland, Ore.,” Matthews said. “He beat me by half a step. This was like deja vu all over again.”

In 1985 the sports writer, editor, and publishing executive Ed Fitzgerald authored “A Nickel an Inch: A Memoir”. Fitzgerald knew Yogi Berra very well and had spoken to him extensively while co-writing Yogi’s 1961 autobiography. Fitzgerald contended that the saying under investigation had been ascribed to Yogi by CBS radio, but Yogi had not employed the expression: 11

But Yogi never said, as CBS Radio said he did, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
Sometimes it isn’t easy to find out if a story is true or not, even when you go to the horse’s mouth

In April 1985 an Ohio newspaper wrote about the repeated hiring and firing of managers for the Yankee baseball team. Billy Martin had recently been rehired. The déjà vu expression was unambiguously attributed to Yogi: 12

See why it’s hard to take the Yankee management seriously? The situation is, as Yogi said on another occasion, “deja vu all over again.”

In May 1985 a sportswriter in a Texas newspaper described a golf tournament featuring Payne Stewart. The writer credited Yogi Berra with the saying: 13

And then how Stewart lost the tournament on the first extra hole, just as he had done last year at Colonial. Like Yogi Berra once said, it was deja vu all over again.

In February 1987 the New York Times language columnist William Safire wrote about several sayings attributed to Berra. To help elucidate their origins he telephoned Berra at his home in Montclair, New Jersey. Intriguingly, Berra denied crafting the déjà vu saying: 14

What about the recent “It’s deja vu all over again,” so often attributed to Mr. Berra? “Nope, not true, I never said that.” Or the advice, “Always go to other people’s funerals – otherwise, they won’t come to yours”? That too is disclaimed; not an authentic bonaprop by Berra.

In 1989 another autobiographical work titled “Yogi: It Ain’t Over” by Yogi Berra with Tom Horton was published. The denial given to Safire was reinforced in this book: 15

I didn’t say, “It’s déjà vu all over again,” and I didn’t say, “always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t go to yours.” But I did get a phone call from William Safire, the New York Times columnist, asking if I had. He didn’t seem disappointed when I told him no. That made me like him even though we had never met.

In 1998 “The Yogi Book” was published by Berra to present a collection of authentic Yogiisms. He included a version of the déjà vu saying and stated that he spoke it when he witnessed teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris both hit homeruns. The two sluggers were adjacent in the batting order, and Berra had seen this powerful combination on several occasions in the past: 16

“It’s déjà vu all over again!”

In 2001 the book “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!” by Yogi Berra with David Kaplan was published. Yogi noted the remarkable prevalence of his ascribed sayings in the popular culture: 17

People tell me that presidents and other politicians sometimes quote me during their speeches. I guess it’s kind of flattering. Though it was kind of interesting to hear my name come up a lot during Clinton’s impeachment hearings. One of the president’s lawyers was getting frustrated and said, “We’ve gone well beyond Yogi Berra land. It’s déjà vu all over again and again.”

In the 2009 biography “Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee” by Allen Barra a precise year of 1961 was presented for the utterance of the saying: 18

Actually, Yogi did say (or at least reliable witnesses swear he did say) “It’s déjà vu all over again.” But nobody remembers it being after the 1953, Series: they remember he said it after Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hit back-to-back home runs in 1961.

In conclusion, it is possible that Yogi Berra employed this expression in the 1960s, but the evidence is confusing and contradictory. Currently, the earliest published evidence does not point to Berra.

Poet Jim Prior used the simple expression “It’s déjà vu again” in 1962. Newspaper writer Clifford Terry used the elaborately comical saying “It’s déjà vu all over again” in 1966. These are currently the earliest cites known to QI. Databases continue to expand and credit may shift because new data may be discovered. But QI believes these writers deserve plaudits for crafting and/or popularizing an enduring piece of humor.

(Special thanks to Wilson Gray for his comment about the interpretation of the July 1984 citation. In Memoriam: For my brother Stephen.)

Notes:

  1. 1962 September 22, Evening Independent, People to People: Poem: “Thanks To You” by Jim Prior of South Pasadena, Page 4B (GN Page 19), St. Petersburg, Florida. (Google News archive)
  2. 1966 February 22, Chicago Tribune, Gimmicks Jam ‘The Silencers’ by Clifford Terry, Page B5, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  3. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Yogi Berra, Quote Page 58, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1974 March 11, Dallas Morning News, “Deja Vu, Again” by John Anders, Page B3, Column 1, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1979 July 28, Chicago Metro News, Blacks Must ‘Keep the Faith, Baby’, Quote Page 9, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 1979 August 5, Boston Globe, Mackinac Island: Somewhere in time by W. T. Rabe, Quote Page 91, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  7. 1981 November 19, Washington Post, White House Warming by Donnie Radcliffe, Quote Page C3, Column 2, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  8. 1984 April 27, Trenton Times (Trenton Evening Times), “A second chance: Seitzinger lifts Pennsbury over Council Rock in eight” by Ray Clark, Quote Page B6, Column 3, Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)
  9. 1984 July 20, Wall Street Journal, Amex Assails Plan By NASD to Double National System, by Scott McMurray and Pamela Sebartian, Page 5, New York. (ProQuest)
  10. 1984 September 17, Philadelphia Inquirer, Section: Sports, “Wedding Plans Don’t Slow Benoit She Breaks Her Own World Record in Phila. Distance Run” by Steve Goldstein (Inquirer Staff Writer), Quote Page C01, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (NewsBank Access World News)
  11. 1985, A Nickel an Inch: A Memoir by Ed Fitzgerald, Quote Page 100, Atheneum, New York. (Verified on paper)
  12. 1985 April 30, Akron Beacon Journal, Section: Editorial, A Billy-Club Again, Quote Page A-6, Akron, Ohio. (NewsBank Access World News)
  13. 1985 May 14, The Dallas Morning News, Section: Sports Day, Drama Gives TV Nervous Breakdown by David Casstevens, Quote Page 1b, Dallas, Texas. (NewsBank Access World News)
  14. 1987 February 15, New York Times, “On Language: Mr. Bonaprop” by William Safire, Quote Page A.8, New York. (ProQuest)
  15. 1989 Copyright, Yogi: It Ain’t Over by Yogi Berra with Tom Horton, Quote Page 15 and 16, McGraw-Hill, New York. (Verified on paper)
  16. 1998, The Yogi Book: I really didn’t say everything I said! by Yogi Berra, Quote Page 30, Workman Publishing, New York. (Verified on paper)
  17. 2001, When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It! by Yogi Berra with David Kaplan, Quote Page 135, Hyperion, New York. (Verified in paper)
  18. 2009, Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee by Allen Barra, Quote Page xxxiv (roman numeral 34), W. W. Norton & Company, New York. (Verified on paper)