I Never Vote For Anybody. I Always Vote Against

W. C. Fields? Franklin P. Adams? H. L. Mencken? Richard Croker? Franklin D. Roosevelt? Will Rogers?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of sardonic sayings about the behavior of voters. Here are three examples:

  • I never vote for anybody. I always vote against.
  • People vote against somebody rather than for somebody.
  • The people never vote for anything. They always vote against something.

This viewpoint has been attributed to popular columnist Franklin P. Adams, curmudgeonly commentator H. L. Mencken, and star comedian W. C. Fields. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a Pennsylvanian newspaper in 1893. Richard Croker, a powerful New York City politician, applied the saying to a group of political activists. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Boss Croker, of Tammany, defines a mugwump as a man who always votes against somebody and never votes for anybody. That’s a pretty clever description.

Franklin P. Adams used an instance of the saying in 1916, but he disclaimed credit for the expression. H. L. Mencken used an instance in 1925, but he also disclaimed credit. A version was ascribed to W. C. Fields in a 1949 biography. Detailed information appears further below.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Never Vote For Anybody. I Always Vote Against


  1. 1893 October 30, Harrisburg Telegraph, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

“I Am My Own Worst Enemy” “Not While I’m Alive”

Groucho Marx? Ernest Bevin? George S. Kaufman? Cotton Ed Smith? Franklin P. Adams? Alan Hale? Walter F. George? Oscar Levant?

Dear Quote Investigator: A comment which acknowledges criticism has been coupled with a harshly comical riposte. Here are three examples:

  1. “I’m my own worst enemy. ” “Not while I’m in the room.”
  2. “She is her own worst enemy.” “Not while I am around.”
  3. “He is his own greatest enemy” “Not while I’m alive, he ain’t.”

Would you please explore the provenance of this type of exchange?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this schema located by QI appeared in a 1933 article by Franklin P. Adams in the “New York Herald Tribune”. Adams was reviewing a book filled with abbreviations, informal language, and flexible spelling; hence, he decided to retain that style in his analysis. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . only the other night when I said I am my own worst enemy 4 fellows rushed in to say loyaly not while they was alive.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “I Am My Own Worst Enemy” “Not While I’m Alive”


  1. 1933 March 12, New York Herald Tribune, Section: Books, Life Is Just a Game of Baseball by Franklin P. Adams, (Book Review of “Lose With a Smile” by Ring Lardner), Quote Page 4, Column 1, New York, New York. (ProQuest)

Nothing Is More Responsible for the Good Old Days than a Bad Memory

Franklin P. Adams? Franklin P. Jones? H. B. Meyers? Sylvia Strum Bremer? Loring Smith? Mike Connolly? Steven Pinker?

Dear Quote Investigator: Public intellectual Steven Pinker recently published the bestselling book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress” which includes an entertaining quotation about nostalgia attributed to a prominent newspaper columnist: 1

As the columnist Franklin Pierce Adams pointed out, “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”

I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: This saying was attributed to Franklin Pierce Adams in 1964 by the prominent publisher and quotation collector Bennett Cerf, but Adams had died in 1960, and Cerf is occasionally unreliable.

More than a decade before Adams received credit, the remark was ascribed to a columnist with a similar name, Franklin P. Jones. So Cerf may have confused the two names. Interestingly, the initial evidence found by QI occurred even earlier, and the saying appears to have evolved over time.

The May 1913 issue of “The American Food Journal” contained a prolix match within an editorial. H. B. Meyers was the editor, managing editor, and publisher of the journal. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2


A certain class of people are fond of talking about “the good old days,” but they are for the most part individuals without imagination and with a very poor memory. As a matter of fact, there never was a time in the history of the world when the days were as good as they are right now in this year of our Lord 1913.

In 1950 a columnist in an Iowa newspaper, Sylvia Strum Bremer, presented a more concise version of the sentiment: 3

Everybody is always talking about “the good old days,” and a lot of the nostalgia expressed is simply the result of poor memory.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nothing Is More Responsible for the Good Old Days than a Bad Memory


  1. 2018, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker, Chapter 4: Progressophobia, Quote Page 48, Viking, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  2. 1913 May, The American Food Journal, Volume 8, Number 5, “The Good Old Days”, Start Page 131, Quote Page 131, H. B. Meyers & Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1950 December 26, The Daily Times, Syl-o-ettes by Sylvia Strum Bremer, Quote Page 14A, Column 3, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)

Elementary, My Dear Watson

Sherlock Holmes? Arthur Conan Doyle? J. Murray Moore? Franklin P. Adams? P. G. Wodehouse? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes was explaining to his good friend John A. Watson the nature of his latest deduction he supposedly employed the well-known phrase:

Elementary, my dear Watson.

