Whoever Named It Necking Was a Poor Judge of Anatomy

Groucho Marx? Robert Quillen? 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? Was it Groucho Marx?

Quote Investigator: The 1968 collection “20,000 Quips and Quotes” compiled by Evan Esar attributed this quip to the well-known comedian, movie star, and television personality Groucho Marx. 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. However, humorist Robert Quillen published a matching joke in 1943. Also, precursors occurred in the 1920s and 1930s.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1929 “The Tilden Citizen” newspaper of Nebraska printed an advertisement for a local lumber company which included a precursor joke:[2] 1929 November 21, The Tilden Citizen, Knot-Holes (Advertisement for Tilden Lumber Company), Quote Page 8, Column 4, Tilden, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)

Otto says the fellow that named it necking was way above him.

In 1931 a different joke following the same template appeared in a Grand Island, Nebraska newspaper:[3] 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.

In 1932 a columnist in the “Greenville Daily Advocate” of Ohio printed the following precursor:[4] 1932 September 22, Greenville Daily Advocate, (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 4, Greenville, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

The fellow who named it necking was a poor judge of distance.

In 1943 humorist Robert Quillen published a column called “Paragraphs” which included the following instance of the joke under examination:[5] 1943 June 16, The News and Observer, Paragraphs by Robert Quillen, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Raleigh, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)

Whoever named it necking was strangely ignorant of anatomy.

In 1946 the syndicated column “Office Cat” by Junius printed the following instance:[6] 1946 August 20, The Kingston Daily Freeman, Office Cat by Junius, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Kingston, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Whoever named it “necking” was strongly ignorant of anatomy.

In 1963 another joke following the same template appeared in a Chapel Hill, North Carolina newspaper:[7] 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:[8] 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:[9] 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:[10]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”:[11] 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 to Groucho.[12]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 to Groucho.[13] 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 Robert Quillen who placed an instance into his column in 1943. It remains possible that Quillen was simply relaying a pre-existing anonymous quip. There is some evidence that Groucho Marx also employed this joke based on the 1968 attribution.

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 a 1935 citation for the variant with “revolver”. Also, thanks to discussant John Baker. Special thanks to Pete Morris who found matches in Google Books for instances using “ignorant of anatomy” and “knew nothing of anatomy” circa mid 1940s and early 1950s.)

Update History: On August 6, 2022 two precursor citations dated May 2, 1931 and June 2, 1935 were added to the article. On September 23, 2022 citations dated 1929, 1932, 1943, and 1946 were added to the article. A citation dated 1935 was removed. Also, the conclusion was updated

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 1929 November 21, The Tilden Citizen, Knot-Holes (Advertisement for Tilden Lumber Company), Quote Page 8, Column 4, Tilden, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)
3 1931 May 2, The Grand Island Daily Independent, Today’s Quotation, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Grand Island, Nebraska. (Newspapers_com)
4 1932 September 22, Greenville Daily Advocate, (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 4, Greenville, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
5 1943 June 16, The News and Observer, Paragraphs by Robert Quillen, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Raleigh, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
6 1946 August 20, The Kingston Daily Freeman, Office Cat by Junius, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Kingston, New York. (Newspapers_com)
7 1963 November 13, The Chapel Hill Weekly, Billy Arthur, Quote Page 1C, Column 3, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
8 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)
9 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)
10 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)
11 1979 January 12, The Journal Herald, Earl Wilson (syndicated column), Quote Page 26, Column 2, Dayton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
12 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)
13 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)
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