Give the Gentleman One White Chip

Wilson Mizner? Samuel Thomas Hauser? Edward O. Wolcott? Silver Dick? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A self-satisfied gambler once approached a poker table and asked to join the game. The dealer shook his head while saying, “This game is probably too big for you”.

The irritated gambler placed ten large denomination bills on the table. There was a silence. The gambler said haughtily, “Is something wrong with my money?” The dealer counted the bills and said, “Alright. Please give the gentleman one blue chip.”

There are many variations of this anecdote. Different quantities of money are mentioned, and sometimes the chip is white. The punchline is typically delivered by adventurer, playwright, and rogue Wilson Mizner. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This tale is difficult to trace because the phrasing is highly variable. The earliest instance located by QI appeared in “The Minneapolis Tribune” of Minnesota in January 1890. The setting was the Silver Bow Club of Butte, Montana. The high-rolling millionaire participants were named Daly, Clark, Hogan and Hauser. In this version, the eager individual was naïve and not arrogant. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Give me a hundred dollars worth of chips,” said he, slapping a crisp $100 bill upon the table.

Daly was running the bank. He sized up the bill and looked surprised, then looked across at Clark. Clark glanced at Hogan and Hogan took a side peep at Hauser. “Well, what’s the matter gentlemen,” said my friend, the tourist, with a bland smile, “ain’t I in the game?”

There was a silent moment. “He wants to know if he’s in the game,” at length said Daly, turning helplessly to Hauser, who sat on his right.

“In the game,” repeated the great mining king, “why of course he’s in the game. Daly, give the gentleman a white chip.

After that you could not have kept that travelling man in the house with a lasso. In fact he left the town that night on the east bound freight, but he did not join the game.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Give the Gentleman One White Chip

Notes:

  1. 1890 January 10, The Minneapolis Tribune, Heard About Town, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com)

Giving Birth Is Like Pushing a Piano Through a Transom

Fanny Brice? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Beatrice Lillie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Giving birth to a child is an intense physical ordeal. A witty woman employed the following simile:

Having a baby is like trying to push a grand piano through a transom.

This remark has been attributed to the prominent Washington socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth and to the popular comedienne and actress Fanny Brice. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote investigator: In 1919 Fanny Brice gave birth to her first child Frances. A pregnant friend contacted Brice to learn about her experience. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A few days after Frances was born, Irene Castle, who was expecting a baby within a few weeks, called Fanny at the hospital on Long Island. “How does it feel, Fanny?” she asked anxiously.

“Like pushing a piano through a transom,” Fanny replied.

The passage above appeared in the 1953 biography “The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice” by Norman Katkov. This was the earliest published instance of the full quip known to QI. Thus, Brice received credit several decades after she reportedly made the remark. Longworth also used the saying, but she disclaimed credit by 1981.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Giving Birth Is Like Pushing a Piano Through a Transom

Notes:

  1. 1953, The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice by Norman Katkov, Chapter 7: Nick Arnstein: “Not Only to Women but to Men”, Quote Page 102, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)

Like the Feather Pillow, He Bears the Marks of the Last Person Who Has Sat on Him

Quotation Said By: David Lloyd George? Douglas Haig? Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook? Susan Riley? Alan Walters?

Barb Aimed At: Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby? John Turner? John Major?

Dear Quote Investigator: The opinions and responses of some people are easily swayed by domineering individuals with emphatic goals. Suggestable people may shift viewpoints repeatedly. Here are three pertinent expressions employing vivid similes:

(1) He’s like a feather pillow who always bears the imprint of the last person who has sat on him.

(2) She was like a cushion who bore the impress of the most recent person who sat on her.

(3) He’s like a bean-bag chair; he bears the impression of the last person who sat on him.

A statement of this type has been attributed to WWI British Field Marshal Douglas Haig and U.K. Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1918 Douglas Haig wrote a letter to his wife which included a remarkably harsh assessment of Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby 1

I am still corresponding with Derby over Trenchard. D. is a very weak-minded fellow I am afraid, and, like the feather pillow, bears the marks of the last person who has sat on him! I hear he is called in London “genial Judas”!

In 1952 the letter above was published together with other personal material in the collection “The Private Papers of Douglas Haig: 1914-1919”. The introduction to the book mentioned Haig’s caustic remark and noted that it was not publicly released until decades later: 2

He could use a cutting phrase even about someone whom he normally admired. “Lord Derby”, he once wrote in a moment of irritation, “like a feather pillow, bears the marks of the last person who has sat on him”. Such phrases were kept for the privacy of his letters or his diary. To all his guests, even those whom he knew to be enemies, he displayed the same unfailing courtesy.

