Tag Archives: Winston Churchill

An Empty Taxi Arrived and Clement Attlee Stepped Out of It

Winston Churchill? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Critics of U.K. Prime Minister Clement Attlee viewed him as an insubstantial and dull figure. The following quip apparently circulated during the 1940s:

An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street and Clement Attlee got out of it.

These words are often attributed to Winston Churchill. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Winston Churchill strongly denied that he employed this quip. See the citation further below. The anonymous barb was aimed at Attlee by 1948 as recorded by the widely-syndicated columnist Leonard Lyons. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The Upper Classes are at the government because the inheritance tax laws prevent them from shooting pheasants, so they have retaliated with this joke: An empty taxi pulled up in front of Number Ten Downing Street and Mr. Attlee got out.

This joke template has a very long history. In 1879 the French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt who was notably thin was the subject of the following: 2

. . . only yesterday, says a correspondent, you may read in the same paper a fragment of conversation as follows: “An empty carriage stops and who is it who steps out? Sarah Bernhardt.”

In 1882 a similar remark was aimed at Alexander H. Stephens who was a U.S. Senator for the State of Georgia. Stephens was short and slight: 3

. . . the late Senator Carpenter’s description of Stephens. He said: “An empty coach rolled up in front of one of the Departments and Alexander H. Stephens alighted from it.”

A separate article focused on these nineteenth century jokes is available here. This article continues with additional selected citations from the twentieth century in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1948 February 23, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Lyons Den by Frederic Wakeman (substituting for Leonard Lyons), Quote Page 26, Column 6, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers.com)
  2. 1879 May 31, Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, Table Talk, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1882 August 12, Daily State Gazette (Green Bay Press-Gazette), (Untitled short item), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)

The Young Sow Wild Oats. The Old Grow Sage

Winston Churchill? Stephen Fry? Henry James Byron? W. Davenport Adams? Aubrey Stewart? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The recent memoir by English comedian and actor Stephen Fry contains the following intriguing remark: 1

‘Young men sow wild oats, old men grow sage,’ Churchill is reputed to have said. It almost never is Churchill. In fact collectors of quotations call such laziness in attribution ‘Churchillian creep’.

Was this wordplay created by Winston Churchill?

Quote Investigator: There is some evidence that Churchill employed this quip on his 77th birthday, but it was circulating before he was born.

The earliest appearance located by QI was in a play titled “The Pilgrim of Love! A Fairy Romance” by Henry James Byron which was first performed in 1860. In the following passage a character was afraid that he was losing control of a young person he was responsible for mentoring. Emphasis added by QI: 2

I’m getting on, and so, as his majority
Approaches, I observe that my authority
Declines—but youth, we know, will have its fling,
And there’s a period for everything.
This gardener’s rule applies to youth and age,
When young sow wild oats, but when old grow sage.

Regarding Stephen Fry’s phrase ‘Churchillian creep’, it was probably inspired by the term ‘Churchillian drift’ coined by top quotation researcher Nigel Rees. 3

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 2015 (Copyright 2014), More Fool Me: A Memoir by Stephen Fry, Chapter: The Early Days, Section: Waiting for My Man, The Overlook Press: Peter Mayer Publishers, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  2. Date: First Performed at the Theatre Royal Haymarker (under the management of Mr. Buckstone), on Easter Monday, April 9th, 1860, Title: The Pilgrim of Love! A Fairy Romance, in One Act, Author: Henry James Byron, Scene: 1, Character Speaking: Ebben Bonannen, Start Page 5, Quote Page 6, Publisher: Thomas Hailes Lacy, London (Google Books Full View) link
  3. The Quote Unquote Newsletter 1992-1996, Issue: April 1993, Volume 2, Number 2, Edited by Nigel Rees, Article: The Vagueness Is All, Newsletter Published and distributed by Nigel Rees, Hillgate Place, London, Website: www.quote-unquote.org.uk link (Compilation 1992-1996 available as Kindle ebook)

Sure, We’ll Have Fascism in This Country, and We’ll Call It Anti-Fascism

Huey Long? Winston Churchill? Bruce Bliven? H. L. Mencken? Jimmy Street? Robert Cantwell? Lawrence Dennis?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous populist Huey Long and British leader Winston Churchill have both been credited with a bold prediction about political deception. Here are two versions:

  • When the United States gets fascism, it will call it anti-fascism.
  • The fascists of the future will be called anti-fascists.

Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence supporting the ascription to Winston Churchill.

Huey Long died on September 10, 1935. The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in an article with the byline “J. F. McD.” published on February 22, 1936 in “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Cincinnati, Ohio. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Norman Thomas said recently in a speech made in Cincinnati “Fascism is coming in the United States most probably, but it will not come under that name.” In this statement he was repeating the words of the late Huey Long, but Huey added: “Of course we’ll have it. We’ll have it under the guise of anti-fascism.”

