Shaggy Dog Story

P. J. Faulkner? W. Buck Taylor? Bennett Cerf? Eric Partridge? Mary Morris? William Morris? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A shaggy dog story is a rambling tale consisting of largely inconsequential events that ends with an anticlimax or an unfunny punchline. Would you please explore the origin of the shaggy dog story?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in “The Cincinnati Post” of Ohio in January 1906. QI conjectures that P. J. Faulkner who worked for the O’Dell Stock and Grain Company in Cincinnati presented the first shaggy dog story. Faulkner believed that his tale was hilarious, but his companions were angered by its pointlessness. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Faulkner was in a down-town cafe with some friends. He told them a story. “Did you ever hear the story of the shaggy dog?” he inquired.
“No!” they came back.
“No?” said he.
“No-o,” said they.

“Well, James Fernorten wanted a shaggy dog, and—Oh! but it’s funny!” (Much laughter by Faulkner. Friends glum.)

“So he went to his friend Mike, who, he had heard, had one.

“Gee! It’s funny!! (More laughter from Faulkner. Friends glummer.)

“But Mike’s dog. though shaggy some, was not so shaggy!” (Ha-ha-ha-he-he-ho-ho by Faulkner. Silence by friends.)

“Ain’t it funny?” he asked.
“We don’t see it,” said the friends innocently.
“Well, listen,” Faulkner went on.

“You see James Fernorten wanted a shaggy dog, and—Oh, but it’s funny!” (Much laughter by Faulkner. Friends still glum.)

Faulkner’s unhappy friends decided to creatively retaliate against him by placing an advertisement in a local paper. Details within the ad were carefully chosen to reflect the insipid story they found so aggravating:

WANTED
Dog—shaggy dog; must be either black or brown, but not too shaggy; will pay good price. P. J. Faulkner, 3229 Fredonia-av., Avondale.

The ad was remarkably successful in eliciting responses, and Faulkner’s home was overwhelmed with miscellaneous dogs:

Dogs big, dogs small, dogs mangy, dogs shaggy, dogs hairless, sightless and lame; dogs white, dogs black, dogs brown and dogs spotted, dingy and faded; dogs fat, dogs lean, dogs barking and dogs with tin cans tied to tails—dogs, dogs, DOGS. They came to his house all day.

In addition, many dogs were offered to Faulkner by phone, and the exhausted man eventually decided to flee his home.

This article appeared in other newspapers such as “The Denver Post” of Colorado 2 which acknowledged the Cincinnati paper.

The article presented two shaggy dog tales with one nested inside the other. Faulkner told the first humorless tale, and a journalist told the second tale of comeuppance. The combination of the dual narratives was memorable, but over time the text evolved into a single story as shown below

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Shaggy Dog Story

Notes:

  1. 1906 January 03, The Cincinnati Post, Advertises for a Dog and Gets One All Right, Quote Page 4, Column 4 and 5, Cincinnati, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1906 January 08, The Denver Post, Victim of Dog Trick, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Denver, Colorado. (GenealogyBank)

They Crawl Back Into the Woodwork

Dorothy Parker? Alexander Woollcott? Bennett Cerf? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The idiom “to crawl out of the woodwork” refers to an unpleasant person or thing that quickly emerges from hiding or obscurity. The companion idiom “to crawl back into the woodwork” refers to the person or thing disappearing.

The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary has citations beginning in 1964, but I think the famous wit Dorothy Parker helped to popularize the latter expression starting in the 1930s. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1933 the influential critic Alexander Woollcott published a profile of Dorothy Parker titled “Our Mrs. Parker” in “Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan” magazine. He described a “dreadful week-end” visiting the country home of a host named Nellie. The group included bohemians who would “bathe infrequently, if ever”. Dorothy Parker was a fellow guest, and Woollcott asked for her opinion of the unwelcome companions. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I could not help wondering how Nellie managed to round them up, and where they might be found at other times. Mrs. Parker looked at them pensively. “I think,” she whispered, “that they crawl back into the woodwork.”

