Shaggy Dog Story

P. J. Faulkner? W. Buck Taylor? Bennett Cerf? Eric Partridge? Mary Morris? William Morris? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A shaggy dog story is a rambling tale consisting of largely inconsequential events that ends with an anticlimax or an unfunny punchline. Would you please explore the origin of the shaggy dog story?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in “The Cincinnati Post” of Ohio in January 1906. QI conjectures that P. J. Faulkner who worked for the O’Dell Stock and Grain Company in Cincinnati presented the first shaggy dog story. Faulkner believed that his tale was hilarious, but his companions were angered by its pointlessness. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Faulkner was in a down-town cafe with some friends. He told them a story. “Did you ever hear the story of the shaggy dog?” he inquired.
“No!” they came back.
“No?” said he.
“No-o,” said they.

“Well, James Fernorten wanted a shaggy dog, and—Oh! but it’s funny!” (Much laughter by Faulkner. Friends glum.)

“So he went to his friend Mike, who, he had heard, had one.

“Gee! It’s funny!! (More laughter from Faulkner. Friends glummer.)

“But Mike’s dog. though shaggy some, was not so shaggy!” (Ha-ha-ha-he-he-ho-ho by Faulkner. Silence by friends.)

“Ain’t it funny?” he asked.
“We don’t see it,” said the friends innocently.
“Well, listen,” Faulkner went on.

“You see James Fernorten wanted a shaggy dog, and—Oh, but it’s funny!” (Much laughter by Faulkner. Friends still glum.)

Faulkner’s unhappy friends decided to creatively retaliate against him by placing an advertisement in a local paper. Details within the ad were carefully chosen to reflect the insipid story they found so aggravating:

WANTED
Dog—shaggy dog; must be either black or brown, but not too shaggy; will pay good price. P. J. Faulkner, 3229 Fredonia-av., Avondale.

The ad was remarkably successful in eliciting responses, and Faulkner’s home was overwhelmed with miscellaneous dogs:

Dogs big, dogs small, dogs mangy, dogs shaggy, dogs hairless, sightless and lame; dogs white, dogs black, dogs brown and dogs spotted, dingy and faded; dogs fat, dogs lean, dogs barking and dogs with tin cans tied to tails—dogs, dogs, DOGS. They came to his house all day.

In addition, many dogs were offered to Faulkner by phone, and the exhausted man eventually decided to flee his home.

This article appeared in other newspapers such as “The Denver Post” of Colorado 2 which acknowledged the Cincinnati paper.

The article presented two shaggy dog tales with one nested inside the other. Faulkner told the first humorless tale, and a journalist told the second tale of comeuppance. The combination of the dual narratives was memorable, but over time the text evolved into a single story as shown further below

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Shaggy Dog Story

Notes:

  1. 1906 January 03, The Cincinnati Post, Advertises for a Dog and Gets One All Right, Quote Page 4, Column 4 and 5, Cincinnati, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1906 January 08, The Denver Post, Victim of Dog Trick, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Denver, Colorado. (GenealogyBank)

Churchillian Drift

Nigel Rees? Stephen Fry? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: This website contains numerous examples of quotations that have been reassigned from anonymous or forgotten individuals to famous figures. The general phenomenon has been designated “Churchillian Drift” because of the large number of sayings that have been incorrectly attributed to Winston Churchill. Would you please explore the origin of this term?

Quote Investigator: Nigel Rees is an English quotation expert who has authored numerous valuable reference works. He has also served as the host of a long-running BBC panel game about quotations.

He publishes a newsletter called “The ‘Quote…Unquote’ Newsletter”. In the April 1993 issue he penned a comically exaggerated remark about George Bernard Shaw: 1

Hence, Rees’s First Law of Quotation: ‘When in doubt, ascribe all quotations to George Bernard Shaw.’ The law’s first qualification is: ‘Except when they obviously derive from Shakespeare, the Bible or Kipling.’ The corollary is: ‘In time, all humorous remarks will be ascribed to Shaw whether he said them or not.’

