Mignon McLaughlin? Leata McQuiston? Barbara Bush? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: “Be yourself” is an ubiquitous platitude. Here is a funny variant: Don’t be yourself—be someone a little nicer. Would you please explore the provenance of this quip?
Quote Investigator: The earliest instance located by QI appeared in a newspaper column called “Chatter” by Leata McQuiston published in the “Hobbs Daily News-Sun” of New Mexico in May 1964. The statement was enclosed in quotation marks signaling that the columnist was disclaiming credit for the humorous remark: 1
“Don’t be yourself—be someone a little nicer.”
The second earliest instance located by QI appeared in “The Spokesman-Review” of Washington as a filler item within an advertisement section called “Shop With Sue” in October 1964. No attribution was specified. 2
Thus, the quip was circulating as an anonymous joke by 1964.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1963 journalist and magazine editor Mignon McLaughlin published a collection of adages titled “The Neurotic’s Notebook”, and in 1966 she published a successor volume titled “The Second Neurotic’s Notebook”. The latter book included a chapter on “Health, Happiness, and Self-Esteem” containing these three items: 3
Forget about calories—everything makes thin people thinner, and fat people fatter.
Always live up to your standards—by lowering them, if necessary
Don’t be yourself—be someone a little nicer.
It is conceivable that Mignon McLaughlin crafted the quip under examination. She may have initiated its circulation before May 1964. Subsequently, Leata McQuiston may have seen the remark and put it into her column. But QI has not yet found evidence to support this hypothesis.
In October 1966 a columnist in “The Pensacola News-Journal” of Florida reviewed McLaughlin’s book and reprinted some items: 4
“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, especially if you tell him how flat it is.”
“Don’t be yourself — be someone a little nicer.”
In 1997 “Proverb Wit & Wisdom” compiled by Louis A. Berman included the saying and credited Mignon McLaughlin. 5
In 2015 a variant remark appeared in “The Republic” of Columbus, Indiana under the title “Thought for the Day”. A former first lady received credit: 6
“Be yourself. Well, maybe someone a little nicer.”
— Barbara Bush
In conclusion, this quip was circulating by May 1964 without attribution. Mignon McLaughlin helped to popularize it with her 1966 book “The Second Neurotic’s Notebook”. Currently, the authorship is anonymous although it is possible McLaughlin crafted it.
Image Notes: Symbolic Identity-Face image created by Gerd Altmann and shared via Pixabay.
- 1964 May 31, Hobbs Daily News-Sun, Chatter by Leata McQuiston, Quote Page 8, Column 4, Hobbs, New Mexico. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1964 October 29, The Spokesman-Review, Shop With Sue (Filler item within advertisement), Quote Page 5, Column 8, Spokane, Washington. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1966, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 4: Health, Happiness, and Self-Esteem, Quote Page 33, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1966 October 30, The Pensacola News-Journal, Around the Town with Pat Lloyd, Book Notes, Quote Page 7E, Column 1, Pensacola, Florida. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1997, Proverb Wit & Wisdom: A Treasury of Proverbs, Parodies, Quips, Quotes, Clichés, Catchwords, Epigrams, and Aphorisms, Compiled by Louis A. Berman With Assistance by Daniel K. Berman, Topic: Be Yourself, Quote Page 466, A Perigee Book: The Berkley Publishing Group, New York. (Verified with scan) ↩
- 2015 July 1, The Republic, Thought for the Day, Quote Page A2, Column 1, Columbus, Indiana. (Newspapers_com) ↩