I Don’t Like Spinach, and I’m Glad I Don’t, Because If I Liked It I’d Eat It, and I’d Just Hate It

Clarence Darrow? George Sand? Charles Paul de Kock? Henry Monnier? Eddie Drake? Heywood Broun? Irvin S. Cobb? Steven Pinker? Anonymous?

Disliked Food: Spinach? Carp Head? Eels? Oysters? Lobster? Lettuce? Green Peas? Beets?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous defense lawyer Clarence Darrow apparently had a very low opinion of the vegetable favored by the cartoon character Popeye. Darrow has been credited with the following comical tantrum:

I don’t like spinach, and I’m glad I don’t, because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I just hate it.

Would you please explore the history of this logically twisted humor?

Quote Investigator: During 1834 and 1835 the prominent French author George Sand wrote her thoughts down in a private journal while she conducted a tempestuous love affair with the poet Alfred de Musset. Many years later in 1904 the periodical “La Renaissance Latine” published material from the journal including the following statement about épinards (spinach). Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . je serais bien fâchée d’aimer les épinards, car si je les aimais, j’en mangerais, et je ne les peux souffrir.

In 1929 an English translation appeared under the title “The Intimate Journal of George Sand”. The text showed clearly that the remark about spinach was already in circulation circa 1835, and Sand disclaimed credit: 2

Here is some logic I heard the other day. I’m glad I don’t care for spinach, for if I liked it I should eat it, and I cannot bear spinach.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1837 the popular French novelist Charles Paul de Kock published a short tale that contained a variant statement based on an unappetizing carp head instead of spinach. The story was titled “Une Journée de Bonheur” (“A Happy Day”), and it included a wealthy bachelor named Monsieur Granginet, and a happy couple named Monsieur and Madame Bodinot. Here is an excerpt followed by an English rendition: 3

M GRANGINET. Hum! hum!… voilà une carpe qui a fort bonne mine.

MADAME BODINOT. Sers donc, mon ami; tu vois bien que je suis occupée de la petite. Il m’est impossible de servir, d’abord.

BODINOT. Allons puisqu’il le faut…Je ne suis pas fort…n’importe…Aimes-tu les têtes, Granginet?

M GRANGINET. Je ne peux pas les souffrir..et c’est fort heureux, car si je les aimais, j’en mangerais…et je ne peux pas les souffrir.

The translation was performed by W. H. H. Chambers: 4

Gran.—Ahem! ahem! that looks like a fine carp.

Mad. B.—Serve it, my dear, serve it; you see, I must constantly keep a sharp eye on the baby; I can’t serve.

Bod.—Well, if I must. I’m not very good at this sort of thing; but, never mind. Like heads, Granginet?

Gran.—I detest them—fortunately for me—for if I liked them I should eat carp heads, I know—and I detest them.

In 1839 the work by Charles Paul de Kock was published together with other stories under the title “Moeurs Parisiennes” (“Parisian Manners”). 5

George Sand’s 1845 novel “The Miller of Angibault” included a version about eels that was attributed to a character’s grandmother. Here is the pertinent passage in French 6 followed by an English translation published a couple years later in 1847: 7

C’est l’histoire de ma grand’ mère qui disait: «Je n’aime pas l’anguille, et j’en suis bien contente, parce que si je l’aimais, j’en mangerais.»

It is just like my grandmother saying, ‘I do not like eels, and I am very glad of it, for if I liked them I should eat them.’

In 1851 the “Nouvelle Encyclopédie Théologique” (“New Theological Encyclopedia”) included an instance with spinach that was similar to the version recorded by Sand: 8

Vous faites dire à Dieu ce qu’un spirituel caricaturiste fait dire à un vieillard ridicule: Je n’aime pas les épinards et j’en suis bien aise; car si je les aimais, j’en mangerais: et je ne peux pas les souffrir.

In 1859 a compilation titled “Les Bonnes Bètises du Temps Nouveau et du Temps Passé” (“Good Nonsense New and Old”) credited an instance to the well-known French playwright and actor Henry Monnier: 9

«Otez l’homme de la société, vous l’isolez,» a dit Henry Monnier. C’est encore Henry Monnier qui est l’auteur de cet immortel amphigouri: «Je n’aime pas les épinards, et j’en suis bien aise; car, si je les aimais, j’en mangerais, et je ne peux pas les souffrir.»