I was astonished to learn that Holmes never said this phrase in any of the canonical stories and novels. Is that true?

Quote Investigator: Yes, Sherlock Holmes never said the above phrase in any of the classic tales written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Instead, the phrase was synthesized by the readers and enthusiasts of the legendary detective and assigned to him. The character was later given the line in a movie script that was not penned by Conan Doyle.

The canonical Holmes did use the word “elementary” when speaking with Watson. For example, Conan Doyle’s 1893 story “The Adventure of the Crooked Man” published in “The Strand Magazine” contained a scene in which Holmes carefully examined Watson’s appearance and concluded that he had recently been busy with several visits to medical patients. Holmes explained his reasoning to Watson, and the doctor was impressed. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Excellent!” I cried.

“Elementary,” said he. “It is one of those instances where the reasoner can produce an effect which seems remarkable to his neighbour, because the latter has missed the one little point which is the basis of the deduction.

In September 1893 the journal “English Mechanic and World of Science” printed a letter to the editor that contained a bit of word play that seemed to be based on the phrase “Elementary, my dear fellow”. The jest may have been referring to a prototypical interaction of Holmes and Watson, but the connection was uncertain: 2

He has also forgotten to deduct the calories that have to be supplied to the “coal” to raise it to the temperature at which it combines with oxygen. All this is quite elementary, my dear “Fellow of the Chemical Society.”

In 1901 the serialization of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” began in “The Strand Magazine”. Holmes examined a walking stick using a convex lens and concluded that the owner of the stick had a dog which was “larger than a terrier and smaller than a mastiff”. He spoke the word “elementary” while presenting his conclusions to Watson: 3

“Interesting, though elementary,” said he, as he returned to his favourite corner of the settee. “There are certainly one or two indications upon the stick. It gives us the basis for several deductions.”

In November 1901 “The Northampton Mercury” of Northamptonshire, England printed a short parody featuring the characters Shylock Combs and Potson. The brilliant ratiocinator Combs was able to determine the direction of the wind outside by observing the displacement of Potson’s mustache: 4

He noticed my amazement and smiled that wonderful smile of his.

“Elementary, my dear Potson,” he said; “I observed the left-hand side of your moustache inclined about 47 5/8 degrees towards the west, and coming as I did from Butcher-street I at once deduced from which quarter the wind was blowing.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Elementary, My Dear Watson


  1. 1893 July, The Strand Magazine, Volume 6, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: XX – The Adventure of the Crooked Man by A. Conan Doyle, Start Page 22, Quote Page 23, George Newnes, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1893 September 22, English Mechanic and World of Science, Volume 58, Section: Letters to the Editor, The Natural Forces by Luis, Start Page 108, Quote Page 108, Column 3, Published for the Strand Newspaper Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1901 September, The Strand Magazine, Volume 22, Number 128, The Hound of the Baskervilles: Another Adventure of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle, Chapter 1, Start Page 123, Quote Page 124, George Newnes, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1901 November 15, The Northampton Mercury, Sherlock Holmes’s Latest!, Quote Page 6, Column 3, Northamptonshire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

The Race Is Not Always to the Swift, Nor the Battle to the Strong; But That Is the Best Way to Bet

Damon Runyon? Franklin P. Adams? Hugh E. Keough? George D. Prentice? Luke McLuke? Grantland Rice? Burns Mantle? Anonymous?

hare09Dear Quote Investigator: A famous verse in the Bible instructs readers that the advantages enjoyed by an individual do not guarantee his or her success: 1

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

A humorous reaction to this proverbial wisdom has become popular. Here are two versions:

1) The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet.
2) It may be that the race is not always to the swift, but that is the best way to bet.

These words have been attributed to Damon Runyon, a newspaperman whose short stories inspired the Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls” and to Franklin P. Adams, an influential columnist who composed “The Conning Tower”. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match for the expression found by QI appeared in the widely circulated magazine “Collier’s” in February 1919. Franklin P. Adams wrote the saying, but he did not take credit for the remark; instead, he ascribed the quip to a prominent sportswriter named Hugh E. Keough. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

As Hugh Keough used to say: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.”

