Category Archives: Franklin P. Adams

Elementary, My Dear Watson

Sherlock Holmes? Arthur Conan Doyle? J. Murray Moore? Franklin P. Adams? P. G. Wodehouse? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

holmes08Dear Quote Investigator: When Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes was explaining to his good friend John A. Watson the nature of his latest deduction he supposedly employed the well-known phrase:

Elementary, my dear Watson.

I was astonished to learn that Holmes never said this phrase in any of the canonical stories and novels. Is that true?

Quote Investigator: Yes, Sherlock Holmes never said the above phrase in any of the classic tales written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Instead, the phrase was synthesized by the readers and enthusiasts of the legendary detective and assigned to him. The character was later given the line in a movie script that was not penned by Conan Doyle.

The canonical Holmes did use the word “elementary” when speaking with Watson. For example, Conan Doyle’s 1893 story “The Adventure of the Crooked Man” published in “The Strand Magazine” contained a scene in which Holmes carefully examined Watson’s appearance and concluded that he had recently been busy with several visits to medical patients. Holmes explained his reasoning to Watson, and the doctor was impressed. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Excellent!” I cried.

“Elementary,” said he. “It is one of those instances where the reasoner can produce an effect which seems remarkable to his neighbour, because the latter has missed the one little point which is the basis of the deduction.

In September 1893 the journal “English Mechanic and World of Science” printed a letter to the editor that contained a bit of word play that seemed to be based on the phrase “Elementary, my dear fellow”. The jest may have been referring to a prototypical interaction of Holmes and Watson, but the connection was uncertain: 2

He has also forgotten to deduct the calories that have to be supplied to the “coal” to raise it to the temperature at which it combines with oxygen. All this is quite elementary, my dear “Fellow of the Chemical Society.”

In 1901 the serialization of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” began in “The Strand Magazine”. Holmes examined a walking stick using a convex lens and concluded that the owner of the stick had a dog which was “larger than a terrier and smaller than a mastiff”. He spoke the word “elementary” while presenting his conclusions to Watson: 3

“Interesting, though elementary,” said he, as he returned to his favourite corner of the settee. “There are certainly one or two indications upon the stick. It gives us the basis for several deductions.”

In November 1901 “The Northampton Mercury” of Northamptonshire, England printed a short parody featuring the characters Shylock Combs and Potson. The brilliant ratiocinator Combs was able to determine the direction of the wind outside by observing the displacement of Potson’s mustache: 4

He noticed my amazement and smiled that wonderful smile of his.

“Elementary, my dear Potson,” he said; “I observed the left-hand side of your moustache inclined about 47 5/8 degrees towards the west, and coming as I did from Butcher-street I at once deduced from which quarter the wind was blowing.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1893 July, The Strand Magazine, Volume 6, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: XX – The Adventure of the Crooked Man by A. Conan Doyle, Start Page 22, Quote Page 23, George Newnes, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1893 September 22, English Mechanic and World of Science, Volume 58, Section: Letters to the Editor, The Natural Forces by Luis, Start Page 108, Quote Page 108, Column 3, Published for the Strand Newspaper Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1901 September, The Strand Magazine, Volume 22, Number 128, The Hound of the Baskervilles: Another Adventure of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle, Chapter 1, Start Page 123, Quote Page 124, George Newnes, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1901 November 15, The Northampton Mercury, Sherlock Holmes’s Latest!, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Northamptonshire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

The Race Is Not Always to the Swift, Nor the Battle to the Strong; But That Is the Best Way to Bet

Damon Runyon? Franklin P. Adams? Hugh E. Keough? George D. Prentice? Luke McLuke? Grantland Rice? Burns Mantle? Anonymous?

hare09Dear Quote Investigator: A famous verse in the Bible instructs readers that the advantages enjoyed by an individual do not guarantee his or her success: 1

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

A humorous reaction to this proverbial wisdom has become popular. Here are two versions:

1) The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet.
2) It may be that the race is not always to the swift, but that is the best way to bet.