The ascription to Long is popular but the phrasing has been highly-variable, Also, QI has not yet found direct instances in Long’s writings, speeches, or interviews. This article presents a snapshot of current incomplete knowledge.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1936 February 22, The Cincinnati Enquirer, A “Lively Age” To Come? by J. F. McD., (Book Review of “In the second Year” by Storm Jameson), Quote Page 7, Column 1, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers.com)

We Shall Escape the Absurdity of Growing a Whole Chicken in Order To Eat the Breast or Wing

Winston Churchill? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Scientists have successfully produced meat in culture without the need to grow an entire animal. Apparently, long ago Winston Churchill envisioned this possibility, and he predicted that chicken wings would be created without growing a full chicken. Would you please locate Churchill’s remarks on this topic?

Quote Investigator: The December 1931 issue of “The Strand Magazine” published an article by Churchill titled “Fifty Years Hence” that presented many speculations about the future including a remark about growing chicken parts. 1 “Popular Mechanics Magazine” reprinted the essay in March 1932. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

With a greater knowledge of what are called hormones, i.e., the chemical messengers in our blood, it will be possible to control growth. We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 2013 December 12 (Kindle Edition Date), Churchill By Himself (Winston Churchill’s In His Own Words Collection), Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, Biotechnology: We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken. (This reference cites “The Strand Magazine”, Dec. 1931)(Kindle Location 17039)
  2. 1932 March, Popular Mechanics Magazine, Volume 57, Number 3, Fifty Years Hence by Winston Churchill (Former British Chancellor of the Exchequer), Start Page 390, Quote Page 397, Popular Mechanics Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

If Anyone Says Anything Back, That Is an Outrage

Winston Churchill? Apocryphal?

winston08Dear Quote Investigator: Genuine free speech entails disagreement and debate; it is never a one-sided notion. According to a Facebook meme Winston Churchill supposedly said:

Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.

I cannot tell whether this was really said by the famous British Prime Minister. Would you please trace it?

Quote Investigator: A closely matching statement was spoken by Winston Churchill in the U.K. Parliament on October 13, 1943. Emphasis in excerpts added by QI: 1

So we must beware of a tyranny of opinion which tries to make only one side of a question the one which may be heard. Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.

The original remark recorded in the Hansard used the pronoun “it”. The slightly inaccurate modern version replaces “it” with the referent “free speech” to create a more compact and self-contained expression.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1943 October 13, Hansard, United Kingdom Parliament, Commons, Coalmining Situation, Speaking: The Prime Minister (Winston Churchill), HC Deb, volume 392, cc920-1012. (Accessed hansard.millbanksystems.com on October 12, 2016) link

Dancing Is a Perpendicular Expression of a Horizontal Desire

George Bernard Shaw? George Melly? I. S. Johar? Ann Landers? Patrick Harte? Robert Frost? Winston Churchill? Oscar Wilde? Anonymous?

dancing07Dear Quote Investigator: Here are two versions of an adage highlighting the sensual aspects of popular gyrations:

  1. Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.
  2. Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal idea.

George Bernard Shaw, Ann Landers, Oscar Wilde, and Robert Frost have received credit for this saying. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the London periodical “New Statesman” in 1962. The musician and critic George Melly attributed the saying to the notable playwright George Bernard Shaw. Emphasis added by QI: 1

I have spent a certain amount of time lately watching people in London dance in the various new ways. I report what went on in three very different places where my fellow countrymen and women had come together to give what Shaw called ‘a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire’.

Shaw’s death in 1950 preceded Melly’s article by more than a decade, and the text provided no citation; hence, the evidence supporting the ascription was rather weak. Nevertheless, the citations for competing ascriptions are even less persuasive.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1962 March 23, New Statesman, Late Perpendicular by George Melly, Start Page 426, Quote Page 426, Column 3, New Statesman Ltd., London. (ProQuest)

The Trouble with Socialism Is Socialism; the Trouble with Capitalism is Capitalists

William F. Buckley Jr.? William Schlamm? Winston Churchill? Herbert Hoover?


Dear Quote Investigator: I have heard a humorous saying that compares two major economic systems:

The problem with socialism is socialism. The problem with capitalism is capitalists.

These words have been attributed to conservative commentator William F Buckley Jr. and British statesman Winston Churchill. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a profile of William F Buckley Jr. published in “Esquire” magazine in 1961. Buckley believed that socialism was a flawed economic system, but he also found fault with individual capitalists. He felt that the magazine he founded called “National Review” deserved greater financial support from business people, and he blamed “just plain stinginess”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Mr. Buckley paused a moment, then quoted an adage someone had told him that he felt summed up the problem: “The trouble with socialism is socialism; the trouble with capitalism is capitalists.”

This instance used the word “trouble” instead of “problem”. The context indicated that Buckley was not claiming credit for the expression. During the following decades he employed it multiple times, and in 1978 he ascribed the words to William Schlamm (Willi Schlamm), a European journalist who had worked with Buckley in the early years of the “National Review”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1961 January 1, Esquire: The Magazine for Men, Volume 55, Number 1, William F. Buckley, Jr.: Portrait of a Complainer by Dan Wakefield, Start Page 49, Quote Page 50, Column 1, Esquire Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)

We Shape Our Tools, and Thereafter Our Tools Shape Us

Marshall McLuhan? Winston Churchill? Robert Flaherty? Emerson Brown? John Culkin? William J. Mitchell? Anonymous?

tools12Dear Quote Investigator: The famous media theorist Marshall McLuhan has been credited with a brilliant adage about the co-evolution of humans and tools. Here are two versions:

  1. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.
  2. We make our tools, and then our tools make us.