By 1896 an English language version referring to oysters appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper which acknowledged a New York newspaper: 10

Feminine Logic—
Dolly—“I’m glad I don’t like oysters.”
Cholly—”Why?”
Dolly—“Because if I liked ’em I’d eat ’em, and I hate ’em.”
—New York Evening World.

In 1908 “The Atlanta Constitution” printed a rephrased instance featuring lobster while acknowledging the humor magazine “Puck”: 11

He (in the restaurant)—Have some lobster? She—I don’t like it—I never eat it. “But if you have never eaten it you don’t know whether you like it or not. Have some! “But I don’t like it. If I liked it I’d eat it—and I hate it.”

In 1916 a music journal published an English language instance based on spinach: 12

“Perhaps they are like the young woman who didn’t, like spinach,” I ventured.
“Tell us about her.”
“Well, some one asked her if she liked spinach and she replied,
‘No, I don’t like spinach and I’m glad I don’t, for if I liked it, I’d eat it, and I hate it.'”

In 1921 “The Boston Globe” of Massachusetts ascribed an instance with lettuce to an archetypal Irishman: 13

The Department of Agriculture, urging the American people to eat onions to help dispose of the 2500 carloads surplus of the old stock, probably realizes that some feel about onions as the Irishman did about lettuce. “Do I like lettuce?” said he. “No, I don’t like it, and I’m glad I don’t like it, for if I liked it I’d eat it, and I hate the darned stuff!”

In 1922 “The Winnipeg Evening Tribune” of Manitoba, Canada stated that a recent theatrical production included an instance based on green peas: 14

In Arnold Bennett’s new play one of the characters tells a story which, she says, is regarded as a test of the sense of humour—men usually see it, and women don’t. An old lady said, “I don’t like green peas, and I’m glad I don’t like them, for if I liked them I should eat them—and I don’t like them!”

In 1923 Irvin Cobb who was a popular humorist of the period shared an instance based on beets: 15

The same young lady has been talking again. Just here the other day I heard of a remark delivered by her across the luncheon table.

“Oh, I’m so glad that I don’t like beets!” she exclaimed. “You don’t know, really you don’t, how glad I am that I don’t like ’em. Because if I liked beets I’d eat ’em—and I hate ’em!”

In 1925 the influential columnist Heywood Broun received credit: 16

HEYWOOD BROUN tells this one: “I am glad I don’t like spinach because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I hate the damn stuff.”

In 1929 “The Boston Globe” astutely ascribed the remark to George Sand: 17

The story about the Irishman who exclaimed: “I don’t like lettuce, and I’m glad I don’t like it, for if I liked it I’d eat it and I hate the dom’d stuff,” is apparently based on an entry in the Intimate Diary of George Sand — made nearly 100 years ago — which reads: “I’m glad I don’t care for spinach, for if I liked it I should eat it, and I cannot bear spinach”

In 1937 a columnist in the “Chicago Tribune” provided another attribution: 18

I don’t like spinach and I’m glad I don’t like it, because if I liked it I’d eat it and I hate the blamed stuff.
—Eddie Drake.

The 1941 biography “Clarence Darrow for the Defense” asserted that the saying emanated from Darrow: 19

His last words to Fay Lewis, who had asked him if he liked shredded-wheat biscuits, were, “No, and I don’t like anybody who does.” His aversion to vegetables enabled him to originate a line to fortify generations of helpless children: “I don’t like spinach, and I’m glad I don’t, because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I’d just hate it.”

In 1997 the influential cognitive scientist Steven Pinker mentioned the linkage to Darrow: 20

Probably the most complicated thought anyone ever had about a disfavored vegetable was Clarence Darrow’s: “I don’t like spinach, and I’m glad I don’t, because if I liked it I’d eat it, and I just hate it.” Inorganic and non-nutritive stuff like sand, cloth, and bark are simply avoided, without strong feelings.