Rees noted that Winston Churchill was another powerfully magnetic figure in the world of quotations. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:

People are notoriously lax about quoting and attributing marks correctly, as witness an analogous process I shall call Churchillian Drift. The Drift is almost indistinguishable from the First Law, but there is a subtle difference. Whereas quotations with an apothegmatic feel are normally ascribed to Shaw, those with a more grandiose or belligerent tone are almost automatically credited to Churchill.

Rees listed five big names that the popular mind had settled upon as the most likely source of quotable wit: George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain.

QI observes that the wits, sages, heroes, villains, stars, and lovers of one era tend to displace some of the leading figures of previous eras. Thus, the list of magnetic figures in the quotation domain changes over time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Churchillian Drift

Notes:

  1. 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 (Compilation 1992-1996 available as Kindle ebook)

You Killed My Brother. We Must Have a Duel

Donald M. Richardson? Olwyn Orde Browne? T. K. Steele? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When I was a child I heard a circular story, i.e., a story that was designed to be repeated. The details are hazy, but I know there was a duel and a character named Zanzibar. Would you please help me to recover this tale?

Quote Investigator: In April 1952 the journal “Western Folklore” published an article by Donald M. Richardson of Berkeley, California that presented a circular tale. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

One night I went to a bar and there I met a man. He said to me, “What have you been doing lately?”
And I said, “Last night I shot a man.”
“What was his name?” said he.
“Zanzibar,” said I.
“Zanzibar?” said he.
“Yes, Zanzibar,” said I.
“And how do you spell it?” said he.
“Z-a-n-z-i-b-a-r,” said I.
“Not Z-a-n-z-i-b-a-r!” said he.
“Yes, Z-a-n-z-i-b-a-r.”
“Then you shot my brother and I challenge you to a duel!” And I, being the challenged one, had my choice of weapons, so I chose my rusty trusty pistol. Three times I fired. He fell. The next night I went to a bar, and there I met a man, etc.

Richardson did not create this tale. He was simply reporting that he had heard it. QI has also located an earlier citation circa 1941, but QI has not yet verified the citation with hardcopy or scans. The details are given in the addendum attached to this article.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Killed My Brother. We Must Have a Duel

Notes:

  1. 1952 April, Western Folklore, Volume 11, Number 2, Section: Notes and Queries, A New Circular Tale or Round by Donald M. Richardson, Start Page 123, Quote Page 123, Western States Folklore Society, California. (JSTOR) link

Tell Us One of Your Famous Stories: ‘Twas a Dark and Fearsome Night

Antonio? Canfield and Carlton? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Experimental fiction and metafiction became influential in literary circles during the 1960s and 1970s. Yet, I recall a playful story from the beginning of the twentieth century that used recursion. A character named Antonio presented a comically nested tale to a group of brigands. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: A good example of this convoluted narrative appeared in “The Buffalo Times” of New York in March 1900. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

‘Twas a dark and fearsome night. Brigands great and brigands small were gathered around the camp fire. “Come, Antonio,” they called to the terrible chief, “tell us one of your famous stories.” And Antonio arose and said:

“‘Twas a dark and fearsome night. Brigands great and brigands small were gathered around the camp fire. ‘Come, Antonio,’ they called to the terrible chief, ‘Tell us one of your famous stories.’ And Antonio arose and said:

“‘Twas a dark and fearsome,” etc., etc., indefinitely.

There is strong evidence that this metafictional tale was already circulating a few months earlier. The following excerpt appeared in the “Buffalo Evening News” of New York in January 1900. The tale was referenced, but it was not fully explicated: 2

And then, possibly Gen. White, like Antonio, may be seated round the fire with brigands great and brigands small, and may tell us of one of his fa-a-a-mous victories.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Tell Us One of Your Famous Stories: ‘Twas a Dark and Fearsome Night

Notes:

  1. 1900 March 19, The Buffalo Times, Hazel Machine Is Knocking It: Source of the Opposition to the Mayor’s Harbor Commission, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1900 January 8, Buffalo Evening News, The Lion’s Part, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com)

The Purpose of the Writer Is To Keep Civilization from Destroying Itself

Bernard Malamud? Albert Camus? Harris Wofford? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Having a grand mission to achieve with your life helps to generate a powerful motivational force. Apparently, one scribe asserted that:

The purpose of the writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.