I have not been able to find a good citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that these sayings evolved from a remark made by the U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill during a speech in the House of Commons in October 1943. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

On the night of 10th May, 1941, with one of the last bombs of the last serious raid, our House of Commons was destroyed by the violence of the enemy, and we have now to consider whether we should build it up again, and how, and when. We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us. Having dwelt and served for more than 40 years in the late Chamber, and having derived fiery great pleasure and advantage therefrom, I, naturally, would like to see it restored in all essentials to its old form, convenience and dignity.

Churchill referred to “buildings” instead of “tools”, but buildings may be viewed as specialized tools for providing shelter. Interestingly, by 1965 a variant using “tools” was being attributed to Churchill. Details are provided further below in this set of chronological citations.

Continue reading


  1. 1943 October 28, Hansard, United Kingdom Parliament, Commons, House of Commons Rebuilding, Speaking: The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill), HC Deb 28, volume 393, cc403-73. (Accessed hansard.millbanksystems.com on June 25, 2016) link

Do Not Let Spacious Plans for a New World Divert Your Energies from Saving What Is Left of the Old

Winston Churchill? Jack Fishman? Apocryphal?

bomb08Dear Quote Investigator: Here is a mystifying question for you. Winston Churchill has been credited with crafting two nearly identical quotations beginning as follows:

1) Do not let specious plans …
2) Do not let spacious plans …

The two expressions differed by a single word: specious/spacious. Did Churchill utter or write either of these quotations?

Quote Investigator: There is evidence that Churchill wrote both of these quotations. In 1950 he released a book titled “The Grand Alliance” which was part of his multi-volume history of World War II. He included an appendix reprinting “Prime Minister’s Personal Minutes and Telegrams”. After he had examined the damage to buildings caused by bombing he sent a message in June 1941 to the Minister for Works and Buildings, Churchill emphasized the goal of repairing structures that could be made habitable. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I continue to see great numbers of houses where the walls and roofs are all right, but the windows have not been repaired, and which are consequently uninhabitable. At present I regard this as your Number 1 war task. Do not let spacious plans for a new world divert your energies from saving what is left of the old.

In 1974 a posthumous collection of writings ascribed to Winston Churchill was published under the title “If I Lived My Life Again”. The compiler and editor was Jack Fishman who stated that his sources included magazines, newspapers, speeches, unpublished texts, and personal discussions. Unfortunately, Fishman did not provide precise notes for the provenance of chapters in the book, and some pieces were mosaics from different sources. Chapter 15 was titled “Wise Heads and Young Shoulders” and contained the following: 2

To youth I say – It must be world anarchy or world order. Do not let specious plans for a new world divert your energies from saving what is left of the old.

The oldest habit in the world for resisting change is to complain that unless the remedy to the disease can be universally applied it should not be applied at all. But you must begin somewhere.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1950, The Second World War: The Grand Alliance by Winston S. Churchill, Appendix C, Book One: Prime Minister’s Personal Minutes and Telegrams: January to June 1941, Message from Prime Minister to Minister for Works and Buildings (also Minister of Health), Date: January 6, 1941, Quote Page 722 and 723, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1974, If I Lived My Life Again Winston S. Churchill, Compiled and edited by Jack Fishman, Chapter 15: Wise Heads and Young Shoulders, Start Page 179, Quote Page 183, Publisher by W. H. Allen, London. (Verified on paper)

An Appeaser Is One Who Feeds a Crocodile, Hoping It Will Eat Him Last

Winston Churchill? Readers Digest? Apocryphal?

crocodile09Dear Quote Investigator: British leader Winston Churchill has been credited with a crafting a vivid definition for “appeaser” that cleverly employed figurative language:

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile — hoping it will eat him last.

It supposedly was spoken during World War II, but I have not been able to find a contemporaneous citation. Would you please examine the quotation?

Quote Investigator: Winston Churchill did use the crocodile metaphor during a speech delivered on January 20, 1940, but the phrasing was different. At the time, Churchill was the First Lord of the British Admiralty, and his address was broadcast on BBC radio from London; “The New York Times” printed the speech the next day. In the following passage Churchill was discussing countries which had remained neutral during the ongoing war. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured. But I fear greatly that the storm will not pass. It will rage and it will roar ever more loudly, ever more widely.

The passage did not use the word “appeaser”. Also, it was somewhat clumsy because it employed two figurative frameworks: one based on a ravenous crocodile and another based on a powerful storm. The popular modern version mentioned by the questioner was circulating by 1954. This version simplified the text by adding the word “appeaser” and using only one metaphor.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1940 January 21, New York Times, Text of Churchill’s Speech on War Prospects, Quote Page 30, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest)