Joey Adams? Yip Harburg? Evan Esar? Judge Magazine? Anonymous?
Question for Quote Investigator: A loving kiss is wonderful, but it should be with the right person. A deceptive kiss is perilous.
A family of quips about the dangers of osculation uses a rhetorical device called antimetabole. Words in the first half of a statement are reordered in the second half. Here are two instances:
(1) Never let a fool kiss you, and never let a kiss fool you.
(2) She let that fool kiss her; even worse she let that kiss fool her.
This joke has been attributed to U.S. comedian Joey Adams and U.S. lyricist Yip Harburg. I have not found a solid citation. Would you please explore this topic?
Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the New York humor magazine “Judge” in September 1927 without attribution. Boldface added to excepts by QI:1
Advice to Damsels—Never let a fool kiss you and never let a kiss fool you.
Thus, an editor at “Judge” crafted this joke or heard this joke from an unnamed contributor.
During the ensuing decades other humorists have employed this jest. For example, Joey Adams included the quip in a 1961 compilation, and Yip Harburg placed the joke into a 1965 compilation.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In October 1927 the instance in “Judge” was reprinted in “The Bristol Courier” of Bristol, Pennsylvania within a humor column.2
In 1929 the “Journal of Education” of Boston, Massachusetts published the following version of the quip:3
Old Maid’s motto—“Never let a fool kiss you.”
Flapper’s motto—“Never let a kiss fool you.”
In 1930 the compilation “Wise Cracks: Wit, Wisdom and Fun Suitable for Use on All Occasions” selected by C.O. and E.E. Frederick printed the following three entries with acknowledgements:4
Advice to Damsels—Never let a fool kiss you and never let a kiss fool you.—Judge.
Osculation is the sincerest form of flattery.—Life.
A Boston physician says that in fifty years kissing will be a thing of the past and, in fifty years, we, for one, won’t care.—New York Evening Post.
Also, in 1930 “Judge” magazine printed another version:5
Mary—She let that fool kiss her.
Marie—But worse still, she let that kiss fool her.
In 1943 “Esar’s Comic Dictionary” contained an entry for the topic “Kiss” which listed these three items and others:6
A trick of nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.
Of no use to one, yet absolute bliss to two.
Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you.
In 1947 the “Evening Herald” of Shenandoah, Pennsylvania published the following:7
Someone puts it this way: “To let a fool kiss you is stupid, but to let a kiss fool you is worse.”
In 1961 “The Joey Adams Joke Dictionary” contained an entry for the topic “Osculating” which included these three items and others:8
Never let a fool kiss you and never let a kiss fool you.
A kiss is something which once given cannot be taken back, but is often returned.
“Aren’t my kisses like something electric?” “Yeah, a Frigidaire.”
In 1965 a columnist of “The Honolulu Advertiser” of Hawaii discussed a recent book titled “Rhymes For The Irreverent” by Yip Harburg. The columnist reprinted a verse from the book:9
And “Oh, innocent victims of Cupid,
Remember this terse little verse;
To let a fool kiss you is stupid,
To let a kiss fool you is worse.”
In 1977 “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” attributed the saying to Adams:10
Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you. —Joey Adams
In 1999 quotation expert Mardy Grothe published “Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You” which contained an extensive and entertaining collection of sayings which used the rhetorical technique chiasmus (also called antimetabole).11
In conclusion, the earliest instance of this quip located by QI appeared in “Judge” magazine in September 1927. QI tentatively credits the editors of “Judge” magazine with creating this joke although it is possible that they were repeating an existing joke.
Image Notes: Painting titled “The Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet” by Francesco Hayez circa 1823. The image has been cropped and resized.
Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Ilya Kamens whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.
- 1927 September 3, Judge, Volume 93, Number 2392, The Way to Stop It, Quote Page 7, Column 3, Judge Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩︎
- 1927 October 20, The Bristol Courier, Pollyanna Colyum, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Bristol, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
- 1929 March 25, Journal of Education, Volume 109, Number 12, Grins Between Grinds, Quote Page 353, Column 3, New England Publishing Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
- 1930 (1929 Copyright), Wise Cracks: Wit, Wisdom and Fun Suitable for Use on All Occasions, Selected by C.O. Frederick and E.E. Frederick, Topic: Kissing, Quote Page 188, G.P Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
- 1930 September 6, Judge, Volume 99, Number 2549, Hand in Hand Into the Sunset, Quote Page 32, Column 2, Judge Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
- 1943, Esar’s Comic Dictionary by Evan Esar, Entry: Kiss, Quote Page 154, Harvest House, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩︎
- 1947 June 27, Evening Herald, Short and Snappy by Tom Barrett, Quote Page 2, Column 5, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
- 1961 Copyright, The Joey Adams Joke Dictionary by Joey Adams, Topic: Osculating, Quote Page 230 and 231, The Citadel Press, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
- 1965 December 27, The Honolulu Advertiser, Eddie Sherman, Quote Page B3, Column 5, Honolulu, Hawaii. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
- 1977, Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time, Compiled by Laurence J. Peter, Section: Fools / Folly, Quote Page 202, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified on with hardcopy) ↩︎
- 1999, Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You by Mardy Grothe, Chapter: Introduction, Quote Page xi, Viking Penguin, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