When I Hear Artists or Authors Making Fun of Business Men I Think of a Regiment in Which the Band Makes Fun of the Cooks

H. L. Mencken? Robert E. Adams? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Acerbic commentator H. L. Mencken has received credit for a figurative remark that mentions military bands and military cooks. Yet, I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1942 H. L. Mencken published a massive compilation titled “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources”, and he included the following entry: 1

When I hear artists or authors making fun of business men I think of a regiment in which the band makes fun of the cooks. IBID.

The term “IBID” meant that the source for the quotation was the same as the source for the previous quotation. Interestingly, the previous quotation listed in the book specified “Author unidentified”. Thus, the quotation under analysis is anonymous.

The 1944 occurrence is the earliest one located by QI. The confusion about authorship is due to the presence of the quotation in Mencken’s compilation. Some readers ignored or misunderstood the fact that Mencken had labeled the statement anonymous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1944 Robert E. Adams published the compilation “How to Get Along in This World” with the subtitle: “A unique collection of 5,000 interesting quotations selected and arranged to be of value as worldly wisdom”. Adams included the statement with an anonymous attribution: 2

When I hear artists or authors making fun of business men I think of a regiment in which the band makes fun of the cooks.—Anon

In 1952 “The Greenville News” of South Carolina printed the saying with the attribution “AUTHOR UNIDENTIFIED”. 3

In 1986 “The Quotable Lawyer” edited by David S. Shrager and Elizabeth Frost included an entry for the statement; however, the accompanying attribution was misleading. It only specified Mencken and his compilation. The entry did not note that Mencken had labeled the remark anonymous: 4

When I hear artists or authors making fun of business men I think of a regiment in which the band makes fun of the cooks.
H. L. Mencken
A New Dictionary of Quotations, 1946

In 1990 “A Dictionary of Business Quotations” compiled by Simon James and Robert Parker included the statement together with an anonymous attribution. 5

In conclusion, H. L. Mencken placed this statement into his 1944 compilation with an anonymous attribution. Yet, this caused confusion over time, and the remark is sometimes incorrectly ascribed directly to Mencken.

Image Notes: Illustration of a marching band from Clker-Free-Vector-Images at Pixabay. Image has been resized.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1942, A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken), Topic: Business, Quote Page 134, Column 2, Alfred A. Knopf. New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1944, How to Get Along in This World: A unique collection of 5,000 interesting quotations, Edited by Robert E. Adams, Topic: Business, Quote Page 40, Column 2, Nelson-Hall Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1952 November 18, The Greenville News, With the Sages, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Greenville, South Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1986, The Quotable Lawyer, Edited by David S. Shrager and Elizabeth Frost, Topic: Business, Quote Page 29, Column 1, A New England Publishing Associates Book: Facts on File Publications, New York, New York. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1990, A Dictionary of Business Quotations, Compiled by Simon James and Robert Parker, Topic: Arts, Quote Page 8, Column 2, Published by Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)