This remark has been credited to the famous existential philosopher Albert Camus and to the prominent novelist and short story writer Bernard Malamud. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In December 1957 Albert Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and while delivering the Banquet speech he made a point that partially matched the quotation under examination. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself.

The above remark was not specifically about writers; instead, Camus referred to his entire generation. More information about his statement is available here. Camus delivered his speech in French.

In September 1958 Bernard Malamud was interviewed by the journalist Joseph Wershba of “The New York Post”, and he delivered a line that exactly matched the statement under investigation: 2

“The purpose of the writer,” says Malamud, “is to keep civilization from destroying itself. But without preachment. Artists, cannot be ministers. As soon as they attempt it, they destroy their artistry.”

Malamud may have heard the comment from Camus before he constructed a similar exhortation particularized to writers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Purpose of the Writer Is To Keep Civilization from Destroying Itself

Notes:

  1. Website: The Nobel Prize, Article title: Albert Camus – Banquet speech, Speech author: Albert Camus, Date of speech: December 10, 1957, Speech location: City Hall in Stockholm, Language: English translation, Website description: Information from The Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. (Accessed nobelprize.org on November 6, 2019) link
  2. 1991, Conversations with Bernard Malamud, Edited by Lawrence M. Lasher, Series: Literary Conversations, Not Horror but Sadness by Joseph Wershba (Article dated September, 14 1958; reprinted from “The New York Post”) Start Page 3, Quote Page 7, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified on paper)

(The Task of My Generation) Consists in Preventing the World from Destroying Itself

Albert Camus? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Nuclear and biological warfare present ongoing existential risks for mankind. Environmental degradation presents another set of risks. The crucial task for this generation is to prevent the world from destroying itself. Apparently, the French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus highlighted this task of self-preservation back in the 1950s. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1957. During his speech he discussed the dangers facing mankind. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Chaque génération, sans doute, se croit vouée à refaire le monde. La mienne sait pourtant qu’elle ne le refera pas. Mais sa tâche est peut-être plus grande. Elle consiste à empêcher que le monde se défasse.

Here is one possible rendering into English of the passage above: 2

Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading (The Task of My Generation) Consists in Preventing the World from Destroying Itself

Notes:

  1. Website: The Nobel Prize, Article title: Albert Camus – Banquet speech, Speech author: Albert Camus, Date of speech: December 10, 1957, Speech location: City Hall in Stockholm, Language: Original French, Website description: Information from The Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. (Accessed nobelprize.org on November 6, 2019) link
  2. Website: The Nobel Prize, Article title: Albert Camus – Banquet speech, Speech author: Albert Camus, Date of speech: December 10, 1957, Speech location: City Hall in Stockholm, Language: English translation, Website description: Information from The Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. (Accessed nobelprize.org on November 6, 2019) link

The Best Way To Lift One’s Self Up Is To Help Some One Else

Booker T. Washington? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: If you desire to improve your condition in life or lift yourself up then you should help someone else to achieve a better life. The famous educator and orator Booker T. Washington made this point eloquently. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1900 Booker T. Washington published “The Story of My Life and Work” which include the following. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

I think I have learned that the best way to lift one’s self up is to help some one else.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Best Way To Lift One’s Self Up Is To Help Some One Else

Notes:

  1. 1900, The Story of My Life and Work by Booker T. Washington (Principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute), Chapter XV: Cuban Education and the Chicago Peace Jubilee Address, Quote Page 277, W. H. Ferguson Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. (HathiTrust Full View) link

When I Hear Artists or Authors Making Fun of Business Men I Think of a Regiment in Which the Band Makes Fun of the Cooks

H. L. Mencken? Robert E. Adams? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Acerbic commentator H. L. Mencken has received credit for a figurative remark that mentions military bands and military cooks. Yet, I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1942 H. L. Mencken published a massive compilation titled “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources”, and he included the following entry: 1

When I hear artists or authors making fun of business men I think of a regiment in which the band makes fun of the cooks. IBID.

The term “IBID” meant that the source for the quotation was the same as the source for the previous quotation. Interestingly, the previous quotation listed in the book specified “Author unidentified”. Thus, the quotation under analysis is anonymous.

