Oscar Wilde? Alfred Hitchcock? Joseph Wood Krutch? Margo Coleman? Bennett Cerf? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Anyone who has grown tired of reading idealized and overly sentimental visions of nature will enjoy the following skewed definition:
Nature is where the birds fly around uncooked.
These words are credited to Oscar Wilde, but I haven’t found any convincing citations. Would you please help uncover the true author?
Quote Investigator: In 1949 the theater critic and biographer Joseph Wood Krutch published a book about nature titled “The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:
Children can be taken occasionally to the country to see what the sun looks like as they are taken now to see a hill or a mountain. Probably many of them will not want to go anyway, for the country will be to them only what it was to the London club man: “A damp sort of place where all sorts of birds fly about uncooked.”
QI believes that the anonymous “London club man” may be viewed as an archetype, and it is reasonable to directly credit Krutch with the joke. Alternatively, one may state that Krutch popularized the remark.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Dorothy Parker? Sid Ziff? Bennett Cerf? Groucho Marx? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The most scathingly hilarious quip about a novel is credited to the famous wit Dorothy Parker who reportedly included it in a book review:
This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
Unfortunately, no one seems to know when this line was written or spoken. Also, I have not been able to determine the name of the book that was being slammed. Could you explore this?
Quote Investigator: Multiple researchers have attempted to locate this joke in the writings of Dorothy Parker and have been unsuccessful. The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the mass-circulation periodical Reader’s Digest in February 1960. The phrasing was slightly different, and the words were not ascribed to Parker:
From a book review: “It is not a book to be lightly thrown aside. It should be thrown with great force.”
—Sid Ziff in Los Angeles Mirror-News
Based on current information QI believes that Sid Ziff was the most likely creator of this humorous expression. Yet, the joke was reassigned to Dorothy Parker within a few years by Bennett Cerf who specialized in collecting and popularizing quotations. Cerf included the saying in his widely-syndicated newspaper column in October 1962:
FROM A BOOK REVIEW BY DOROTHY PARKER: “This is not a novel to be thrown aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Dorothy Parker? An old farmer? A young newspaper editor? Bennett Cerf?
Dear Quote Investigator: Recently when a friend delivered a clever retort I told her it was worthy of Dorothy Parker, but she did not recognize the name. I love Parker’s witticisms and am sad that her fame is going into eclipse. The prominent publisher and joke collector Bennett Cerf told an anecdote about Parker on a cruise ship that I relayed to my friend [BCDP]:
A drunk on the boat developed an unrequited passion for her; Dorothy referred to him as a “rhinestone in the rough.” On one occasion he assured her, “I simply can’t bear fools.” “Apparently,” said Miss Parker, “your mother did not have the same difficulty.”
My skeptical friend wondered if these quips were created by Dorothy Parker. I assumed that they were. Could you look into these jests?
Quote Investigator: The cleverness of Parker was attested to by many admirers, and she may have delivered the lines in Cerf’s anecdote. But the two jokes have a long history, and she did not craft either of them.
The famous short story writer O. Henry used the phrase “rhinestone-in-the-rough” which is a comical twist on the phrase “diamond in the rough” in a tale in “McClure’s magazine” in 1904. Since Parker was only born in 1893 she was too young to be the originator of the expression. A version of the joke about bearing fools was told decades earlier in the periodical “Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion” in 1858.
Evan Esar? Jan Harold Brunvand? Bennett Cerf?
Dear Quote Investigator: I was speaking with a friend about all the misinformation and misattributions in the world of quotations, and he said that he was familiar with this phenomenon of unreliability because he enjoys reading about urban-legends. He also gave his own quotation on this theme which he thinks might be from the urban-legend specialist Jan Harold Brunvand. The quote is a facetious definition:
Anecdote: A revealing account of an incident that never occurred in the life of some celebrity.
We both would like you to investigate this funny saying.
Quote Investigator: QI will be happy to try and trace this humorous description for you. Jan Harold Brunvand did include a variant of this quote in an article he wrote in 1991, but he did not take credit for it. The words are sometimes attributed to the humorist and quotation collector Evan Esar.
QI could weave an entertaining story about the precise circumstances that caused Esar to create this jest. But he won’t because the tale would just be another imagined anecdote of the type mentioned above since Esar did not craft the quotation nor did he claim to have done so. The earliest instance of this remark that QI has found is dated 1912, and the words have no attribution. Here are selected citations in reverse-chronological order.