Parker’s witticism was widely distributed, and QI conjectures that the modern idioms emerged, in part, because of her remark.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Crawl Back Into the Woodwork

Notes:

  1. 1933 August, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, (Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan), “Our Mrs. Parker” by Alexander Woollcott, Quote Page 90, Column 1, International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified with photocopies; Thanks to local and remote librarians)

I Don’t Trust a Bank That Would Lend Money To Such a Poor Risk

Robert Benchley? Marc Connelly? Corey Ford? Bennett Cerf? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A financially unstable comedian once asked his long-time bank for a large loan. He was dumbfounded when his request was granted, and he immediately withdrew all his money from the institution while giving the following explanation:

How can I trust a bank that would lend money to such a poor risk?

Would you please explore this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match found by QI appeared in the 1967 compilation of short personality profiles titled “70 Most Unforgettable Characters from Reader’s Digest”. Playwright Marc Connelly wrote a chapter about his eccentric friend Robert Benchley who was a popular actor and humorist. One night, Connelly visited Benchley and found him in a pensive mood. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“That bank of mine is very strange,” he said, finally. “I went there this morning because I needed a loan. And do you know something? They gave it to me just like that.”

The next day he went to the bank and withdrew his account. “I don’t trust a bank,” he muttered, “that would lend money to such a poor risk.”

Benchley died in 1945. So, the colorful anecdote was about an event that occurred many years before Connelly shared it. The story might be true. Alternatively, Benchley may have constructed a fanciful tale to entertain his friend, or Connelly may have embroidered remarks from Benchley.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Don’t Trust a Bank That Would Lend Money To Such a Poor Risk

Notes:

  1. 1967, 70 Most Unforgettable Characters from Reader’s Digest, Chapter: Rare Benchley by Marc Connelly, Start Page 196, Quote Page 199 and 200, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with scans)

I Traveled Fifty Miles To See Your Bust Unveiled. . . .

Winston Churchill? Hugh Hampton Young? Bennett Cerf? John Barrymore? Jacob Potofsky? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to a bawdy anecdote, British statesman Winston Churchill once attended a ceremony during which a sculpture of his likeness was unveiled. A beautiful woman approached him, and their provocative exchange included a pun on the word “bust”. Would you please explore the authenticity of this tale?

Quote Investigator: Historian and Churchill quotation expert Richard M. Langworth discussed this anecdote in his compilation “Churchill By Himself” within an appendix called “Red Herrings: False Attributions”. Langworth remarked that ribald statements were often incorrectly ascribed to Churchill, but they did not fit his character. In the following excerpt “WSC” abbreviated the full name Winston S. Churchill. Emphasis added by QI: 1

One example will suffice: a curvaceous female admirer who meets WSC at the unveiling of his sculpture says: “I got up at dawn and drove a hundred miles for the unveiling of your bust”; WSC supposedly replies, “Madam, I would happily reciprocate the honour.” In reality, Churchill simply was not given to salacious remarks, and nearly always treated the opposite sex with Victorian courtesy.

The earliest match for this comical tale located by QI appeared in the 1940 book “Hugh Young: A Surgeon’s Autobiography” by Hugh Hampton Young who was a prominent urologist and medical researcher. The doctor’s long record of accomplishments was celebrated at the University of Virginia during a ceremony which included the inaugural display of a bust created by the notable English sculptor Claire Sheridan. Young described his attendance at the event: 2

They insisted on my being present, and I sat through the ordeal while Dr. John H. Neff made a meticulous analysis of my contributions to medicine. When at long last the function was over, a young woman came up and said, “I hope you appreciate that I have come fifty miles to see your bust unveiled.” Whereupon, with a bow, I said, “I would go a thousand to see yours.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Traveled Fifty Miles To See Your Bust Unveiled. . . .

