A. A. Milne? Satchel Paige? William Gunning King? Lucy Maud Montgomery? Alice G. Young? Woodrow Wilson? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: I enjoy relaxing and daydreaming, so I’ve always been attracted to the following saying:
Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.
These words have been credited to the creator of Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne, and to the prominent baseball player, Satchel Paige. Yet, I am skeptical because I haven’t been able to find any solid citations. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in February 1905 within multiple newspapers such as “The Pittsburg Press” of Pennsylvania 1 and the “The Buffalo Sunday News” of New York. 2 These papers acknowledged “The Boston Record” of Massachusetts. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:
A bond salesman just back from Maine says he asked an old fisherman in a snow-bound hamlet what he did with himself evenings.
The reply was: “Oh, sometimes I sit and think, and then again I just sit.”
Thus, the first version employed the phrase “I sit” instead of “I sits”. The originator was described as an anonymous old fisherman, and the key propagator was an anonymous bond salesman.
Thanks to Barry Popik for his pioneering research on this topic. He found a March 1905 citation.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In October 1906 the London humor magazine “Punch” published a cartoon by William Gunning King with a caption containing an instance of the saying with the phrase “I sits”: 3
Vicar’s Wife (sympathisingly). “Now that you can’t get about, and are not able to read, how do you manage to occupy the time?”
Old Man. “Well, mum, sometimes I sits and thinks; and then again I just sits.“
Below is an image showing the 1906 cartoon from “Punch”.
The caption of the “Punch” carton was reprinted with an acknowledgement in numerous periodicals, e.g., “The Daily Democrat” of Natchez, Mississippi in November 1906. 4
In June 1910 columnist Alice G. Young wrote a column in a Kansas newspaper that referred to a wide variety of well-known books and authors including Dickens. She included a variant statement about sitting and thinking: 5
“I will never desert you Mr. Micawber” but in land of oranges like gold in leafy bloom you will “sit and think, mostly sit”
In September 1911 the variant statement was ascribed to Woodrow Wilson who employed it in a political barb: 6
Governor Woodrow Wilson says: “I’m sorry for the man in public office who is afraid of anybody. I can imagine nothing more terrible than the conscience of the political coward. What a dog he must be! A conservative man is a man who just sits and thinks, mostly sits.”
In 1911 a book titled “A Saga of the ‘Sunbeam'” about the journeys of a yacht included the saying: 7
There is some reading done, a deal of sleeping and much eating, but for the most part it rather resembles the days of a bucolic old gentleman who was asked, since he was past bucolic activities, what he did with his time. “Sometimes,” he said, “I sits and thinks, and other times I just sits.”
Lucy Maud Montgomery became famous writing the series of novels that began with “Anne of Green Gables”. The 1915 novel “Anne of the Island” was part of that series, and it included an instance of the saying: 8
Part of the time I sits and thinks and the rest I jest sits.
In 1958 an article in “The San Francisco Examiner” included an instance: 9
“Sometimes I sit and think. Other times I just sit.”
This attitude, common among elderly people, is deplored by other senior citizens who have refused to “sit out” their remaining years.
In 2006 a remark in the “Chicago Tribune” implausibly attributed the saying to Winnie the Pooh. The first “Pooh” book from A. A. Milne appeared in 1926: 10
“There’s a Winnie the Pooh quote where he says, ‘Sometimes I sit and think, sometimes I just sit.’ Kids need time to just sit,” Fox says.
Also in 2006 quotation expert Nigel Rees wrote about the expression in “Brewer’s Famous Quotations”. He presented valuable citations such as “Punch” in October 1906 and “Anne of Green Gables” in 1915. 11
In 2009 Satchel Paige received credit for the saying in the pages of an Eau Claire, Wisconsin newspaper: 12
“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.”
That famous quote by baseball legend Leroy “Satchel” Paige has rattled in my head for decades, reminding me of the rest we all require but rarely acquire.
In conclusion, based on the February 18, 1905 citation the originator was an anonymous Maine fisherman. The 1906 cartoon in “Punch” helped to popularize the expression, but it was already circulating.
(Great thanks to Laloofah whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to Nigel Rees and Barry Popik for their pioneering research. As noted in the body of the article, Popik found a March 1905 citation.)
Update History: On September 2, 2018 citation dated June 1910 and September 1911 were added.
- 1905 February 18, The Pittsburg Press, How He Spent His Time, Quote Page 2, Column 5, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1905 February 19, The Buffalo Sunday News, The Simple Life, Quote Page 15, Column 5, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1906 October 24, Punch, Or the London Charivari, Cartoon Title: Change of Occupation by William Gunning King, (Quote appears in cartoon caption), Quote Page 297, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1906 November 7, The Daily Democrat (Natchez Democrat), (Untitled filler item acknowledging “Punch”), Quote Page 10, Column 6, Natchez, Mississippi. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1910 June 30, The Downs Times, Women and Their Work–Ours and Others by Alice G. Young, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Downs, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1911 September 21, The Pratt Union, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 4, Column 2, Pratt, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1911, A Saga of the ‘Sunbeam’ by Horace G. Hutchinson, Quote Page 16, Longmans, Green and Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1915, Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery (Lucy Maud Montgomery), Chapter 30: Mrs. Skinner’s Romance, Quote Page 246, Grosset & Dunlap, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1958 May 17, The San Francisco Examiner, No Obstacles in Life — Only Challenges by Henriette Kish (Women’s News Service), Quote Page 18, Column 4, San Francisco, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 2006 November 28, Chicago Tribune, Not enough ‘me time’ by Emilie Le Beau (Special to the Tribune), Section 5: KidNews, Quote Page 12, Column 2, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 2006, Brewer’s Famous Quotations edited by Nigel Rees, Section: Punch, Quote Page 371 and 372, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2009 October 10, Leader-Telegram, Matter of Faith: Sometimes you have to ‘just sits’ by Rev. David Huber, Quote Page D3, Column 1, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com) ↩