Sliding Down a Barrister

Dorothy Parker? Mae West? Alexander Woollcott? A. E. Mortimer? Mark Barron? Meyer Levin? Billy Boner? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The U.S. poet and wit Dorothy Parker has received credit for scandalous wordplay based on the following phrases:

Sliding down a banister
Sliding down a barrister

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared within a January 1933 column published in the “Daily News” of New York City which paid teachers for comical items inadvertently penned by students:[1] 1933 January 18, Daily News, $2 for Classroom Boners, Quote Page 26, Column 3, New York. (Newspapers_com)

The News will pay $2 for every Classroom Boner published.
A Boner is a humorous expression found in examination papers, etc., by school teachers. Boners must be original. And they must be funny.

A correspondent from Long Island supplied the following item. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:

Billy has a bad habit of sliding down the barristers.
Mrs. A. E. MORTIMER.
88-24 189th St., Hollis, L. I.

In June 1933 gossip columnist Mark Barron attributed an instance to Dorothy Parker:[2] 1933 June 12, The Wilkes-Barre Record, A New Yorker At Large by Mark Barron, Quote Page 8, Column 4, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

This time she doesn’t plan to drop in on London. “The last time I was in England,” she quipped, “I spent the whole time sliding down barristers.”

In 1934 critic and radio broadcaster Alexander Woollcott published the book “While Rome Burns” which included a chapter about Dorothy Parker containing a different instance of the joke:[3] 1934, While Rome Burns by Alexander Woollcott, Chapter: Some Neighbors: IV: Our Mrs. Parker, Quote Page 149, Viking Press, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

Then I remember her comment on one friend who had lamed herself while in London. It was Mrs. Parker who voiced the suspicion that this poor lady had injured herself while sliding down a barrister.

The above three citations are closely grouped in time; hence, the precise chronology of the wordplay is difficult to discern. Woollcott’s book chapter appeared in preliminary form in an article titled “Our Mrs. Parker” published in “Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan” magazine in August 1933, but Woollcott did not include the quip in the article.[4]1933 August, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, (Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan), “Our Mrs. Parker” by Alexander Woollcott, Start Page 70, (The target … Continue reading

Here are three hypotheses. One: The wordplay began as a humorous error made by a student which was relayed to the “Daily News”. Dorothy Parker heard the remark, and she employed it. Her prominence caused the quip to be reassigned to her.

Two: The wordplay appeared in the “Daily News”. Dorothy Parker never used the remark, but a columnist or agent decided to reassign it to her because she was a well-known wit. Different versions were assigned to Parker.

Three: Parker crafted the wordplay before 1933. Perhaps she used it during the heyday of the Algonquin Round Table in the 1920s. Because the quip was somewhat risqué it did not immediately appear in newspapers or magazines although it did circulate. Finally, in 1933 it emerged with an attribution to an anonymous student and to Parker.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Sliding Down a Barrister

References

References
1 1933 January 18, Daily News, $2 for Classroom Boners, Quote Page 26, Column 3, New York. (Newspapers_com)
2 1933 June 12, The Wilkes-Barre Record, A New Yorker At Large by Mark Barron, Quote Page 8, Column 4, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
3 1934, While Rome Burns by Alexander Woollcott, Chapter: Some Neighbors: IV: Our Mrs. Parker, Quote Page 149, Viking Press, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
4 1933 August, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, (Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan), “Our Mrs. Parker” by Alexander Woollcott, Start Page 70, (The target quotation was absent), International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified with photocopies; great thanks to the Florida librarians)

It’s a Great Life If You Don’t Weaken

John Buchan? Elizabeth Murray? Graham Greene? Dorothy Parker? Thomas Carter? H. L. Mencken? Sime Silverman? Karl Braun? Gene Byrnes? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: When you face a series of obstacles and successfully persevere you might employ the following saying. Here are three versions:

It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.
It’s a grand life if you don’t weaken.
It’s a joyful life if you don’t weaken.

Over time the meaning has shifted, and it has become ironic. The Scottish novelist and politician John Buchan often receives credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: John Buchan did use the expression in a 1919 novel. Details are given further below. But Buchan was not the originator.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1908 within an article published in “The Evening Telegram” of Salt Lake City, Utah. Police picked up a man who was acting like a hobo in Provo, Utah. He revealed to the officers that he was a wealthy individual named Thomas Carter, and he told them to contact his banker in Salt Lake City to verify his identity. In the following passage the word “jungle” is slang for a hobo encampment. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1908 November 19, The Salt Lake Evening Telegram, Provo Tramp Turns Out To Be Wealthy Salt Lake Man, Quote Page 7, Column 4, Salt Lake City, Utah. (GenealogyBank)

“You see,” he said, “this jungle life is a grand one if you don’t weaken. Talk about experience, why when I get back to the folks I will have had enough experience to fill a molasses barrel. When I get home I will sure have a bigger heart for these fellows you officers term tramps.”

A journalist heard this odd tale and asked Carter about his motivation:

“Well, I’ll tell you I am just paying an election bet. I bet that “Uncle Joe” Cannon would not be re-elected to the house and now I must make good as a hobo for sixty days or forfeit $5000. It’s a grand life if you don’t weaken.”

QI tentatively credits Thomas Carter with the saying although there is a substantial probability that the phrase was already in circulation, and future researchers may learn more.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It’s a Great Life If You Don’t Weaken

References

References
1 1908 November 19, The Salt Lake Evening Telegram, Provo Tramp Turns Out To Be Wealthy Salt Lake Man, Quote Page 7, Column 4, Salt Lake City, Utah. (GenealogyBank)

I Drink To Keep Body and Soul Apart

Oscar Wilde? Seamus Heaney? Dorothy Parker? Israel Zangwill? Jen Kirkman? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The body and the soul separate at the time of death according to many religious systems. Hence, the idiom “keep body and soul together” refers to maintaining life, i.e., earning enough money to maintain health and activity. The famous Irish wit Oscar Wilde has received credit for a reversal of the idiom. Here are two versions:

(1) I drink to keep body and soul apart.
(2) I drink to separate my body from my soul.

I am skeptical because I have not seen a good citation. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence supporting the ascription to Oscar Wilde. It is not listed in the compendium “Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms”.[1]2006, Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms, Topically Arranged with Attributions, Compiled and edited by Tweed Conrad, (There is no quotation using “body and … Continue reading Also, it does not appear in researcher Ralph Keyes’s collection “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde”.[2]1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, (There is no quotation using “body and soul” and “drink / drank” in this book), HarperCollins Publishers, New … Continue reading

Wilde died in 1900, and the earliest match located by QI appeared in “The Boston Globe” in 1981. The newspaper published a profile of Irish poet and translator Seamus Heaney who later received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Heaney told the “Globe” journalist that Wilde crafted the saying. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[3]1981 February 26, The Boston Globe, Poet Seamus Heaney: This most rooted of men, bard of the Irish soul by Shaun O’Connell (Special to The Globe), Quote Page 53, Column 3, Boston, … Continue reading

He is particularly at ease in his own kitchen, brewing a fresh pot of tea, slicing bread for a guest, talking. He is not, I rush to add, exactly uncomfortable hunched over a pint in a pub, talking.

“Do know that Oscar Wilde said he drank to keep body and soul apart? That’s good, isn’t it?”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Drink To Keep Body and Soul Apart

References

References
1 2006, Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms, Topically Arranged with Attributions, Compiled and edited by Tweed Conrad, (There is no quotation using “body and soul” and “drink” or “drank” in this book), McFarland & Company Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina. (Verified with scans)
2 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, (There is no quotation using “body and soul” and “drink / drank” in this book), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
3 1981 February 26, The Boston Globe, Poet Seamus Heaney: This most rooted of men, bard of the Irish soul by Shaun O’Connell (Special to The Globe), Quote Page 53, Column 3, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

Salary Is No Object; I Want Only Enough To Keep Body and Soul Apart

Dorothy Parker? Alexander Woollcott? Israel Zangwill? Oscar Wilde? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The body and the soul separate at the time of death according to many religious systems. Hence, the idiom “keep body and soul together” refers to maintaining life, i.e., earning enough money to maintain health and activity. A quipster once reversed this formula and said something like:

I only want enough money to keep body and soul apart.

Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: In 1928 poet, critic, and wit Dorothy Parker published a book review in “The New Yorker” magazine which included a comical plea for employment. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1928 February 4, The New Yorker, Reading and Writing: A Good Novel, and a Great Story by Constant Reader (Dorothy Parker), Start Page 74, Quote Page 77, Column 1, F. R. Publishing Corporation, New … Continue reading

And now that this review is over, do you mind if I talk business for a moment? If you yourself haven’t any spare jobs for a retired book-reviewer, maybe some friend of yours might have something. Maybe you wouldn’t mind asking around. Salary is no object; I want only enough to keep body and soul apart.

