Quote Origin: The Middle of the Road is Where the White Line Is—and That’s the Worst Place To Drive

Robert Frost? Margaret Thatcher? Dwight D. Eisenhower? Aneurin Bevan? Franklin P. Jones? I. P. Reynolds? Eric Nicol? John M. Ashbrook? William Penn Patrick? Sydney Harris? Alan Craig Loughrige? Jim Hightower? Anonymous?

Question for Quote Investigator: Social relationships and political decisions often entail compromise. Yet, these intermediary policies, i.e., middle-of-the-road positions, frequently engender hostility. Here is a pertinent adage:

The middle of the road is where the white line is—and that’s the worst place to drive.

Prominent U.S. poet Robert Frost has received credit for this remark. Lines between lanes in the U.S. may be white or yellow. Cogent comments on this topic have been attributed to U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Would you please explore statements of this type?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Robert Frost appeared on a television show broadcast by educational television station WQED in 1956. The magazine “Collier’s” printed a collection of his statements delivered during the show. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1


People have got to think. Thinking isn’t to agree or disagree. That’s voting.

Somebody said to me the other day, “Are you a middle-of-the-roader?” So I said, “Well, if you want to call me bad names. The middle of the road is where the white line is—and that’s the worst place to drive.”

Below are additional selected citations which fit the theme of middle-of the-road presented in chronological order.

In 1890 “The Farm Record” of Topeka, Kansas printed a statement from a political partisan who used the initials G.J.D.:2

Now if there are any who don’t want to join the procession, they had better keep out from the middle of the road or they will get run over by the band wagon.

In 1891 “The Leavenworth Times” of Leavenworth, Kansas published a cautionary remark:3

“Keeping in the middle of the road” sounds well but it does not always work satisfactorily. One sometimes gets run over.

In 1942 the “Atlanta Daily World” of Georgia printed a comical remark from columnist I. P. Reynolds:4

And again I say, people who stay in the middle of the road seldom are caught straddling the fence.

In 1952 “The Vancouver Province” newspaper of British Columbia, Canada printed a column by Eric Nicol containing the following:5

I thought I had taken a middle-of-the-road position on the role of British royalty. Apparently taking the middle of the road gives you the chance to be knocked down by traffic in both directions.

In 1953 “The Observer” of London printed a statement from influential U. K. politician Aneurin Bevan in the section “Sayings of the Week”. The statement echoed sayings from the 1890s in the U.S.:6

We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down.—Mr. Aneurin Bevan, M.P.

In January 1956 “The Saturday Evening Post” published a group of remarks from humorist Franklin P. Jones including these three items:7

A middle-of-the-roader is one who’s apt to have trouble on the one hand and also on the other.

Anybody who thinks all things come to him who waits hasn’t been waiting very long.

Acting is the ability to make people stop eating popcorn.

In April 1956 “Collier’s” magazine published the following comment from Robert Frost as mentioned previously:8

“The middle of the road is where the white line is—and that’s the worst place to drive.”

In 1962 the “Mansfield News-Journal” of Ohio printed an article that included comments from U.S. Congressman John M. Ashbrook:9

Ashbrook told the Republicans he has been accused of being a conservative. “That’s what I ran on in 1960 and I’m one now. I can’t be a safe middle-of-the-roader. All I’ve found in the middle of road is dead skunks and yellow stripes,” Ashbrook said.

In 1963 former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower extolled the value of moderate political viewpoints:10

“People talk about the middle of the road as though it were unacceptable,” he said. “Actually all human problems, excepting morals, come into the gray areas. Things are not all black and white. There have to be compromises. “The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.”

In 1967 “The Los Angeles Times” of California published a profile of businessman William Penn Patrick who said the following:11

“The middle of the road is where there’s a yellow line and dead cats,” he says. Even so, Patrick abhors such terms as “right-wing” or “extremist.” “I don’t consider myself any more to the right than George Washington or Abraham Lincoln,” he says.

In 1968 “20,000 Quips and Quotes” compiled by Evan Esar included the following variant statement attributed to Robert Frost:12

I’m not a middle-of-the-roader because in the middle of the road is the worst place to drive.
– Robert Frost

In 1972 widely syndicated columnist Sydney Harris published a remark reminiscent of the 1952 comment from Eric Nicol:13

The main discomfort in being a middle-of-the-roader is that you get sideswiped by partisans going in both directions.