Damon Runyon also employed the saying, but he credited Keough. In addition, other well-known columnists such as drama critic Burns Mantle and sportswriter Grantland Rice ascribed a similar joke to Keough.

Yet, the situation was complicated because the jest has been evolving for more than one hundred and eighty years, and multiple versions have achieved wide distribution during this long period. A precursor that presented betting odds appeared in 1833 in “Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine”: 3

Now we say that the race is—if not always—ninety-nine times in a hundred—to the swift, and the battle to the strong.

In July 1861 “The New York Ledger” printed a collection of sayings under the title “Wit and Wisdom”. The following instance used the phrase “ninety-nine times in a hundred”, and the quip structure was parallel to the modern version: 4

To be sure the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but it is ninety-nine times in a hundred.

The newspaper article was prepared by George D. Prentice, and it was described as a mixture of original and reprinted material. On the same day, a matching saying was printed in “The Springfield Daily Republican” of Springfield, Massachusetts. 5 The article was titled “Selected Miscellany”, and no author was listed. Perhaps Prentice reformulated a statement he had previously read or heard.

Special thanks to top researcher Barry Popik for his invaluable efforts on this topic that were recorded on his web page here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Race Is Not Always to the Swift, Nor the Battle to the Strong; But That Is the Best Way to Bet


  1. Website: Bible Hub, Bible Translation: King James Bible, Section: Ecclesiastes, Chapter 9, Verse 11, Website Description: “Bible hub is a production of the Online Parallel Bible Project.” (Accessed biblehub.com on June 4, 20015) link
  2. 1919 February 8, Collier’s: The National Weekly, Demobilizing, Washington by Franklin P. Adams, Start Page 9, Quote Page 9, Column 3, P. F. Collier & Son, Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1833 October, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 34, Morning Monologues By an Early Riser, No. 1, Start Page 429, Quote Page 432, Published by William Blackwood, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1861 July 20, New York Ledger, Wit and Wisdom: Original and Selected, Prepared expressly for the Ledger by Geo. D. Prentice, Quote Page 3, Column 5, New York, New York. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1861 July 20, Springfield Daily Republican, Selected Miscellany: Sense and Sentiment, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)

Your Bald Head Feels as Smooth as My Wife’s Cheek

Marc Connelly? Nicholas Longworth? S. H. Hale? Franklin P. Adams? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

barber08Dear Quote Investigator: Recently I saw a list of the funniest ripostes, but it did not include the squelcher that I believe is the best. An unhappy card player wished to embarrass a bald man who was excelling. The disgruntled man placed his hand on the winner’s gleaming dome and said, “Hey, this feels smooth and soft exactly like my sweet wife’s behind.”

In response the man touched his glabrous scalp thoughtfully and said, “That is curious. You know; you’re right.”

The punchline of this anecdote was been attributed to the playwright Marc Connelly who was a member of the celebrated Algonquin Round Table and to Nicholas Longworth who was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Would you explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published version of this tale found by QI was set in a barber shop and was less risqué. In July 1924 “The Roswell Daily Record” of Roswell, New Mexico printed the following. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

S. H. Hale tells this one on a fresh young barber he had working for him several years ago. This particular barber thought he would kid a bald-headed man.

“Don’t you know,” he said, rubbing the bald spot, “your head feels just like my wife’s cheek”.

The customer reached up and stroked his head for a moment and then said: “By golly it does, doesn’t it.”

The word “cheek” presented a double-entendre, but QI believes that the Roswell newspaper editor in 1924 probably expected readers to think of the face and not the buttocks.

The joke was bawdy, and it suggested cuckoldry; hence, coarser instances probably circulated only via the spoken word initially. Newspapers in the 1920s printed a version with the phrase “my wife’s cheek”, and periodicals in the 1950s printed a variant referencing “my wife’s leg”. By the 1960s a biography printed an instance with “my wife’s bottom”, and a memoir printed an instance with “my wife’s behind”.

Privately printed literature was more candid. In 1934 a limited edition collection of taboo humor included an instance with “my wife’s ass”. The rejoinder was attributed to Mark Connelly.