This humorous statement has been evolving for almost two hundred years. The earliest instance located by QI was written in French in a private journal by George Sand in 1834-35, but she disclaimed credit by saying that she heard it from an unidentified person. Sand’s version was about épinards (spinach), but many foods have been mentioned over the years. Charles Paul de Kock helped popularize a version in a French tale published in 1837. An instance in English about eels appeared in 1847 within a translated story by George Sand. Further research may antedate these results.

Image Notes: Picture of spinach from Gemuese-Fotograf at Pixabay. Detail from a portrait of George Sand by Auguste Charpentier circa 1838. Illustration of carp from Alexander Francis Lydon circa 1879. The latter two images were accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to Harry Altman whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1904 July to September, La Renaissance Latine, Volume 3, Encore George Sand et Musset, Start Page 5, Quote Page 18, Paris, France. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1976 (Copyright 1929), The Intimate Journal of George Sand by George Sand, Translation and Notes by Marie Jenney Howe, Section: Journal of George Sand to Alfred de Musset, Quote Page 34, (Reprint of 1929 edition from Williams & Norgate, London), Haskell House Publishers, New York. (Verified with hard copy)
  3. 1836-1837, Title: Musée des Familles: Lectures du Soir, Volume: Quatrième, Section: Études Populaires: Une Journée de Bonheur by Charles Paul de Kock, Start Page 50, Quote Page 59, Column 1, Publisher: Bureaux du Musée des Familles, Paris, France. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1903, The Drama: French Drama, Editor in Chief: by Alfred Bates, Associate Editors: James P. Boyd, John P. Lamberton, Volume 9, A Happy Day (Une Journée de Bonheur) by Paul de Kock, Translator: W. H. H. Chambers, Start Page 221, Quote Page 239, Published by Smart and Stanley, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1839, Moeurs Parisiennes: Nouvelles by Charles Paul de Kock (Paul de Kock), Tome VII, Quote Page 98, Société Belge de Librairie, Bruxelles. (Google Books Full View) link
  6. 1847, Oeuvres de George Sand, Volume 6, Le Meunier D’Angibault (The Miller of Angibault), Start Page 3, Quote Page 63, Meline, Cans et Compagnie, Bruxelles. (Google Books Full View) link
  7. 1847, The Works of George Sand, Volume 5, The Miller of Angibault, Translator: The Reverend Edmund R. Larken, Editor: Matilda M. Hays, Quote Page 159, E. Churton, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  8. 1851, Nouvelle Encyclopédie Théologique, Tome Septième (Volume 7), Entry: Conférences, Column 412, Published by J. P. Migne, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  9. 1859, Les Bonnes Bètises du Temps Nouveau et du Temps Passé by P.-J. Martin, Quote Page 10, Librairie Magnin, Blanchard et Compagnie, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  10. 1896 December 16, The Philadelphia Times, Not a Job Lot, Quote Page 2, Column 7, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  11. 1908 December 7, The Atlanta Constitution, Feminine Logic, Quote Page 5, Column 6, Atlanta, Georgia. (ProQuest)
  12. 1916 November, The Musical Monitor: The Official Magazine of the National Federation of Musical Clubs, Volume 6, Number 2, A Studio Tea: Studio Notes, Quote Page 146, Column 1, David Allen Campbell, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full view) link
  13. 1921 April 1, Boston Daily Globe, Editorial Points, Quote Page 14, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  14. 1922 October 5, The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, Society, Quote Page 10, Column 2, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Newspapers_com)
  15. 1923 June 8, The Pittsburgh Gazette Times (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Irvin S. Cobb’s Favorite Stories, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  16. 1925 November 30, The Daily Times, Idle Thoughts, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  17. 1929 October 24, The Boston Globe, Editorial Points, Quote Page 20, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  18. 1937 September 14, Chicago Daily Tribune, In the Wake of the News by Arch Ward, Quote Page 21, Column 6, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  19. 1971 (Copyright 1941), Clarence Darrow for the Defense by Irving Stone, Chapter 6: Can a Lawyer Be an Honest Man?, Quote Page 188, A Signet Book from New American Library, New York. (Verified with scans)
  20. 1997, How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker, Chapter 6: Hotheads, Quote Page 380, W. W. Norton & Company, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)