Jacob M. Braude? Robert Byrne? Sally’s Sallies? Mary Pettibone Poole? Bob Burns? Jimmie Fidler? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: I love terrible puns and the following is a great example: 1
Most love triangles are wrecktangles.
The quotation collector Robert Byrne included this statement in “The 2,548 Wittiest Things Anybody Ever Said” with an attribution to Jacob Braude. Would you please tell me more about its provenance?
Quote Investigator: Jacob M. Braude published a large number of compilations of sayings, quotations, and anecdotes. In 1955 he placed an instance with a slightly different phrasing into one of his books, and a detailed citation is given further below. However, this form of wordplay has a much longer history.
In 1866 “wreck-tangle” was used in the maritime realm instead of the domain of amour. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2
How can you describe the cordage of a vessel, which has run ashore and broken up? By a wreck-tangle.
In 1877 “The Boston Daily Globe” engaged in more elaborate maritime wordplay by adding the groan-inducing terms “try-angle” and “rye-tangle”: 3
The unlucky captain of a New Bedford mackerel smack says he doesn’t want any more geometry in his. The fishing season coming round he went out for a try-angle and brought back a wreck-tangle.—Graphic. His misfortunes were probably caused by an overdose of rye-tangle.
By 1889 “The Weekly Pantagraph” of Bloomington, Illinois published another seaworthy geometrical variant: 4
—It is no wonder that a square-rigged ship becomes a wreck-tangle in a storm.
Finally, by 1921 an anonymous joker applied the pun to illicit liaisons, and the result was printed in multiple newspapers such as “The Wichita Daily Eagle” of Wichita, Kansas and “Brooklyn Life” of Brooklyn, New York: 5 6
Al. Bert: “How do these love triangles usually end?”
Phil. Bert: “Most of them turn into a ‘wreck-tangle.'”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1923 “The Winnipeg Evening Tribune” in Winnipeg, Canada shared the following instance: 7
Which reminds us of the ancient saying of Archimedes or somebody. “The matrimonial triangle, excessively prolonged, turns rapidly to a wreck-tangle.”
In 1925 the “Centralia Sentinel” in Centralia, Illinois printed the following version while acknowledging another newspaper: 8
It’s really surprising how often these “eternal triangles” become wrecktangles.—Charleston Courier.
In 1930 the syndicated comic “Sally’s Sallies” published a panel depicting a man and woman embracing while the surprised woman was saying “Oh!! There’s my husband!” The accompanying caption stated: 9
Love tangles generally turn out to be wrecktangles.
In 1938 an instance was included in the compilation “A Glass Eye at a Keyhole” by Mary Pettibone Poole: 10
Love triangles generally turn out to be wrecktangles!
Poole’s interesting volume was released by the self-publishing company Dorrance, but it was still given publicity in a Galveston, Texas newspaper: 11
In announcing publication of the book, the publishers said, “Love triangles usually turn out to be wrecktangle’s, and many prominent family trees are started by grafting! Thus writes Mrs. Poole in her clever book of snappy epigrams—a tonic for tired table talk.
In July 1938 the popular gossip columnist Jimmie Fidler shared a Hollywood version of the quip with his readers while crediting someone named Bob Burns: 12
I like today’s philosophy, picked up from Bob Burns. He says that the principal trouble with Hollywood is that most of its love triangles turn out to be wrecktangles.
In 1955 Jacob M. Braude included an instance in his compilation titled “Speaker’s Encyclopedia of Stories, Quotations, and Anecdotes”: 13
Most of these love triangles are wrecktangles.
The industrious collector Evan Esar placed a version in “20,000 Quips and Quotes”: 14
The problem with a love triangle is to keep it from turning into a wreck-tangle.
In conclusion, the punsters who first used the term “wrecktangle” to describe naval ships or relationships running aground were anonymous. The terms popularity was aided by a number of people including Mary Pettibone Poole, Jimmie Fidler, Jacob M. Braude, and Robert Byrne.
Image Notes: Photo of painting Gianciotto Discovers Paolo and Francesca by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres circa 1819 via Wikimedia Commons. Blue triangle from Nemo at Pixabay. Rectangles chromaticity pattern from wobogre at Pixabay. Images have been cropped and resized.
(Great thanks to anonymous pun lover whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Many thanks to Dennis Lien for accessing “A Glass Eye at a Keyhole”.)
- 2012, The 2,548 Wittiest Things Anybody Ever Said by Robert Byrne, No Page Number, Quote Number 283, Touchstone: A Division of Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1866 June 9, Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Local and Other Items, Quote Page 3, Column 4, Bangor, Maine. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1877 January 16, The Boston Daily Globe, Table Gossip, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1889 September 27, The Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington Weekly Pantagraph), (Filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 3, Bloomington, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1921 January 29, The Wichita Daily Eagle, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 3, Column 3, Wichita, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1921 March 26, Brooklyn Life: An Illustrated Home Weekly for Brooklyn and Long Island, Week in Society, Start Page 10, Quote Page 10, Column 1, Brooklyn, New York. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1923 August 1, The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, Along the Way: Better Tone on Matrimony Market, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1925 October 2, Centralia Sentinel, Observations by State Editors, Quote Page 14, Column 2, Centralia, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1930 January 9, Columbus Enquirer-Sun (Columbus Daily Enquirer), Sally’s Sallies (Caption of one-panel cartoon; illustration depicts a man and woman embracing; woman is saying “Oh!! There’s my husband!”), Quote Page 5, Column 8, Columbus, Georgia. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1938, A Glass Eye at a Keyhole by Mary Pettibone Poole, Section: Beggars Can’t Be Losers, Quote Page 42, Published by Dorrance and Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans; thanks to Dennis Lien and the University of Minnesota library system) ↩
- 1938 June 9, The Galveston Daily News, Former Galveston Woman to Have Book Published, Quote Page 5, Column 7, Galveston, Texas. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1938 July 4, The Oregonian, Jimmie Fidler in Hollywood (Syndicated), Quote Page 4, Column 7, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1955, Speaker’s Encyclopedia of Stories, Quotations, and Anecdotes by Jacob M. Braude, Section: Love-Hate, Quote Page 232, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.(Verified on paper in third Printing of May 1956) ↩
- 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Section: Triangle, Quote Page 824, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