The 1944 occurrence is the earliest one located by QI. The confusion about authorship is due to the presence of the quotation in Mencken’s compilation. Some readers ignored or misunderstood the fact that Mencken had labeled the statement anonymous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When I Hear Artists or Authors Making Fun of Business Men I Think of a Regiment in Which the Band Makes Fun of the Cooks

Notes:

  1. 1942, A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken), Topic: Business, Quote Page 134, Column 2, Alfred A. Knopf. New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

We Attend the Openings of Envelopes

Andy Warhol? Sylvia Miles? Wayland Flowers? Jack O’Brian? Rex Reed? Olivia Goldsmith? Ivana Trump? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The opening of an exciting theatrical production or an innovative art museum can be a prestigious event with an impressive guest list. Yet, many openings are weary exercises in public relations with unremarkable attendees. A self-promoter who showed up at a large number of openings delivered the following gently mocking line:

I would attend the opening of an envelope.

The same barb has comically been aimed at a well-known performer:

That person would attend the opening of an envelope.

The famous pop artist Andy Warhol and the Academy Award nominated actress Sylvia Miles have been linked to these lines. Would you please explore this family of quips?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the Broadway gossip column of Jack O’Brian in 1974. The actress Sylvia Miles was the target of an elaborate version of the jest. The ellipsis in the following appeared in the original text. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

A carbonated Sylvia Miles of course turned up at Cue Mag’s salute to Debbie Reynolds; Syl turns up at all openings; last week the madcap mummer attended half a dozen openings, including one envelope, two appendectomies and a cellar door . . . It’s not a good opening if it’s Miles-away.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Attend the Openings of Envelopes

Notes:

  1. 1974 January 23, The Jersey Journal, The Voice of Broadway: Comics take Brando’s tango by Jack O’Brian, Quote Page 30, Column 4, Jersey City, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)

I Am a Lie That Always Tells the Truth

Jean Cocteau? Pablo Picasso?  Herbert V. Prochnow? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The life mission of an artist is paradoxical. Masterpieces are not subservient to narrow facticity. Representing truths and insights requires the imaginative transformation of raw materials. Here are two versions of an energizing maxim for artists:

  • I am a lie that always speaks the truth.
  • I am a lie that always tells the truth.

The saying above has been attributed to the French poet Jean Cocteau who has also been credited with this variant statement:

  • The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: An important precursor of this remark appeared in 1922 within “Le Secret Professionnel” (“Professional Secrets”) by Jean Cocteau. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

On a coutume de représenter la poésie comme une dame voilée, langoureuse, étendue sur un nuage. Cette dame a une voix musicale et ne dit que des mensonges.

Here is one possible rendering into English:

It is customary to portray poetry as a veiled, languid woman reclining on a cloud. This lady has a musical voice and says nothing but lies.

Another interesting precursor was crafted by the prominent painter Pablo Picasso when he was interviewed by the New York City periodical “The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine” in 1923. His responses in Spanish were translated into English:

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.

A QI article about Picasso’s statement is available here.

Between 1925 and 1927 Cocteau composed a collection of poems published as “Opéra”. The disease of leprosy was used metaphorically to depict mental disintegration and despair within the poem “Le Paquet Rouge” (“The Red Package”) which included a line that matched the quotation under examination. An excerpt from the poem appeared in the Paris newspaper “Comœdia” in 1927: 2

J’ai lâché le paquet. Qu’on m’enferme. Qu’on me lynche. Comprenne qui pourra : je suis un mensonge qui dit toujours la vérité.

Here is one possible rendering into English:

I dropped the package. That shut me up. Let me be lynched. Understand who can: I am a lie who always tells the truth.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am a Lie That Always Tells the Truth

Notes:

  1. 1922, Book Title: Le Secret Professionnel, Author: Jean Cocteau, Quote Page 57, Publisher: Librairie Stock, Place du Théatre Français, Paris. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. Date: Novembre 1, 1927, Newspaper: Comœdia, Article: Jeune Poésie: II. L’autre royaume: En marge de Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, André Salmon, Author: Eugene Marsan, Quote Page 2, Column 6, Location: Paris, France. (Gallica)