The Stichery? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The classic fairy tale “The Frog Prince” is told with many different variations. In the most common modern version a Princess kisses a frog, and the animal is transformed into a handsome Prince. A humorous maxim has been constructed based on this scenario:
You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.
Sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs to find a prince.
You sure have to kiss a lot of toads before Prince Charming comes along.
Before you meet the handsome Prince you’ve gotta kiss a lot of toads.
Some instances of the adage use the word “toad” instead of “frog”. Perhaps these versions are meant to emphasize the repulsiveness of the amphibious creature. Can you determine who coined this saying?
Quote Investigator: This entertaining saying is listed in the valuable reference work “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” from Yale University Press with an initial citation in February 1976. 1 QI has been able to improve this slightly with a cite in December 1975 in “Better Homes and Gardens” magazine. Interestingly, the earliest instances use “toad” and not “frog”.
The expression appeared in an advertisement from a company selling needlepoint patterns called The Stitchery of Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. The picture above shows a black and white microfilm image from the magazine ad, and adjacent to it is a pillow with a similar pattern that was sold in 2009 on the website Etsy which specializes in handmade and vintage items. The words on the pillow read: 2
BEFORE YOU MEET THE HANDSOME PRINCE, YOU HAVE TO KISS A LOT OF TOADS!
The advertising copy described the piece:
HANDSOME PRINCE TO NEEDLEPOINT
“… You have to kiss a lot of toads.” The kit to make this delightful needlepoint piece for pillow top or picture includes design in color on 12-mesh white canvas, Persian yarns to work the design in green, black, red, yellow, white and cream-colored background, needle and directions.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In February 1976 a newspaper article discussing needlepoint gave several examples of phrases appearing in embroidery patterns including the remark about non-metamorphosing toads: 3
Pithy mottoes and worthy sayings are needlework favorites: “Love is another Word for Mother,” “Bless the Lord, 0 My Soul,” “May the Wind always be at your Back,” or “Before you Meet your handsome Prince, you’ll probably have to Kiss a lot of Toads.”
In July 1976 a newspaper column titled “Moravia Local Jottings” in a Moravia, New York weekly newspaper mentioned an instance of the saying: 4
The girls say you sure have to kiss a lot of toads before Prince Charming comes along!
“You kiss a lot of frogs before you meet a prince,” said one woman.
A copyright entry for an artwork dated April 20, 1977 included a caption with the adage. The entry appeared in the U.S. Catalog of Copyright Entries published in 1978: 6
You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet a prince. Comic amphibian wearing crown. Reproduction of pen & ink drawing. © Seattle N.O.W. a.a.d. for Seattle-King County N.O.W.; 20Apr77;
In 1978 a clothing fastener with a gold-plated frog was being sold as a fashion jewelry item in “Marian Gladney’s Rivets by the Bucket”. The designer was interviewed in a syndicated newspaper column: 7
“The frog is our mascot,” she says. “We’ve noticed that it’s starting to make little waves on campus as an extension of the gag that says you’ve got to kiss lots of frogs before you catch a prince.”
In conclusion, the earliest known published instance of the maxim occurred in 1975 in the domain of needlepoint patterns. But typically an adage is already in circulation before it is incorporated in a pattern, so earlier occurrences are likely. The identity of the coiner is not known.
- 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro Entry: You have to kiss a lot of frogs (toads) to find a prince, Quote Page 89, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1975 December, Better Homes and Gardens, (Advertisement depicting needlepoint pattern for pillow top or picture from The Stitchery, Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts), Quote Page 119, Meredith Corp, Des Moines, Iowa. (Verified on microfilm) ↩
- 1976 February 11, Marcellus Observer, Looking Glass by Lynda M. Wood, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Marcellus, New York. (Old Fulton) ↩
- 1976 July 21, Moravia Republican-Register. Moravia Local Jottings, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Moravia, New York. (Old Fulton) ↩
- 1976 October 23, Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, “Living single: Not all good—but not all bad, either” by Kathy Greathouse, Quote Page 9, Column 6, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1978, Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series, Volume 31, Parts 7-11A, Number 1, Works of Art, January-June 1977, Section: Works of Art: July-December 1977, Entry: K127050, Quote Page 736, Library of Congress. Copyright Office, Washington, D.C. (Internet Archive) link ↩
- 1978 January 13, Kingman Daily Miner, Secure your grip on today’s fashion: Rivets by the bucket by Ellie Grossman Quote Page 7, Column 3, Kingman, Arizona. (Google News Archive) ↩