Thus, the book contained two slightly different versions of the quotation. The phrase “like the feather pillow” appeared in the letter text, and the phrase “like a feather pillow” appeared in the introduction.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Like the Feather Pillow, He Bears the Marks of the Last Person Who Has Sat on Him

Notes:

  1. 1952, The Private Papers of Douglas Haig: 1914-1919, Edited by Robert Blake, Chapter 16: The Fall of Robertson, Date: January 14, 1918, Letter from: Douglas Haig, Letter to: Lady Haig, Quote Page 279, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London. England. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1952, The Private Papers of Douglas Haig: 1914-1919, Edited by Robert Blake, Chapter: Introduction, Quote Page 29, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London. England. (Verified with scans)

Every Joke Is a Tiny Revolution

George Orwell? Jan Kalina? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A joke which ridicules an oppressive institution can help to undermine it. George Orwell once wrote about the subversive capabilities of humor and stated that a trenchant quip was analogous to a “tiny revolution”. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1945 George Orwell published an essay titled “Funny, But Not Vulgar” in the “Leader Magazine” of London. He contended that English humorists who were popular at that time were too genteel and kindhearted to create the jokes with a sting that he preferred. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A thing is funny when—in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening—it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution. If you had to define humour in a single phrase, you might define it as dignity sitting on a tin-tack. Whatever destroys dignity, and brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny. And the bigger the fall, the bigger the joke.

The passage above is from the text reprinted in volume three of “George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Every Joke Is a Tiny Revolution

Notes:

  1. 2000 (1968 Copyright), George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, Volume 3: As I Please 1943-1946, Edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, Essay: Funny, But Not Vulgar, Citation note located at end of essay: “Written [December 1944]; Leader, 28 July 1945”, Start Page 283, Quote Page 284, Nonpareil Book: David R. Godine, Jaffrey, New Hampshire. (Verified with scans)

Old Age Is Always Fifteen Years Older Than I Am

Francis Bacon? Bernard Baruch? Mary Gordon? Nina Wilcox? Walter A. Clark? John W. Carswell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: One witty and vibrant individual who maintained a youthful outlook throughout a long life uttered a statement in the following family:

  • Old age is always 15 years older than I am.
  • Old age is always ten years ahead of us.
  • Middle age is always fifteen years ahead of us.

This saying has been attributed to pioneering philosopher of science Francis Bacon and U.S. financier and political consultant Bernard Baruch. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Francis Bacon employed this saying. There is good evidence that Bernard Baruch used the expression by 1948. However, the quip was circulating decades earlier in 1909.

Bacon may have received credit because his name is close to Baruch’s name within an alphabetical ordering. See the discussion of the 1997 citation further below for an explanation of this potential error mechanism.

In 1909 Walter A. Clark published “A Lost Arcadia: Or, The Story of My Old Community”. A chapter about John W. Carswell credited him with the saying. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Over the gulf of nearly fifty vanished years I can recall today some of his terse, sententious sayings. Talking to my father one day on the matter of their accumulating years he said “old age is always ten years ahead of us.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Old Age Is Always Fifteen Years Older Than I Am

Notes:

  1. 1909, A Lost Arcadia: Or, The Story of My Old Community by Walter A. Clark, Chapter: Judge John W. Carswell, Start Page 149, Quote Page 149, Chronicde (Chronicle) Job Print, Augusta, Georgia. (Google Books Full View) link

One Writes Out of One Thing Only—One’s Own Experience

James Baldwin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to the prominent author and social critic James Baldwin the craft of writing depends fundamentally on channeling experience. He employed the metaphorical phrase “the last drop, sweet or bitter”. Would you please help me to find a citation for his statement?

Quote Investigator: In 1955 James Baldwin published “Notes of a Native Son” which began with a section titled “Autobiographical Notes” containing the following passage. Emphasis added: 1

One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.

Below are additional selected citations.

Continue reading One Writes Out of One Thing Only—One’s Own Experience

Notes:

  1. 1964 (1955 Copyright), Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, Chapter: Autobiographical Notes, Quote Page 4 and 5, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)

The Duty of Newspapers Is To Comfort the Afflicted and To Afflict the Comfortable

Mr. Dooley? Finley Peter Dunne? William Randolph Hearst? Willmott Lewis? Frederick W. Burnham? Clare Boothe Luce? Kara V. Jackson? Lawrence Weschler? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here are four phrases describing the duty of a newspaper or religious institution:

  • Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable
  • Comfort the tormented, torment the comfortable
  • Comforting the disturbed, disturbing the comfortable
  • Comfort the troubled, trouble the comfortable

Would you please explore which phrase was crafted first and determine the identity of the creator?

