Whoever Named It Necking Was a Poor Judge of Anatomy

Groucho Marx? Robert O. Ryder? Dorothy Uris? Evan Esar? Agro B. Arlo? Laurence J. Peter? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The informal term “necking” refers to kissing and caressing amorously. A comedian once said:

Whoever called it necking was a poor judge of anatomy.

Do you know who crafted this joke?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1968 collection “20,000 Quips and Quotes” compiled by Evan Esar. A well-known comedian, movie star, and television personality received credit. Boldface added to excepts by QI:[1] 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes, Compiled by Evan Esar, Subject: Petting, Quote Page 593, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)

Whoever named it necking was a poor judge of anatomy.
—Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx (Julius Henry Marx) died in 1977. Thus, he was linked to the quip while he was still alive. Currently, Groucho is the leading candidate for creator.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1931 a different joke following the same template appeared in a Grand Island, Nebraska newspaper:[2] 1931 May 2, The Grand Island Daily Independent, Today’s Quotation, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Grand Island, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)

The highwayman who stuck a revolver in the pit of a man’s stomach and said: “Hold up your hands or I’ll blow out your brains,” was a poor student of anatomy.

The joke above appeared in other newspapers such as the “Fort Worth Star-Telegram” of Texas in 1935. The word “burglar” replaced “highwayman”:[3] 1935 June 2, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, (Filler item), Quote Page 6, Column 7, Fort Worth, Texas. (Newspapers_com)

The burglar who stuck his revolver in the pit of his victim’s stomach and told him to hold up his hands or he would blow out his brains is a poor student of anatomy.—Grand Island (Neb.) Independent.

In 1963 another joke following the same template appeared in a Chapel Hill, North Carolina newspaper:[4] 1963 November 13, The Chapel Hill Weekly, Billy Arthur, Quote Page 1C, Column 3, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)

Overheard in the Journalism School: “Whoever said she has a nose for news is a poor judge of anatomy.”

In 1968 humorologist Evan Esar attributed the jest under examination to Groucho as mentioned previously.

In 1975 columnist Maury White of “The Des Moines Register” in Iowa ascribed the statement to a little-known individual:[5] 1975 January 15, The Des Moines Register, Section: The Des Moines Register Peach, Maury White, Section S, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Des Moines, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)

Agro B. Arlo, an acquaintance, says that whoever named it necking was a poor judge of anatomy.

In 1977 “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” compiled by Laurence J. Peter included this entry:[6] 1977, Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time, Compiled by Laurence J. Peter, Section: Sex, Quote Page 440, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified on with hardcopy)

Whoever named it necking was a poor judge of anatomy.
—Groucho Marx

In 1978 “The Comic Encyclopedia” by Evan Esar discussed a type of jest called a Ryderism:[7]1978, The Comic Encyclopedia: A Library of the Literature and History of Humor Containing Thousands of Gags, Sayings, and Stories by Evan Esar, Topic: Ryderism, Quote Page 666, Doubleday & … Continue reading

Back in the days when Prohibition was the law of the land, Robert O. Ryder, the editor of the Ohio State Journal as well as its paragrapher, wrote: “Whoever named near beer was a poor judge of distance.”

Esar presented several examples including the following three:

Of all the Ryderisms the most quoted one was credited to Groucho Marx: Whoever named it necking was a poor judge of anatomy.
. . .
Whoever named them doughnuts was a poor judge of nuts.
. . .
Whoever named it musical comedy was a poor judge of both music and comedy.

In 1979 popular syndicated columnist Earl Wilson printed the gag while crediting Groucho. The phrasing was slightly different. The word “called” replaced” “named”:[8] 1979 January 12, The Journal Herald, Earl Wilson (syndicated column), Quote Page 26, Column 2, Dayton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

REMEMBERED QUOTE: . . .
“Whoever called it necking,” as Groucho Marx once said, “was a poor judge of anatomy.”

Also in 1979 “Say It Again: Dorothy Uris’ Personal Collection of Quotes, Comment & Anecdotes” printed the same jest and ascription.[9]1979, Say It Again: Dorothy Uris’ Personal Collection of Quotes, Comment & Anecdotes, Compiled by Dorothy Uris, Topic: Sex, Quote Page 199, A Sunrise Book, E.P. Dutton, New York. (Verified with … Continue reading

In 1986 “The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations” compiled by Fred Metcalf published the same joke and attribution.[10] 1986, The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Fred Metcalf, Section: Petting, Quote Page 189, Column 2, Viking Penguin, New York. (Verified on paper)

In conclusion, QI tentatively assigns this joke to Groucho Marx. He was the first person to receive credit although the evidence appeared in a joke book and not in a movie/tv transcript.

Image Notes: Picture of two swans from markus53 at Pixabay. Image has been resized and cropped. Image used via Pixabay License.

(Thanks to researcher Bill Mullins who located the June 2, 1935 citation. Also, thanks to commentator John Baker.)

Update History: On August 6, 2022 two precursor citations dated May 2, 1931 and June 2, 1935 were added to the article.

References

References
1 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes, Compiled by Evan Esar, Subject: Petting, Quote Page 593, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
2 1931 May 2, The Grand Island Daily Independent, Today’s Quotation, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Grand Island, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)
3 1935 June 2, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, (Filler item), Quote Page 6, Column 7, Fort Worth, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
4 1963 November 13, The Chapel Hill Weekly, Billy Arthur, Quote Page 1C, Column 3, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
5 1975 January 15, The Des Moines Register, Section: The Des Moines Register Peach, Maury White, Section S, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Des Moines, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
6 1977, Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time, Compiled by Laurence J. Peter, Section: Sex, Quote Page 440, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified on with hardcopy)
7 1978, The Comic Encyclopedia: A Library of the Literature and History of Humor Containing Thousands of Gags, Sayings, and Stories by Evan Esar, Topic: Ryderism, Quote Page 666, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)
8 1979 January 12, The Journal Herald, Earl Wilson (syndicated column), Quote Page 26, Column 2, Dayton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
9 1979, Say It Again: Dorothy Uris’ Personal Collection of Quotes, Comment & Anecdotes, Compiled by Dorothy Uris, Topic: Sex, Quote Page 199, A Sunrise Book, E.P. Dutton, New York. (Verified with scans)
10 1986, The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Fred Metcalf, Section: Petting, Quote Page 189, Column 2, Viking Penguin, New York. (Verified on paper)