Dorothy Parker deserves credit for the remark immediately above. Yet, this type of joke has a longer history, and an 1891 citation for author Israel Zangwill appears further below.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Salary Is No Object; I Want Only Enough To Keep Body and Soul Apart

References

References
1 1928 February 4, The New Yorker, Reading and Writing: A Good Novel, and a Great Story by Constant Reader (Dorothy Parker), Start Page 74, Quote Page 77, Column 1, F. R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online New Yorker archive of digital scans)

You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Thin

Babe Paley? Wallis Simpson? Suzy Knickerbocker? Mrs. J. Gordon Douglas Sr.? Gregg Moran? Truman Capote? Dorothy Parker? Joan Rivers? Zenith Carburetor? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Achieving wealth and a svelte body have become idealized goals in some cultural milieus. Here are three versions of a pertinent maxim:

  • You can never be too rich or too thin.
  • You can’t be too thin or too rich.
  • A woman can never be too thin or too rich.

As knowledge of the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia has grown this saying has become more sinister to some. Would you please explore its origin?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the July 1963 issue of the U.S. fashion magazine “Harper’s Bazaar” within an article titled “High Living on Low Calories”. The attribution was anonymous. Boldface added to excerpts:[1] 1963 July, Harper’s Bazaar, Volume 96, Issue 3020, High Living on Low Calories, Start Page 48, Quote Page 48, Column 2, Hearst Corporation, New York. (ProQuest)

Ponder, now, our week’s worth of diet menus, based on the latter part of that wise old adage, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” High living on low calories, indeed!

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Thin

References

References
1 1963 July, Harper’s Bazaar, Volume 96, Issue 3020, High Living on Low Calories, Start Page 48, Quote Page 48, Column 2, Hearst Corporation, New York. (ProQuest)

Beauty Is Only Skin-Deep, But Ugly Goes Clean To the Bone

Dorothy Parker? Jean Kerr? Charles Whitehead? Simon Suggs Jr.? Sam Stackpole? Abe Martin? Kin Hubbard? Herbert Spencer? Mort Walker? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Beauty is only skin-deep according to an adage that can be traced back to the 1600s. This assertion has inspired a wide variety of twisted reactions and elaborations. Here are three closely related instances:

  • Beauty’s only skin-deep, but ugliness goes to the bone.
  • Beauty is only skin-deep and ugly goes clear to the bone.
  • Beauty is only skin-deep but ugly goes clean through.

This insight has often been attributed to the prominent wit Dorothy Parker. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1824 “American Farmer” of Baltimore. Maryland published a piece by “A Backwoodsman” about a fictional court case. An instance of the adage appeared together with the phrases “trite saying” and “I have heard it said” signaling familiarity and anonymity. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1824 January 23, American Farmer, Volume 5, Number 44, To the Editor of the American Farmer from A Backwoodsman, Pleas Before the Hon. Chief Justice Rational, In the Vale of Kentucky, Start Page 349, … Continue reading

It is a trite saying that beauty is but skin deep, yet I have heard it said that ugly goes to the bone, and I am sure there is nothing in this doctrine so beautiful as to prevent its penetrating even to the marrow.

Dorothy Parker died in 1967, and the earliest linkage, known to QI, between Parker and the saying occurred in 1977. This evidence was not substantive, and QI believes that the attribution to Parker is currently unsupported.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Beauty Is Only Skin-Deep, But Ugly Goes Clean To the Bone

References

References
1 1824 January 23, American Farmer, Volume 5, Number 44, To the Editor of the American Farmer from A Backwoodsman, Pleas Before the Hon. Chief Justice Rational, In the Vale of Kentucky, Start Page 349, Quote Page 350, Column 1, Printed by J. Robinson, Baltimore. Maryland. (Google Books Full View) link

They Sicken of the Calm, Who Knew the Storm

Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: If you experience a wild and tumultuous love affair then you will probably become bored with an episode of staid affection. The famous wit Dorothy Parker wrote a poem on this topic containing the following elegant line:

They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.

