Abe Martin? Kin Hubbard? H. L. Mencken? Jim Courier? George Young? Gary Shelton? Mike Lupica? Dale Bumpers? Shannon Sharpe?
Dear Quote Investigator: Contract negotiations are tough, and disputes usually involve money. Yet, participants sometimes highlight other issues as paramount. Jaded observers have crafted the following dictum:
When they say it’s not about the money. Just remember, it is about the money.
Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the widely-syndicated newspaper feature “Abe Martin” in 1916. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1
When a feller says: “It hain’t th’ money, but th’ principle o’ th’ thing,” it’s th’ money.
The “Abe Martin” illustration and accompanying words were crafted by Frank McKinney Hubbard who was best known as Kin Hubbard.
Thanks to quotation researcher Barry Popik who located the Hubbard citation.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Also, in 1916 the statement above appeared in the two-part book “New Sayings by Abe Martin and Velma’s Vow by Miss Fawn Lippincut”. Kin Hubbard authored this book. Both Abe Martin and Fawn Lippincut were his fictional creations. 2
In 1919 the syndicated column “Luke McLuke” presented a thematic variant. The word “kicking” meant “complaining”: 3
No man ever made an impression on us by telling us that he was kicking about the Principle of the Thing and not about the Money involved.
In 1955 a slightly altered version of the saying appeared as an entry in the high-profile centennial edition of “John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations”. Hubbard received credit: 4
FRANK McKINNEY (“KIN”) HUBBARD
When a fellow says it hain’t the money but the principle o’ the thing, it’s th’ money.
Hoss Sense and Nonsense 
In March 1995 U.S. tennis player Jim Courier used the saying while discussing large payments made to colleagues: 5
“If they throw it at you, I think we would take it. Who wouldn’t? But it’s not about money. And when people say it’s not about money — it’s always about money.”
In August 1995 sports writer Mike Lupica credited U.S. football manager George Young with the saying: 6
“When they say it’s not about money,” George Young of the Giants once said, “that means it’s all about money.”
In May 1997 the “St. Petersburg Times” of Florida printed a piece by sports columnist Gary Shelton which presented the saying without attribution: 7
The first rule is this: When someone says it isn’t about the money, it’s about the money.
Nothing wrong with that.
In July 1997 “Esquire” magazine published an article by sports writer Mike Lupica containing the following: 8
Always remember this: In sports, when they say it’s not about the money, it’s always about the money.
In January 1999 U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers attributed the saying to journalist H.L. Mencken: 9
It was a breach of his family trust It is a sex scandal. H.L. Mencken said one time, “When you hear somebody say, ‘This is not about money,’ it’s about money.”
And when you hear somebody say, “This is not about sex,” it’s about sex.
In November 1999 “The Baltimore Sun” published an article about NASCAR which included the saying: 10
“We made a decision that allows us to take the sport into the next millennium. This was never a money decision. It was about how we can position the sport to our fans in a whole new light,” said Bryan France, whose family has run NASCAR since its inception.
As someone once said, whenever someone tells you that it’s not about the money, it is about the money. Who says the “hayseeds” can’t learn?
In December 1999 U.S. football player Shannon Sharpe stated that his grandfather used the expression: 11
“You hear guys say it’s not about money, it’s not about money. My grandfather always said if they say it’s not about money, it’s usually about money. It’s not about money with me,” Sharpe said. “I want to be in a situation where we win. Losing kills me.”
In conclusion, Kin Hubbard (Frank McKinney Hubbard) should receive credit for the words he wrote in 1916. The statement has been streamlined over the years, and it remains popular.
Image Notes: Abe Martin cartoon from the November 24, 1916 issue of “Franklin Evening News” of Franklin, Pennsylvania.
(Great thanks to Jonathan Lighter whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Thanks to researcher Barry Popik who located the 1916 citation and researcher Fred R. Shapiro who pointed to a pertinent entry in “The Yale Book of Quotations” crediting Kin Hubbard.)
- 1916 November 24, Franklin Evening News, Abe Martin, Syndicate: National Newspaper Service, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1916, New Sayings by Abe Martin and Velma’s Vow by Miss Fawn Lippincut, Author: Kin Hubbard (Frank McKinney Hubbard), Unnumbered Page (10th Page), Abe Martin Publishing Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩
- 1919 November 21, The Journal and Tribune, Luke McLuke Says (Cincinnati Enquirer), Quote Page 6, Column 6, Knoxville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1955, Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett, Thirteenth Edition, Centennial Edition, Entry: Frank McKinney (Kin) Hubbard, Quote Page 841, Macmillan and Company, London. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1995 March 8, The Desert Sun, Champions Cup Notes, Quote Page C4, Column 2, Palm Springs, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1995 August 27, Asbury Park Press, Riley and Keenan: The difference is, one won a title by Mike Lupica, Quote Page H3, Column 2, Asbury Park, New Jersey. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1997 May 7, St. Petersburg Times, Pitino richer – and much poorer by Gary Shelton (Sports Columnist), Quote Page C1, Column 1, St. Petersburg, Florida. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1997 July, Esquire, The Sporting Life: Dennis, Anyone?: Presenting the Rodman Awards for outstanding achievements in sports obnoxiousness by Mike Lupica, Start Page 32, Quote Page 34, Column 2, Hearst Corporation, New York. (Online archive at classic.esquire.com) ↩
- Website: CNN, Article title: Transcript: Former Sen. Dale Bumpers, Date on website: January 21, 1999, Website description: World news website for cable television channel. (Accessed cnn.com on July 12, 2020) ↩
- 1999 November 12, The Baltimore Sun, $3 billion TV deal final proof of NASCAR’s rise to heights by Milton Kent, Quote Page 2D, Baltimore, Maryland. (ProQuest) ↩
- 1999 December 6, Philadelphia Daily News, QB could join drug talks (Daily News Wire Services), Quote Page 105, Column 1, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