Nicholas Longworth was Speaker of the House from 1925 to 1931, i.e., after the barber shop version of the anecdote was circulating. He died in 1931. The earliest citation found by QI crediting the punchline to Longworth was published in a 1968 book about Washington politics. Detailed information is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Your Bald Head Feels as Smooth as My Wife’s Cheek


  1. 1924 July 12, The Roswell Daily Record, Local Snap Shots (Contributed), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Roswell, New Mexico. (NewspaperArchive)

Advice: Substitute ‘Damn’ Every Time You’re Inclined to Write ‘Very’

Mark Twain? William Allen White? Franklin P. Adams? Brock Pemberton? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I’ve been quoting an editor-friend’s advice for years, and suddenly tonight I see it online attributed to Mark Twain:

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

If that’s really Twain, what work is it from, please? It’s all over the Internet on quote sites.

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said this. It is not listed on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt. 1

In the earliest citation located by QI the humorous advice was credited to William Allen White who was a prominent newspaper editor based in Emporia, Kansas. Here is the tale as told in 1935 by a columnist in a Seattle, Washington newspaper: 2

William Allen White’s visit here, en route to the Philippines, recalled the story of the famous Kansas editor and publisher’s meeting several years ago with a group of fledgling newspaper men in Lawrence. Kas. The “cubs” listened eagerly to everything “the Sage of Emporia” had to say and besought him to give them some advice about news writing.

“I never give advice,” said Mr. White, “but there is one thing I wish you would do when you sit down to write news stories, and that is: Never use the word, ‘very.’ It is the weakest word in the English language; doesn’t mean anything. If you feel the urge of ‘very’ coming on, just write the word, ‘damn,’ in the place of ‘very.’ The editor will strike out the word, ‘damn,’ and you will have a good sentence.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Advice: Substitute ‘Damn’ Every Time You’re Inclined to Write ‘Very’


  1. TwainQuotes.com website edited by Barbara Schmidt. [Mark Twain Quotations, Newspaper Collections, & Related Resources] (Searched August 29, 2012) link
  2. 1935 October 18, Seattle Daily Times, Strolling Around the Town, Second Main News Section: Front Page [GNB Page 37], Column 3 and 4, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)

Meretricious and a Happy New Year

Gore Vidal? Franklin P. Adams? George S. Kaufman? Mary Horan? Chico Marx? Walter Winchell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The holiday season is here, and I have a question about a pun. A critic once told Gore Vidal that one of his novels was meretricious and Gore pointedly replied:

Really? Well, meretricious and a happy New Year to you too!

This anecdote is set in the 1970s and when I read about it recently I was reminded of stories about the Algonquin Round Table. The group members used to play a game in which a word was selected and a participant was challenged to create a clever sentence using it. I think meretricious was one of the words chosen, and the result was the quip used by Gore Vidal many years later. Could you check into this?

Quote Investigator: Top quotation researcher Nigel Rees explored this topic in two issues of his periodical “The ‘Quote Unquote’ Newsletter” in July 1998 1 and October 1998. 2 An episode of verbal jousting by Gore Vidal was mentioned. In addition, the newsletter noted an attribution to Franklin P. Adams by 1977. Most fascinating was an instance of the wordplay in a Marx Brothers radio show in 1933.

The earliest instance located by QI was published in December 1929 by the famous columnist Walter Winchell who referred to the sentence construction activity as a “parlor diversion.” Winchell presented two examples of puns which he attributed to the actress Mary Horan. The third example used meretricious, but the joke was not credited to a specific person.

Later citations shown below credit George S. Kaufman, Franklin P. Adams, The Marx Brothers, and Vidal Gore. Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Meretricious and a Happy New Year


  1. The Quote Unquote Newsletter 1997-2001 (Kindle), Issue: July 1998, Volume 7, Number 3, Edited by Nigel Rees, Section: Further Findings, Newsletter Published and distributed by Nigel Rees, Hillgate Place, London, Website: www.quote-unquote.org.uk (Compilation 1997-2001 available as Kindle ebook)
  2. The Quote Unquote Newsletter 1997-2001 (Kindle), Issue: October 1998, Volume 7, Number 4, Edited by Nigel Rees, Article: Earlier or Not: Meretricious – and a happy New Year, Newsletter Published and distributed by Nigel Rees, Hillgate Place, London, Website: www.quote-unquote.org.uk link (Compilation 1997-2001 available as Kindle ebook)