Quote Investigator: Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne wrote a popular syndicated column featuring the distinctive voice of Mr. Dooley. The fictional character’s pronouncements used Irish dialectical speech and spelling. The following appeared within a 1902 column titled “Mr. Dooley on Newspaper Publicity”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, conthrols th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.

Here is a rendering using standard spelling:

The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted, afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead and roasts them afterward.

Finley Peter Dunne was not solemnly describing the duties of a newspaper; instead, he was comically outlining the comprehensive power of newspapers of that era.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Duty of Newspapers Is To Comfort the Afflicted and To Afflict the Comfortable

Notes:

  1. 1902 October 4, The Province, Mr. Dooley on Newspaper Publicity by F. P. Dunne, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Newspapers_com)

I Work From About Seven Until About Noon. Then I Go Fishing or Swimming, or Whatever I Want

Ernest Hemingway? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Did Ernest Hemingway drink heavily while he was writing? How many hours did he spend working each day? Can you find an interview containing quotations that illuminate his drinking and writing habits?

Quote Investigator: Shortly before Hemingway died in 1961, he participated in an interview conducted by Edward Stafford and his wife. The result appeared in the “Writer’s Digest” in 1964. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

My wife needled him. “Is it true,” she asked, “that you take a pitcher of martinis up into the tower every morning when you go up to write?”

“Jeezus Christ!” Papa was incredulous. “Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes—and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one. Besides,” he added, “who in hell would mix more than one martini at a time, anyway?”

Thus, Hemingway denied that alcohol was his muse. A separate QI article explored a germane saying which has often been attributed to Hemingway: “Write drunk, edit sober”. QI found no substantive support for ascribing this remark to the famous author.

Continue reading I Work From About Seven Until About Noon. Then I Go Fishing or Swimming, or Whatever I Want

Notes:

  1. 1964 December, Writer’s Digest, An Afternoon With Hemingway by Edward Stafford, Start Page 18, Quote Page 21, Writer’s Digest, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Verified with microfilm)

We Both Were Crazy About Girls

Groucho Marx? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Groucho Marx apparently once said that he pursued the affections of a woman for two years until he finally discovered that the woman was doing exactly the same thing: pursuing the affections of a woman. Would you please investigate this claim?

Quote Investigator: The 1967 collection of correspondence titled “The Groucho Letters” included a 1955 missive that the comedian sent to playwright and screenwriter Harry Kurnitz. Groucho included the following parenthetical quip: 1

Many years ago I chased a woman for almost two years, only to discover that her tastes were exactly like mine: we both were crazy about girls.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Both Were Crazy About Girls

Notes:

  1. 1967, The Groucho Letters: Letters From and To Groucho Marx, Chapter: Friends Abroad, Letter Date: March 28, 1955, Letter From: Groucho Marx, Letter To: Harry Kurnitz (Playwright and Screenwriter), Quote Page 249, Publisher: Michael Joseph, London. (Verified with scans)

I Don’t Trust a Bank That Would Lend Money To Such a Poor Risk

Robert Benchley? Marc Connelly? Corey Ford? Bennett Cerf? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A financially unstable comedian once asked his long-time bank for a large loan. He was dumbfounded when his request was granted, and he immediately withdrew all his money from the institution while giving the following explanation:

How can I trust a bank that would lend money to such a poor risk?

Would you please explore this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match found by QI appeared in the 1967 compilation of short personality profiles titled “70 Most Unforgettable Characters from Reader’s Digest”. Playwright Marc Connelly wrote a chapter about his eccentric friend Robert Benchley who was a popular actor and humorist. One night, Connelly visited Benchley and found him in a pensive mood. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“That bank of mine is very strange,” he said, finally. “I went there this morning because I needed a loan. And do you know something? They gave it to me just like that.”

The next day he went to the bank and withdrew his account. “I don’t trust a bank,” he muttered, “that would lend money to such a poor risk.”

Benchley died in 1945. So, the colorful anecdote was about an event that occurred many years before Connelly shared it. The story might be true. Alternatively, Benchley may have constructed a fanciful tale to entertain his friend, or Connelly may have embroidered remarks from Benchley.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Don’t Trust a Bank That Would Lend Money To Such a Poor Risk

Notes:

  1. 1967, 70 Most Unforgettable Characters from Reader’s Digest, Chapter: Rare Benchley by Marc Connelly, Start Page 196, Quote Page 199 and 200, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with scans)