We’re Lost, But We’re Making Good Time!

Yogi Berra? George Lichty? Buddy Blattner? Joe Garagiola? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Famed baseball player Yogi Berra is credited with many hilarious remarks. Once Yogi was driving to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York with some other players. After passing the same landmark three times a fellow player named Joe Garagiola said “Yogi, you’re lost” and he replied:

Yeah, I know it. But we’re making good time, ain’t we?

I hope this anecdote is true. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: In 1998 Yogi Berra published a short volume called “The Yogi Book” containing a series of quotations that Berra claimed were accurately ascribed to him. He presented background information explaining when and why each statement was made. This is a valuable document because a large number of spurious sayings have been attached to the good-natured and larger-than-life figure.

Berra states that he did make a remark of this type while driving to the Hall of Fame in 1972. The other occupants of the vehicle were his wife Carmen and his three sons. “Carmen was giving me a hard time, so I gave it back.” He said:

We’re lost, but we’re making good time!

This suggests that Berra was consciously making a joke. In fact, QI has traced this type of humorous comment as far back as the 1940s. A panel by the cartoonist George Lichty was published in the October 1947 issue of popular periodical Collier’s Weekly. It depicted a uniformed airplane pilot addressing his passengers with the following words [CWGL]:

We’re still lost, but we’re making very good time!

Lichty was best known for the long-running syndicated comic strip panel “Grin and Bear It”. Interestingly, he did not formulate the punchline given above. The cartoon was reprinted in Collier’s Weekly in 1948 along with commentary that identified the author of the caption as Buddy Blattner, a baseball player who later became a broadcaster [CWBB]:

The gag, incidentally, came from the fertile brain of Buddy Blattner, of the New York Giants, who sold it to Collier’s, who farmed it to Lichty.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1959 A North Carolina newspaper printed a version of the joke. The setting was an aircraft as in the cartoon published twelve years earlier, but the pilot’s remarks were more elaborate [ARBE]:

A conscientious airplane pilot addressed his passengers over the intercommunication system, telling them that he had lost his way.
He explained that the radar was not working, the radio beam could not be picked up, and the compass was broken, “But,” he added encouragingly, “you will be glad to know that we’re making very good time.”

In 1960 the gag appeared in a Sunday newspaper supplement called “The American Weekly”. A columnist mentioned a recent volume about aviation called “Flying High” that included many anecdotes [AWJM]:

The book also tells about the pilot on a Hawaii-bound airliner who was asked how the flight was going. “Well, it’s this way,” he said cheerfully. “We’re lost but we’re making very good time.”

In 1962 the setting of the gag was altered. A cartoon in the series “Laughing Matter” depicted a man and woman in a car. The man was driving, and the woman was consulting an open map and speaking [HCLM]:

We’re still lost, but we’re making very good time!

The anecdote was assigned to Yogi by 1963 in a sports column written by Merle Jones. This is almost a decade before the date that Berra himself gave for his employment of the phrase [YBSI]:

Yogi had just bought a new car—his first—when he lived in St. Louis and he picked up friend Joe Garagiola to go for a drive.
Yogi drove and drove and finally Joe said, “Yogi, you’re lost.”
“Yeah, I know it,” said Yogi, “but were making good time.”

In 1968 the aviation theme tale was still in circulation. The comedian Paul Gilbert told a version in an article titled “My Favorite Jokes” in the Boston Globe [BGPG]:

The pilot made the following announcement over the plane’s intercom: “Ladies and gentlemen I have two announcements to make. One is good news and the other is bad news. First I’ll give you the bad news—we’re lost! Now I’ll give you the good news — we’re making very good time.”

In 1971 the Baseball Digest published a version of the story told by Joe Garagiola who stated that he was visiting Berra in New Jersey [JGYB]:

“Berra was driving,” remembers Joe, “and Yogi is pointing out the sights because he hasn’t lived there too long. Then I happened to notice we were passing the same church for the third time and I said to him: ‘We’re lost, huh?’ He just grunted and said: ‘But we’re making good time, ain’t we?'”

In 1972 according to “The Yogi Book” Berra was driving to the Hall of Fame with family members when he said [YBYB]:

We’re lost, but we’re making good time!

In conclusion, this humorous remark was in circulation by the 1940s. The earliest evidence currently known to QI suggests that Buddy Blattner may have crafted it for a cartoon in Collier’s Weekly in 1947. The setting of the anecdote evolved from an airplane to an automobile over time. Yogi Berra was featured in a version of the story by 1963. Berra may indeed have used this line, but apparently he was employing a pre-existing punchline.

[YBYB] 1998, “The Yogi Book: I really didn’t say everything I said!” by Yogi Berra, Page 51, Workman Publishing, New York. (Verified on paper)

[CWGL] 1947 October 11. Collier’s Weekly, [Cartoon by George Lichty: Shows pilot of an airplane addressing passengers], Page 61, The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Unz)

[CWBB] 1948 February 14, Collier’s Weekly, The Week’s Work by Ted Shane, [Reprint of cartoon by George Lichty: Shows pilot of an airplane addressing passengers] Page 8, The Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Unz)

[ARBE] 1959 November 10, The Anson Record, Across The Editor’s Desk by Bennett Edwards, Optimist, Page 1, Column 1, Wadesboro, North Carolina. (Google News Archive)

[AWJM] 1960 August 14, Oregonian, Section: The American Weekly, In One Ear by Joe McCarthy, Page 14, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)

[HCLM] 1962 October 19, Hartford Courant, [Cartoon: Laughing Matter: Shows man and woman in a car; the woman is speaking], Page 16, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)

[YBSI] 1963 October 28, Southern Illinoisan, Southern Illinoisan Sport Talk by Merle Jones, Section 2, Page 1, Carbondale, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive)

[BGPG] 1968 May 26, Boston Globe, My Favorite Jokes by Paul Gilbert, Page F21, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

[JGYB] 1971 October, Baseball Digest, Volume 30, Number 10, [Freestanding anecdote], Page 44, [Acknowledgment to: John P. Carmichael in The Chicago Daily News], Published by Lakeside Publishing Co. (Google Books full view)


One reply on “We’re Lost, But We’re Making Good Time!”

  1. I admire this kind of detective work shown here in ferreting out the origin of a saying & to find out who originally said such & such. In the end I don’t believe it matters much since once a saying enters the public domain it is attributed to whoever is conveniently & most easily remembered by John Q Public. In this instance it was Yogi Berra. Curiously enough, when I was a teen some Japanese Canadians could not pronounce my name “Hugo” so all through HS I was called “Yogi”, showing how the name itself is so easy to pronounce that all kinds of other names & sayings are attributed to the name-holder.

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