Tag Archives: Mutt and Jeff

“Did You Lose the Keys Here?” “No, But the Light Is Much Better Here”

Boy’s Life magazine? Mutt and Jeff comic strip? Mulla Nasreddin? Esar’s Joke Dictionary?

keylamp01Dear Quote Investigator: There is a brilliant comical allegory that depicts the biases inherent in many types of scientific research:

A police officer sees a drunken man intently searching the ground near a lamppost and asks him the goal of his quest. The inebriate replies that he is looking for his car keys, and the officer helps for a few minutes without success then he asks whether the man is certain that he dropped the keys near the lamppost.

“No,” is the reply, “I lost the keys somewhere across the street.” “Why look here?” asks the surprised and irritated officer. “The light is much better here,” the intoxicated man responds with aplomb.

Some scientific research is shaped by the need to perform replicable measurements. But these measurements do not always accurately reflect the phenomenon that is being investigated. The term “streetlight effect” is sometimes used to name this form of observational bias. Can you determine who crafted this clever story?

Quote Investigator: Trying to find the earliest instance of a tale is very difficult. But QI will make an effort and share the provisional results. On May 24, 1924 a Massachusetts newspaper printed an instance with a Boston setting. A police officer saw a man on his hands and knees “groping about” around midnight and asked him about his unusual behavior: 1

“I lost a $2 bill down on Atlantic avenue,” said the man.

“What’s that?” asked the puzzled officer. “You lost a $2 bill on Atlantic avenue? Then why are you hunting around here in Copley square?”

“Because,” said the man as he turned away and continued his hunt on his hands and knees, “the light’s better up here.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
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Notes:

  1. 1924 May 24, Boston Herald, Whiting’s Column: Tammany Has Learned That This Is No Time for Political Bosses, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)

Why Don’t You Carry a Wrist Watch Like Everyone Else?

Herbert Beerbohm Tree?  Frederick Henry Townsend? George du Maurier? Yogi Berra? Mutt and Jeff? An inebriate? A woman carrying packages?

clocktree05

Dear Quote Investigator: I have read several instances of a popular comical anecdote. Two different versions featured baseball Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra. One night he was presented with a grandfather clock at a banquet dinner. Yogi was struggling to carry the clock down the street when a drunken individual bumped into him.

“Excuse me,” said Yogi.
The drunk looked at him unhappily and demanded, “Why don’t you carry a wrist watch like everybody else?”

In another version of the story Yogi was inebriated. He collided with a person carrying a large clock, and Yogi delivered the final humorous line.

In a third version of the tale a famous actor and theater manager in England was the protagonist. Herbert Beerbohm Tree observed a man staggering down the street under the weight of a grandfather clock and remarked: “My poor fellow, why not carry a watch?”

Can you clarify the origin of this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this basic jest known to QI appeared in a cartoon drawn by Frederick Henry Townsend in the London humor magazine Punch in March 1907. Here is the image and the caption: 1

1907PunchClock

Funny Man. “Pardon me, Sir, but wouldn’t you find it more convenient to carry a watch?”

Top quotation expert and BBC broadcaster Nigel Rees included this key citation in his compilation “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations”. 2 The joke was noticed across the ocean, and the cartoon was reprinted in The Washington Post in April 3 and a Pennsylvanian newspaper in October. 4

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1907 March 27, Punch or The London Charivari, [Cartoon by F. H. Townsend with caption: ‘Funny Man. “Pardon Me…”‘], Page 223, Published at the Punch Office, London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 2001, Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Nigel Rees, Section: Advice, Quote Page 24, [Cassell, London], Sterling Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1907 April 14, Washington Post, [Reprint of cartoon from Punch magazine], Quote Page 12 (NArch Page 42), Washington, D. C. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1907 October 7, The Altoona Mirror, [Reprint of cartoon from Punch magazine], Quote Page 9, Altoona, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)