Sinclair Lewis? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Whenever I hear someone attempting to diagnose the problems of the world I am reminded of the following amusingly recursive remark:
The trouble with this country is that there are too many people saying, “The trouble with this country is…”
Although I roughly remember the quotation I do not recall who said it. Can you tell me who is responsible for this quip?
Quote Investigator: The American writer and noble laureate Sinclair Lewis included a matching remark in his 1929 satirical novel “Dodsworth”. The words were spoken by a character named General Herndon. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
“The trouble with this country is,” observed Herndon, “that there’re too many people going about saying: ‘The trouble with this country is—–‘ And too many of us, who should be ruling the country, are crabbed by being called ‘General’ or ‘Colonel’ or ‘Doctor’ or that sort of thing. If you have a handle to your name, you have to be so jolly and democratic that you can’t control the mob.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1968 “20,000 Quips and Quotes” by Evan Esar included a streamlined version of the quotation: 2
The trouble with this country is that there are too many people going about saying, “The trouble with this country is—”
– Sinclair Lewis
In 1969 “Quotations for Speakers and Writers” compiled by Allen Andrews included a version that matched the simplified instance in Esar’s book with an ascription to Lewis. 3
In 1989 “The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations” also included the saying: 4
The trouble with this country is that there are too many people going about saying ‘The trouble with this country is …’
Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951)
In conclusion, Sinclair Lewis should be credited with the statement he wrote in 1929. The omission of the phrase “observed Herndon” is understandable, but perhaps an ellipsis should be employed.
Image Notes: Artwork from the cover of the August 19, 1909 issue of “Life” magazine by Coles Phillips titled “From the Mirror”. Portrait of Sinclair Lewis from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division. Both images accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been cropped and resized.
- 1929, Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis, Chapter 10, Quote Page 74, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Topic: United States, Quote Page 836, Column 1, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1969, Quotations for Speakers and Writers, Compiled by Allen Andrews, Topic: Diagnosis, Quote Page 128, Newnes Books, London and New York, (Verified with hardcopy) ↩
- 1989, The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations by Robert Andrews, Topic: Complaint, Quote Page 50, Columbia University Press, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