Quip Origin: Only On Days Ending With the Letter “Y”

Norman Jacobshagen? Joe Murphy? Robert Orben? Alfred Sheinwold? Anonymous?

Picture of beer cans from Unsplash

Question for Quote Investigator: A popular family of quips is based on the curious uniformity in the spelling of the days of the week. Here are two examples:

(1) Don’t play bridge on any day ending in a “y”
(2) Play golf just on those days ending with “y”

A moments reflection reveals that every day of the week terminates with the letter “y”. Would you please explore the history of this joke?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in 1931 within “The Messenger” weekly newspaper which was published by high school students in Wichita, Kansas. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1

Advice to Lovelorn from Norman Jacobshagen: “I would say that it is unwise to get married on any day ending in the letter ‘Y’—Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1971 columnist Joe Murphy writing in the “Pacific Daily News” of Agana Heights, Guam relayed a joke about golf:2

Speaking of days of the week, a fellow I know says that he likes to play golf just on those days ending with “y”.

In 1976 columnist Judd Arnett writing in the “Detroit Free Press” commented on a conflict between two politicians:3

Q— . . . Speaking of brawls, what do you think of the Ford-Reagan donnybrook for the Republican nomination?

A—I try not to think of it on any day “ending in y,” as the fellow said.

In 1978 Sunday newspaper supplement “Parade” magazine published  a story about comedian Robert Orben and his jokes:4

Robert Orben’s comedy career continues to take him into new fields: First there were the days as joke writer for top comedians (Red Skelton, Dick Gregory, Jack Paar); then the exciting job as head of President Ford’s speech-writing staff (he says the President only asked him to work on days ending with a “y”) . . .

In 1980 columnist Alfred Sheinwold, who wrote about the card game bridge decided to parody a horoscope column. He employed the quip in the entry for the zodiac sign Aquarius:5

AQUARIUS (Jan. 21-Feb. 19): You understand other people’s problems. They think you are a sucker. Don’t play bridge any day ending in a “y.”

In 1986 the “Philadelphia Daily News” of Pennsylvania printed a profile of football quarterback Jim McMahon of the Chicago Bears:6

This is the club that has its defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan, second-guessing its head coach, Mike Ditka, on all days ending in the letter “Y,” with McMahon often joining the dissent.

In 2023 “The Wall Street Journal” published a piece that was critical of a city in California. The article contained a sardonic comment about a robbery:7

Welcome to another day ending in the letter Y in San Francisco.

In conclusion, the earliest instance in this family of quips known to QI  appeared in a Wichita, Kansas newspaper in 1931. Norman Jacobshagen received credit, and he is the leading candidate for originator. However, QI suspects that the joke was already in circulation.

Image Notes: Picture of beer cans from Markus Spiske at Unsplash. The image has been cropped and resized.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Jonathan Lighter whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Jonathan Lighter, Steven Losie, Laurence Horn, Betty Birner, and James Eric Lawson presented valuable citations and comments. Lawson located the important 1931 citation.

  1. 1931 May 21, The Messenger, W.E. Week by Weak, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Wichita, Kansas. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  2. 1971 February 8, Pacific Daily News, Pipe Dreams by Joe Murphy, Quote Page 10, Column 1, Agana Heights, Guam. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  3. 1976 June 28, Detroit Free Press, State’s Fine in Summer, as Ford May Discover by Judd Arnett, Quote Page 12D, Column 1, Detroit, Michigan. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  4. 1978 August 20, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Section: Parade Magazine, My Favorite Jokes by Robert Orben, Quote Page 18, Column 3, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  5. 1980 September 14, Austin American-Statesman, Bridge: How astrogically compatible are you and your bridge partner? by Alfred Sheinwold, Quote Page E4, Column 1, Austin, Texas. (Newspapers_com) ↩︎
  6. 1986 January 13, Philadelphia Daily News, He’s His Own McMahon by Mark Whicker, Quote Page 82, Column 1, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (ProQuest) ↩︎
  7. 2023 June 18, Wall Street Journal (Online), The Root Causes of San Francisco’s Disorder by Allysia Finley, Page Number Not Specified, New York. (ProQuest) ↩︎