Franklin P. Adams? Franklin P. Jones? H. B. Meyers? Sylvia Strum Bremer? Loring Smith? Mike Connolly? Steven Pinker?
Dear Quote Investigator: Public intellectual Steven Pinker recently published the bestselling book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress” which includes an entertaining quotation about nostalgia attributed to a prominent newspaper columnist: 1
As the columnist Franklin Pierce Adams pointed out, “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”
I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: This saying was attributed to Franklin Pierce Adams in 1964 by the prominent publisher and quotation collector Bennett Cerf, but Adams had died in 1960, and Cerf is occasionally unreliable.
More than a decade before Adams received credit, the remark was ascribed to a columnist with a similar name, Franklin P. Jones. So Cerf may have confused the two names. Interestingly, the initial evidence found by QI occurred even earlier, and the saying appears to have evolved over time.
The May 1913 issue of “The American Food Journal” contained a prolix match within an editorial. H. B. Meyers was the editor, managing editor, and publisher of the journal. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2
“THE GOOD OLD DAYS.”
A certain class of people are fond of talking about “the good old days,” but they are for the most part individuals without imagination and with a very poor memory. As a matter of fact, there never was a time in the history of the world when the days were as good as they are right now in this year of our Lord 1913.
In 1950 a columnist in an Iowa newspaper, Sylvia Strum Bremer, presented a more concise version of the sentiment: 3
Everybody is always talking about “the good old days,” and a lot of the nostalgia expressed is simply the result of poor memory.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1951 a Nashua, New Hampshire newspaper printed a shorter version as a filler item: 4
A lot of the nostalgia for the “good old days” is just the result of a poor memory.
In 1953 an exact match for the humorous saying under examination appeared within an editorial by V. Y. Dallman who was the editor of “Illinois State Journal and Register” of Springfield, Illinois. Dallman credited Franklin P. Jones: 5
We agree with Franklin P. Jones that nothing’s more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.
In March 1954 a syndicated gossip columnist attributed the expression to a popular actor: 6
Via Loring Smith, of “Solid Gold Cadillac,” who should know: “Nothing’s more responsible for the ‘good old days’ than a bad memory!”
In April 1954 the words were ascribed to a show business columnist: 7
Hollywood columnist Mike Connolly wrote it: “Nothing’s more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”
The linkage to Jones was not forgotten. In July 1954 “The Bee” of Danville, Virginia credited Jones and stated that he used the saying in a magazine called “Your Life”: 8
Nothing’s more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.—Franklin P. Jones in Your Life.
In November 1954 a variant appeared as the caption of the panel comic “Little Liz”: 9
Probably the thing that’s mostly responsible for the myth about the good old days is a poor memory.
The 1958 collection “Reader’s Digest Treasury of Wit and Humor” credited Jones: 10
Franklin P. Jones: Nothing’s more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory. —Your Life
In 1960 another variant appeared in an Akron, Ohio newspaper: 11
OVERHEARD IN THE LOCKER ROOM
The good old days are usually recalled by folks with poor memories.
In 1964 Bennett Cerf’s widely syndicated column “Try and Stop Me” presented the saying with an ascription to Adams: 12
Franklin P. Adams: “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”
In 1968 the chapter about Franklin Pierce Adams in “The Algonquin Wits” attributed the remark above to Adams. 13
The 1976 biography “Smart Aleck: The Wit, World, and Life of Alexander Woollcott” by Howard Teichmann also credited Adams: 14
Each time he started to reminisce about the good old days, he remembered what Franklin P. Adams had told him: “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”
The 1980 collection “Mac’s Giant Book of Quips & Quotes” contained two variants without ascription. One variant simply replaced “bad” with “poor”: 15
- Formula for nostalgia: The “good old days” multiplied by a bad memory.
- Nothing is more responsible for the “good old days” than a poor memory.
In conclusion, QI believes that this saying evolved over time. A prolix version was written by H. B. Meyers in 1913. Columnist Sylvia Strum Bremer penned a shorter version in 1950. Franklin P. Jones received credit for the modern version by 1953. In subsequent years Loring Smith, Mike Connolly, and Franklin P. Adams each received credit, but these ascriptions were weaker.
(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 2018, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker, Chapter 4: Progressophobia, Quote Page 48, Viking, New York. (Google Books Preview) ↩
- 1913 May, The American Food Journal, Volume 8, Number 5, “The Good Old Days”, Start Page 131, Quote Page 131, H. B. Meyers & Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1950 December 26, The Daily Times, Syl-o-ettes by Sylvia Strum Bremer, Quote Page 14A, Column 3, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1951 December 1, Nashua Telegraph, City Briefs, Quote Page 10, Column 5, Nashua, New Hampshire. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1953 January 25, Illinois State Journal and Register, Assorted Smiles by V. Y. Dallman (Editor of The State Register), Quote Page 10, Column 3, Springfield, Illinois. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1954 March 31, Jersey Journal, Hal Eaton on Broadway, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Jersey City, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1954 April 1, Minnesota Morning Tribune, Day Brightener, Quote Page 37, Column 3, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1954 July 26, The Bee, The Beehive, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Danville, Virginia. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1954 November 1, The News-Herald, Caption for one panel comic “Little Liz”, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1958, Reader’s Digest Treasury of Wit and Humor, Selected by the Editors of the Reader’s Digest, Quotable Quotes, Quote Page 83, Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, New York.(Verified with scans) ↩
- 1960 March 27, Akron Beacon Journal, ‘Your Future in Beauty’ by M. Arnold Sayre, Quote Page 14F, Column 1, Akron, Ohio. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1964 July 28, The Muncie Star (The Star Press), Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf (King Features Syndicate), Quote Page 8, Column 8, Muncie, Indiana. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1968, The Algonquin Wits, Edited by Robert E. Drennan, Chapter: Franklin Pierce Adams, Quote Page 38, Citadel Press, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1976, Smart Aleck: The Wit, World, and Life of Alexander Woollcott by Howard Teichmann, Chapter 18: Enter Sheridan Whiteside, Quote Page 274, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1980, Mac’s Giant Book of Quips & Quotes by E. C. McKenzie, Topic: Nostalgia, Quote Page 362, also Topic: Memory, Quote Page 329, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Verified with scans) ↩