Erma Bombeck? Paul Dickson? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, while sitting in the waiting room of a medical office I noticed that the potted plants were in dire condition. This was a bad omen, and I vaguely recall a joke about this situation. Can you help?
Quote Investigator: The humorist Erma Bombeck wrote a widely syndicated newspaper column called “At Wit’s End” and several best-selling books. In 1975 she published a piece stating that previously she was not a suspicious person, but her viewpoint had changed over the years. She presented several comical remarks about her increasingly cautious outlook. Here were three examples. Emphasis added by QI: 1
Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.
Never trust an optometrist who won’t look you in the eye.
Never frequent beauty shops that don’t have mirrors. They have something to hide. You.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
The title assigned to Bombeck’s column differed from one newspaper to another. The “Democrat and Chronicle” of Rochester, New York displayed a variant of the joke as the title of her 1975 column containing the doctor quip: 2
Be suspicious of the doctors whose office plants have died
In 1978 Paul Dickson elevated the saying to an authoritative rule by including it in his compilation titled “The Official Rules”: 3
Bombeck’s Rule of Medicine. Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.
In 1994 the “Chicago Tribune” reprinted an article about finding the right physician and referred to Bombeck’s criterion: 4
While humorist Erma Bombeck espouses the potted-ficus theory of evaluating physicians (“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died”)…
An instance credited to Bombeck was included in the entertaining 2011 compilation “Neverisms: A Quotation Lover’s Guide to Things You Should Never Do, Never Say, or Never Forget” by Dr. Mardy Grothe. 5
In conclusion, Erma Bombeck should be credited with the adage she wrote in 1975.
Image Notes: Picture of bonsai tree from PublicDomainPictures at Pixabay. Illustration of stethoscope from OpenClipart-Vectors at Pixabay.
(Great thanks to G who asked QI to explore sayings ascribed Erma Bombeck. Special thanks to Barry Popik who independently located the 1975 citation and shared his research back in 2014.)
- 1975 January 7, Pampa Daily News, At Wit’s End by Erma Bombeck, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Pampa, Texas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1975 January 10, Democrat and Chronicle, Be suspicious of the doctors whose office plants have died by Erma Bombeck, Quote Page 3C, Column 1, Rochester, New York. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1978, The Official Rules by Paul Dickson, Quote Page 15, Delacorte Press, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1994 April 5, Chicago Tribune, Section: Evening Update, Seeking Dr. Right by Marina Pisano, (San Antonio Express-News), Quote Page 7, Column 2 and 3, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 2011, Neverisms: A Quotation Lover’s Guide to Things You Should Never Do, Never Say, or Never Forget by Dr. Mardy Grothe, Chapter One: Never Go to a Doctor Whose Office Plants Have Died, HarperCollins, New York. (Google Books Preview) ↩