Notes:

  1. 2013 (Kindle Edition), In His Own Words: Churchill By Himself by Winston S. Churchill, Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, Appendix I: Red Herrings: False Attributions. (Kindle Location 19563)
  2. 1940, Hugh Young: A Surgeon’s Autobiography by Hugh H. Young, Chapter 29: Bob, Quote Page 509, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

Old Eyesore Gone At Last

Robert J. Casey? Bennett Cerf? Grady Clay? Dwight Marvin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Misprints and incorrect headlines in major periodicals have caused havoc in the past. One egregious tale shared by journalists is about a caption containing the word “eyesore” that was transposed with another caption. Are you familiar with this story? Is it genuine or apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the 1943 book “Such Interesting People” by Robert J. Casey who worked for the “Chicago Daily News” for many years. Casey stated that large newspapers employed lawyers to help minimize the damage from the publication of garbled news stories. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Some of these experts earn their fees as, for instance, in the case of the Fort Smith (Arkansas) newspaper that went to press hurriedly on the day that the mayor’s wife died and the old ice house burned. The lady’s portrait was two columns wide on the first page and over it was a startling tribute: “Old Eyesore Gone At Last.”

QI has been unable to locate the newspaper front page displaying this text over a portrait. Electronic databases remain incomplete, and this tale might still be authentic. Alternatively, Casey might have transmitted a tall-tale concocted or embellished by colleagues. A 1995 citation presented further below states that the unfortunate headline appeared in “The Record” newspaper of Troy, New York instead of an Arkansas paper.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Old Eyesore Gone At Last

Notes:

  1. 1943, Such Interesting People by Robert J. Casey, Chapter 3: Fantasy Among the Magnolias, Quote Page 47, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with hardcopy)

If Matches Had Been Invented After Lighters They’d Be the Sensation of the Twentieth Century

George S. Kaufman? Ray Bradbury? Charles Norris? Bennett Cerf? Malcolm Bradbury?

Dear Quote Investigator: A cigarette lighter is an impressive invention, but in some ways it is inferior to a simple match that is ignited by friction. A lighter requires fuel and a spark source; it can malfunction in myriad ways. The following point has been attributed to the prominent playwright George S. Kaufman and to the famous science fiction author Ray Bradbury:

If matches had been invented after the cigarette lighter, they would have been hailed as a huge advance.

A new gadget may supersede an old one despite serious drawbacks. Would you please trace the above expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a long-running column called “Trade Winds” in “The Saturday Review”. The columnist, publisher, and anecdote collector Bennett Cerf relayed the following in 1944. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

In Dunhill’s, Charles Norris upset clerks by remarking, “If matches had been invented after your confounded lighters, can you imagine the excitement they would have caused?”

Dunhill sold expensive high-quality lighters. The name Charles Norris was ambiguous. It might have referred to the popular novelist Charles Gilman Norris.

Interestingly, the invention chronologies of the lighter and the match are complex because both devices required modifications and refinements to achieve practicality. Their developments overlapped.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If Matches Had Been Invented After Lighters They’d Be the Sensation of the Twentieth Century

Notes:

  1. 1944 July 1, The Saturday Review, Trade Winds by Bennett Cerf, Section: The Literary Scene, Start Page 16, Quote Page 16, Column 2, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

The Country: A Damp Sort of Place Where All Sorts of Birds Fly About Uncooked

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: 1

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.

Continue reading The Country: A Damp Sort of Place Where All Sorts of Birds Fly About Uncooked

Notes:

  1. 1970 (Copyright 1949), The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country by Joseph Wood Krutch, Chapter: June: Spring Rain, Quote Page 33 and 34,(Reprint of 1949 edition by arrangement with William Morrow & Co.), Books for Libraries Press, Freeport, New York. (Verified on paper)

This Is Not a Novel To Be Tossed Aside Lightly. It Should Be Thrown with Great Force

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: 1

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: 2

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.

Continue reading This Is Not a Novel To Be Tossed Aside Lightly. It Should Be Thrown with Great Force

Notes:

  1. 1960 February, Reader’s Digest, Volume 76, On the Critical Side, Quote Page 180,  The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1962 October 10, Lewiston Evening Journal, Try And Stop Me by Bennett Cerf, Quote Page 15, Lewiston-Auburn, Maine. (Google News Archive)

“I simply can’t bear fools.” “Apparently, your mother could.”

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.

Continue reading “I simply can’t bear fools.” “Apparently, your mother could.”

Definition: Anecdote – A Revealing Account of an Incident That Never Occurred in the Life of Some Famous Person

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.

Continue reading Definition: Anecdote – A Revealing Account of an Incident That Never Occurred in the Life of Some Famous Person