These words have been attributed to Damon Runyon, a newspaperman whose short stories inspired the Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls” and to Franklin P. Adams, an influential columnist who composed “The Conning Tower”. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match for the expression found by QI appeared in the widely circulated magazine “Collier’s” in February 1919. Franklin P. Adams wrote the saying, but he did not take credit for the remark; instead, he ascribed the quip to a prominent sportswriter named Hugh E. Keough. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

As Hugh Keough used to say: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.”

Damon Runyon also employed the saying, but he credited Keough. In addition, other well-known columnists such as drama critic Burns Mantle and sportswriter Grantland Rice ascribed a similar joke to Keough.

Yet, the situation was complicated because the jest has been evolving for more than one hundred and eighty years, and multiple versions have achieved wide distribution during this long period. A precursor that presented betting odds appeared in 1833 in “Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine”: 3

Now we say that the race is—if not always—ninety-nine times in a hundred—to the swift, and the battle to the strong.

In July 1861 “The New York Ledger” printed a collection of sayings under the title “Wit and Wisdom”. The following instance used the phrase “ninety-nine times in a hundred”, and the quip structure was parallel to the modern version: 4

To be sure the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but it is ninety-nine times in a hundred.

The newspaper article was prepared by George D. Prentice, and it was described as a mixture of original and reprinted material. On the same day, a matching saying was printed in “The Springfield Daily Republican” of Springfield, Massachusetts. 5 The article was titled “Selected Miscellany”, and no author was listed. Perhaps Prentice reformulated a statement he had previously read or heard.

Special thanks to top researcher Barry Popik for his invaluable efforts on this topic that were recorded on his web page here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. Website: Bible Hub, Bible Translation: King James Bible, Section: Ecclesiastes, Chapter 9, Verse 11, Website Description: “Bible hub is a production of the Online Parallel Bible Project.” (Accessed biblehub.com on June 4, 20015) link
  2. 1919 February 8, Collier’s: The National Weekly, Demobilizing, Washington by Franklin P. Adams, Start Page 9, Quote Page 9, Column 3, P. F. Collier & Son, Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1833 October, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 34, Morning Monologues By an Early Riser, No. 1, Start Page 429, Quote Page 432, Published by William Blackwood, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1861 July 20, New York Ledger, Wit and Wisdom: Original and Selected, Prepared expressly for the Ledger by Geo. D. Prentice, Quote Page 3, Column 5, New York, New York. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1861 July 20, Springfield Daily Republican, Selected Miscellany: Sense and Sentiment, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)

Your Bald Head Feels as Smooth as My Wife’s Cheek

Marc Connelly? Nicholas Longworth? S. H. Hale? Franklin P. Adams? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

barber08Dear Quote Investigator: Recently I saw a list of the funniest ripostes, but it did not include the squelcher that I believe is the best. An unhappy card player wished to embarrass a bald man who was excelling. The disgruntled man placed his hand on the winner’s gleaming dome and said, “Hey, this feels smooth and soft exactly like my sweet wife’s behind.”

In response the man touched his glabrous scalp thoughtfully and said, “That is curious. You know; you’re right.”

The punchline of this anecdote was been attributed to the playwright Marc Connelly who was a member of the celebrated Algonquin Round Table and to Nicholas Longworth who was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Would you explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published version of this tale found by QI was set in a barber shop and was less risqué. In July 1924 “The Roswell Daily Record” of Roswell, New Mexico printed the following. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

S. H. Hale tells this one on a fresh young barber he had working for him several years ago. This particular barber thought he would kid a bald-headed man.

“Don’t you know,” he said, rubbing the bald spot, “your head feels just like my wife’s cheek”.

The customer reached up and stroked his head for a moment and then said: “By golly it does, doesn’t it.”

The word “cheek” presented a double-entendre, but QI believes that the Roswell newspaper editor in 1924 probably expected readers to think of the face and not the buttocks.

The joke was bawdy, and it suggested cuckoldry; hence, coarser instances probably circulated only via the spoken word initially. Newspapers in the 1920s printed a version with the phrase “my wife’s cheek”, and periodicals in the 1950s printed a variant referencing “my wife’s leg”. By the 1960s a biography printed an instance with “my wife’s bottom”, and a memoir printed an instance with “my wife’s behind”.

