The Only Trouble With Coolidge Is That He Was Weaned on a Pickle

Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Bettina Borrmann Wells? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Alice Roosevelt Longworth was the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt and the wife of politician Nicholas Longworth III. For decades she was a well-known socialite in Washington D.C. who experienced praise and condemnation for her wit which was sometimes caustic. When Calvin Coolidge was campaigning for the presidency, he sometimes displayed a sour disposition. Longworth apparently told a journalist:

Coolidge was weaned on a pickle.

Did she actually say this? Did she originate this insult?

Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence that Longworth did make a remark of this type in 1924; however, she disclaimed authorship. In addition, the core of the insult was circulating by the 1860s. See details provided below via selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Only Trouble With Coolidge Is That He Was Weaned on a Pickle

Giving Birth Is Like Pushing a Piano Through a Transom

Fanny Brice? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Beatrice Lillie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Giving birth to a child is an intense physical ordeal. A witty woman employed the following simile:

Having a baby is like trying to push a grand piano through a transom.

This remark has been attributed to the prominent Washington socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth and to the popular comedienne and actress Fanny Brice. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote investigator: In 1919 Fanny Brice gave birth to her first child Frances. A pregnant friend contacted Brice to learn about her experience. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A few days after Frances was born, Irene Castle, who was expecting a baby within a few weeks, called Fanny at the hospital on Long Island. “How does it feel, Fanny?” she asked anxiously.

“Like pushing a piano through a transom,” Fanny replied.

The passage above appeared in the 1953 biography “The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice” by Norman Katkov. This was the earliest published instance of the full quip known to QI. Thus, Brice received credit several decades after she reportedly made the remark. Longworth also used the saying, but she disclaimed credit by 1981.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Giving Birth Is Like Pushing a Piano Through a Transom

Notes:

  1. 1953, The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice by Norman Katkov, Chapter 7: Nick Arnstein: “Not Only to Women but to Men”, Quote Page 102, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)

If You Can’t Say Something Good About Someone, Sit Right Here by Me

Dorothy Parker? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Earl Wilson? Robert Harling? Anonymous?

longworth10Dear Quote Investigator: The most trenchant comment pertaining to gossip that I have ever heard is often attributed to the wit Dorothy Parker. The quip is based on altering the following conventional instruction on etiquette:

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Here are three versions of the twisted variation:

If you haven’t anything nice to say about anyone, come sit by me.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit next to me.
If you can’t say something good about someone, sit here by me.

These words have also been credited to Alice Roosevelt Longworth who was the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt and a long-time Washington socialite known for adroit remarks. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published in a magazine profile of Alice Roosevelt Longworth titled “The Sharpest Wit in Washington” published in “The Saturday Evening Post” issue of December 4, 1965. Interestingly, the expression was not spoken; instead, it was embroidered on a pillow. Also, the word “good” was used instead of “nice”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

We walked to Mrs. Longworth’s upstairs sitting room, where she often reads until six o’clock in the morning. Books were piled everywhere on the tables and on the floor, and contemporary newspaper clippings were strewn on the side tables. Coyote skins were lying on the backs of two large, comfortable chairs, and on one of the chairs was a pillow with the words, IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING GOOD ABOUT SOMEONE, SIT RIGHT HERE BY ME.

Longworth definitely popularized the expression, and she may have crafted it. There is no substantive evidence that Dorothy Parker employed the saying though it has been attributed to her in recent decades.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Can’t Say Something Good About Someone, Sit Right Here by Me

Notes:

  1. 1965 December 4, The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 238, Issue 24, The Sharpest Wit in Washington by Jean Vanden Heuvel, (Interview with Alice Roosevelt Longworth), Start Page 30, Quote Page 32, Column 3, Saturday Evening Post Society, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Academic Search Premiere EBSCO)