Sometimes reference works present this quotation with the word “know” instead of “knew”. Would you please tell me which word is correct? Also, what is the name of this poem?

Quote Investigator: In 1928 Dorothy Parker published the poetry collection “Sunset Gun”. The following four lines are from her fourteen line poem titled “Fair Weather”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1941 (Copyright 1928), Sunset Gun: Poems by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Fair Weather, Quote Page 50, The Sun Dial Press, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)

I have a need of wilder, cruder waves;
They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.

So let a love beat over me again,
Loosing its million desperate breakers wide;

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Sicken of the Calm, Who Knew the Storm

References

References
1 1941 (Copyright 1928), Sunset Gun: Poems by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Fair Weather, Quote Page 50, The Sun Dial Press, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)

Rhyme Does Not Pay

Dorothy Parker? Oscar Wilde? Mike Porter? Arch Ward? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Composing poetry is rarely a lucrative occupation. A traditional moralistic adage has been transformed into a comical warning for versifiers:

  • Crime does not pay.
  • Rhyme does not pay.

This word play has been credited to the prominent wit Dorothy Parker who published multiple collections of poetry. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in 1934 within a column by Martin A. Gosch in the “Evening Courier” of Camden, New Jersey. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1934 January 16, Evening Courier, By Gosh! by Martin A. Gosch (Courier-Post Radio Editor), Quote Page 16, Column 3, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

… a prize gag from colleague Mike Porter: Edith Murray, the CBS songbird, started out in life as a poet, but found that Rhyme does not pay!!

Dorothy Parker received credit for the quip by June 1938 as shown further below, but it was already in circulation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Rhyme Does Not Pay

References

References
1 1934 January 16, Evening Courier, By Gosh! by Martin A. Gosch (Courier-Post Radio Editor), Quote Page 16, Column 3, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

I Never Seek To Take the Credit; We All Assume That Oscar Said It

Dorothy Parker? Louella Parsons? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The 19th-century Irish playwright Oscar Wilde is a superstar in the realm of quotations, and many scintillating expressions have been incorrectly attributed to him. A humorous verse about this phenomenon was composed by another wit, Dorothy Parker. The verse ends with this line:

We all assume that Oscar said it.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1927 Dorothy Parker published in “Life” magazine a set of eleven comical short verses about prominent literary figures under the title “A Pig’s-Eye View Of Literature”. The following four lines were about Oscar Wilde. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1927 June 2, Life, A Pig’s-Eye View Of Literature by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Oscar Wilde, Start Page 13, Quote Page 13, Office of Life Magazine, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Below are additional details and selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Never Seek To Take the Credit; We All Assume That Oscar Said It

References

References
1 1927 June 2, Life, A Pig’s-Eye View Of Literature by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Oscar Wilde, Start Page 13, Quote Page 13, Office of Life Magazine, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)

No Matter What Happens He Will Land On Someone Else’s Feet

Who Made the Criticism?: Dorothy Parker? Blanca Holmes? Vincent Sheean? Sidney Skolsky? Anonymous?

Who Was Being Criticized?: Alan Campbell? Lloyd George? Orson Welles?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person who is tough and adaptable is able to absorb setbacks in life and continue onward. This capability is represented metaphorically by a tumbler who lands upright. I have heard the following joke based on this framework:

Resilient people will always land on their feet.
Opportunists will always land on someone else’s feet.

Apparently, the well-known wit Dorothy Parker delivered a similar line. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Dorothy Parker and her second husband Alan Campbell obtained a divorce in 1947. The 1970 biography “You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker” by John Keats included testimony from one of Parker’s friends about a quip she made shortly after the marriage dissolved. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1970, You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker by John Keats, Part 4, Section 1, Quote Page 249, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

“I went to call on her the day the divorce from Alan became final,” Vincent Sheean said. “She was living alone in the Algonquin. The hotel had sent dinner up to her room, filet mignon, and she was sitting up in bed, the dinner uneaten, with no intention of eating, streaming tears.

“Thinking to make her feel better, I said I felt sorry for Alan.

“‘Oh, don’t worry about Alan,’ she said. ‘Alan will always land on somebody’s feet.'”

This remark fits into a family of jokes that has a long history which QI will explore below.

Continue reading No Matter What Happens He Will Land On Someone Else’s Feet

References

References
1 1970, You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker by John Keats, Part 4, Section 1, Quote Page 249, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)