Privately printed literature was more candid. In 1934 a limited edition collection of taboo humor included an instance with “my wife’s ass”. The rejoinder was attributed to Mark Connelly.

Nicholas Longworth was Speaker of the House from 1925 to 1931, i.e., after the barber shop version of the anecdote was circulating. He died in 1931. The earliest citation found by QI crediting the punchline to Longworth was published in a 1968 book about Washington politics. Detailed information is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1924 July 12, The Roswell Daily Record, Local Snap Shots (Contributed), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Roswell, New Mexico. (NewspaperArchive)

Advice: Substitute ‘Damn’ Every Time You’re Inclined to Write ‘Very’

Mark Twain? William Allen White? Franklin P. Adams? Brock Pemberton? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I’ve been quoting an editor-friend’s advice for years, and suddenly tonight I see it online attributed to Mark Twain:

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

If that’s really Twain, what work is it from, please? It’s all over the Internet on quote sites.

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said this. It is not listed on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt. 1

In the earliest citation located by QI the humorous advice was credited to William Allen White who was a prominent newspaper editor based in Emporia, Kansas. Here is the tale as told in 1935 by a columnist in a Seattle, Washington newspaper: 2

William Allen White’s visit here, en route to the Philippines, recalled the story of the famous Kansas editor and publisher’s meeting several years ago with a group of fledgling newspaper men in Lawrence. Kas. The “cubs” listened eagerly to everything “the Sage of Emporia” had to say and besought him to give them some advice about news writing.

“I never give advice,” said Mr. White, “but there is one thing I wish you would do when you sit down to write news stories, and that is: Never use the word, ‘very.’ It is the weakest word in the English language; doesn’t mean anything. If you feel the urge of ‘very’ coming on, just write the word, ‘damn,’ in the place of ‘very.’ The editor will strike out the word, ‘damn,’ and you will have a good sentence.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. TwainQuotes.com website edited by Barbara Schmidt. [Mark Twain Quotations, Newspaper Collections, & Related Resources] (Searched August 29, 2012) link
  2. 1935 October 18, Seattle Daily Times, Strolling Around the Town, Second Main News Section: Front Page [GNB Page 37], Column 3 and 4, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)

Meretricious and a Happy New Year

Gore Vidal? Franklin P. Adams? George S. Kaufman? Mary Horan? Chico Marx? Walter Winchell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The holiday season is here, and I have a question about a pun. A critic once told Gore Vidal that one of his novels was meretricious and Gore pointedly replied:

Really? Well, meretricious and a happy New Year to you too!

This anecdote is set in the 1970s and when I read about it recently I was reminded of stories about the Algonquin Round Table. The group members used to play a game in which a word was selected and a participant was challenged to create a clever sentence using it. I think meretricious was one of the words chosen, and the result was the quip used by Gore Vidal many years later. Could you check into this?

Quote Investigator: The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, a top-notch reference that is enjoyable to browse, lists this anecdote of verbal jousting under the name of Gore Vidal. But the entry also mentions some instances of the pun as early as 1933 credited to The Marx Brothers and Franklin P. Adams [ODHM].

The earliest instance located by QI was published in December 1929 by the famous columnist Walter Winchell who referred to the sentence construction activity as a “parlor diversion.” Winchell presented two examples of puns which he attributed to the actress Mary Horan. The third example used meretricious, but the joke was not credited to a specific person.

The second earliest citation was published in December 1930. Once again Walter Winchell described the sentence construction activity as a “parlor pastime.” The example using meretricious was deemed “one of the cleverest”. Winchell mentioned several members of the Round Table: Alexander Woollcott, Franklin P. Adams, and Dorothy Parker, but he did not provide a name for the originator of the wordplay for meretricious in 1929 or 1930.

Twelve years later in 1942 Winchell credited the pun to the playwright and Round Table member George S. Kaufman. In 1945 a biographer of Alexander Woollcott assigned the joke to Franklin P. Adams. In modern times the wordplay is often attributed to Gore, Adams, and The Marx Brothers .

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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