In 1980 “The Official Explanations” compiled by Paul Dickson included this entry:14

Loughrige’s Lesson. The middle of the road is the best place to get run over.
(Alan Craig Loughrige, Springfield, Mo.)

In 1984 “The New York Times” printed a politician’s quip that was similar to the 1962 remark from John M. Ashbrook:15

Jim Hightower, state agriculture commissioner, on why he’s not a middle-of-the road politician: “Ain’t nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”

In 1986 British politician Jim Prior published a memoir titled “A Balance of Power”. Prior’s book presented a remark he heard from U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The statement echoed the 1952 observation of columnist Eric Nicol:16

She looked at me and said: ‘Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous, you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.’ Not particularly original, but it was an insight into her outlook.

In 1988 the biography “Thatcher” by Kenneth Harris reprinted the passage containing the quotation while acknowledging Jim Prior’s memoir.17

In 1997 “Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes” contained this entry:18

Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.

In conclusion, Robert Frost should receive credit for the comment he made in 1956 as recorded in “Collier’s” magazine. Several politicians and columnists have employed quotations from this family with a middle-of-the-road theme. However, politicians usually employed pre-existing quips.

Image Notes: Picture of a highway showing yellow lines in the middle from MaxWdhs at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

Acknowledgements: Great thanks to Jonathan Lighter who told QI about the Robert Frost quotation in “Collier’s” magazine. This led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to other researchers who have explored sayings within this family including Barry Popik, Nigel Rees, Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro.

  1. 1956 April 27, Collier’s, Wise Man by Leonard Gross, (Educational television station WQED interviewed poet Robert Frost; quotations from Frost were printed in this article), Start Page 42, Quote Page 42, Column 1, Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Unz) ↩︎
  2. 1890 April 10, The Farm Record, Lebo, Quote Page 1, Column 4, Topeka, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  3. 1891 November 20, The Leavenworth Times, (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 2, Leavenworth, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  4. 1942 June 3, Atlanta Daily World, What Sam of Auburn Avenue Says by I. P. Reynolds, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Atlanta, Georgia. (ProQuest) ↩︎
  5. 1952 February 28, The Vancouver Province, Eric Nicol, Quote Page 19, Column 7, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  6. 1953 December 6, The Observer, Table Talk by Pendennis, Sayings of the Week, Quote Page 7, Column 8, London, England. (ProQuest) ↩︎
  7. 1956 January 14, The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 228 Issue 29, Put it This Way by Franklin P. Jones, Quote Page 62, Column 4, Saturday Evening Post Society, Inc., Indianapolis Indiana. (EBSCO MasterFILE Premier) ↩︎
  8. 1956 April 27, Collier’s, Wise Man by Leonard Gross, (Educational television station WQED interviewed poet Robert Frost; quotations from Frost were printed in this article), Start Page 42, Quote Page 42, Column 1, Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, Springfield, Ohio. (Unz) ↩︎
  9. 1962 April 25 , Mansfield News-Journal, 340 Hear Ashbrook, Rhodes, 17 Others at GOP Rally by George N. Constable, Start Page 1, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Mansfield, Ohio. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  10. 1963 November 5, The Christian Science Monitor, Midroad View At Gettysburg by William H. Stringer (Chief of the Washington Bureau), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest) ↩︎
  11. 1967 December 3, The Los Angeles Times, Section: West Magazine, Curse You, Red Peril! by Richard Mathison, Start Page 28, Quote Page 30, Column 2, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  12. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes, Compiled by Evan Esar, Subject: Middle, Quote Page 515, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩︎
  13. 1972 February 10, Independent, Musings on prophets, geniuses by Sydney Harris, Quote Page B3, Column 3, Long Beach, California. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  14. 1980, The Official Explanations, Compiled by Paul Dickson, Quote Page 128, Delacorte Press, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩︎
  15. 1984 July 22, New York Times, How to Talk ‘Texian’ by Robert Reinhold, Start Page SM8, Quote Page SM10, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest) ↩︎
  16. 1986, A Balance of Power by Jim Prior, Chapter 6: Mrs Thatcher Takes the Reins, Quote Page 106, Hamish Hamilton, London. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  17. 1988, Thatcher by Kenneth Harris, Chapter 7: Uphill Struggle, Quote Page 69, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  18. 1997, Reader’s Digest Quotable Quotes: Wit and Wisdom for All Occasions, Section: When We Act, Quote Page 105, Published by Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩︎