Quote Origin: One More Drink, and I’m Under the Host

Dorothy Parker? Bennett Cerf? Richard Martin Stern? Playboy’s Party Jokes? Anonymous?

An alcoholic drink from Unsplash

Question for Quote Investigator: The famous wit Dorothy Parker had trouble controlling her use of alcohol. According to legend she was asked about her experiences at a party, and she replied:

One more drink and I’d have been under the host!

Parker’s line was a ribald variant of the idiom “drink (someone) under the table”. Parker has also been credited with a more elaborate verse on this topic. Here is an example:

I cannot drink martinis
Only one or two at the most
After three I’m under the table
After four I’m under my host

I am skeptical. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1937 a thematic precursor appeared in a widely distributed gossip column called “In New York” by George Ross. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1

At Mario’s Mirador, they were discussing liquor and its effect on the human anatomy. “Two drinks,” declared one, “and I’m under the table.” “That’s nothing,” a rival boasted, “two drinks and the table’s under me.”

In 1944 publisher and raconteur Bennett Cerf released the book “Try and Stop Me” which included a section about Dorothy Parker containing several anecdotes:2

Somebody asked her if she had enjoyed a cocktail party at which she was seen. “Enjoyed it!” she purred. “One more drink and I’d have been under the host!”

At a society dinner she entered the dining room alongside a beautiful and catty lady-playwright. The playwright stepped aside. “Age before beauty,” she said sweetly. “Pearls before swine,” responded Miss Parker, just as sweetly, and sailed in to as hearty a dinner as ever she ate.

Thus, Dorothy Parker was the first person to employ the quip with the phrase “under the host”.

A separate Quote Investigator article about the “pearls before swine” quip is available here.

The first instance of the verse known to QI appeared in 1954 within a section of “Playboy” magazine called “Playboy’s Party Jokes”. The creator was anonymous, and Dorothy Parker was not mentioned:3

Martinis, my girl, are deceiving:
Take two at the very most.
Take three and you’re under the table.
Take four and you’re under the host.

QI believes that Dorothy Parker is the leading candidate for author of the line ascribed to her by Bennett Cerf. QI conjectures that the verse was inspired by the line; however, the creator remains anonymous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The second instance of the verse located by QI appeared in 1956 within “The Engineers’ Gatepost”, a student publication from the undergraduate engineering students of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Once again the creator was anonymous:4

Nurse’s Lament:
‘I wish I could drink like a lady
(One or two at the most).
Three and I’m under the table,
Four and I’m under the Host.’

In 1961 popular novelist Richard Martin Stern published “These Unlucky Deeds” which included an instance of the verse which the narrator attributed to Parker:5

What was that verse bit attributed to Dorothy Parker? “I cannot drink martinis/ Only one or two at the most./ After three I’m under the table/ After four I’m under my host.” That summed up martinis pretty well.

In 1963 the book titled “Playboy’s Party Jokes” reprinted the verse from the 1954 magazine issue.6

In 1968 “The Algonquin Wits” edited by Robert E. Drennan credited the line in Cerf’s book to Parker, but the verse was not mentioned:7

Asked if she had enjoyed a cocktail party at which she had been seen, Mrs. Parker said, “Enjoyed it! One more drink and I’d have been under the host.”

In 1970 the biography “You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker” by John Keats mentioned several lines attributed to Parker in the foreword:8

Theater people still treasure her saying that Katharine Hepburn in a play “ran the whole gamut of emotions, from A to B.” Literary people are fond of her observation that “Verlaine was always chasing Rimbauds,” and less complicated folk relish her party line: “One more drink and I’d be under the host.”

A Quote Investigator article about the Hepburn criticism is available here.

In 1974 the biography “George S. Kaufman and His Friends” by Scott Meredith mentioned the line:9

There was a certain amount of rivalry between them: Kaufman once said gloomily, “Everything I’ve ever said will be credited to Dorothy Parker.”  The dark-haired, pretty writer was also well-known for lines like, “If all the girls at Smith and Bennington were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be surprised,” and, “One more drink and I’d have been under the host,” which Kaufman conceded were funny but which he really didn’t consider ladylike.

A Quote Investigator article about the remark credited to Kaufman is available here.

In 1978 “The Comic Encyclopedia” compiled by Evan Esar included an instance of the verse without attribution:10

Martinis, my dear, are befuddling;
Take two, and no more, at the most;
Take three, and you’re under the table;
Take four, and you’re under the host.

In 1981 the verse appeared in a collection of graffiti assembled by U.K. researcher Nigel Rees:11

I wish I could drink like a lady
I can take one or two at the most.
Three puts me under the table
And four puts me under the host.

In conclusion, Bennett Cerf ascribed the line under examination to Dorothy Parker in 1944, and QI believes she deserves credit. The multi-line verse appeared in “Playboy” magazine in 1954. The creator was unknown although the inspiration probably came from Parker’s quip. Parker tentatively received credit for the verse by 1961, but that was a bit late.

Image Notes: Illustration of an alcoholic drink from Hush Naidoo Jade Photography at Unsplash. The image has been retouched.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Bill Mullins who located the 1954 citation. Also, thanks to Grant Barrett who located the 1937 citation. Additional thanks to mailing list discussants Fred R. Shapiro and the late Joel S. Berson in 2010. Shapiro pointed to the quotation in “Try and Stop Me”. Berson presented an instance of the verse and remarked that Parker often received credit. Finally, thanks to Troy Patterson who wrote an article on this topic in 2013 titled “Martini Madness” at “Slate”. Patterson concluded that Parker did not create the verse.

Update History: On October 24, 2023 the 1937 and 1954 citations were added, and the article was partially rewritten.

  1. 1937 June 1, Reading Times, In New York by George Ross, Quote Page 6, Column 8, Reading, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  2. 1944, Try and Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Section: Miss Parker’s Pen, Start Page 110, Quote Page 112, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩︎
  3. 1954 December, Playboy, Volume 2, Number 1, Playboy’s Party Jokes, Quote Page 31, Column 1, HMH Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  4. 1956 January 26, The Engineers’ Gatepost: Undergraduate Publication of the Engineering Students’ Society, Moralscrapbook, Quote Page 8, Column 1, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Internet Archive at archive.org) ↩︎
  5. 1961 (1960 Copyright), These Unlucky Deeds by Richard Martin Stern, Quote Page 140, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  6. 1963 Copyright, Playboy’s Party Jokes, Selected by the editors of Playboy Magazine, Quote Page 126, Playboy Press, Chicago, Illinois and Pocket Books: A Division of Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  7. 1968, The Algonquin Wits, Edited by Robert E. Drennan, Chapter: Dorothy Parker, Quote Page 116, Citadel Press, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩︎
  8. 1970, You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker by John Keats, Section: Foreword, Quote Page 10, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) ↩︎
  9. 1974, George S. Kaufman and His Friends by Scott Meredith, Chapter 9: The Parting, Quote Page 139, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  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: Doggerel, Quote Page 220, Column 1 and 2, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  11. 1981, Graffiti 3 by Nigel Rees, Quote Page 131, Unwin Paperbacks, London. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
Exit mobile version