H. L. Mencken? George Jean Nathan? Errol Flynn? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: During the December holiday season imbibing is commonplace. “Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words” lists ‘ombibulous’ with the following definition:
someone who drinks everything (H. L. Mencken).
How is the famous commentator and curmudgeon Mencken connected to this word? Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: In 1920 a piece containing this distinctive word together with the closely related synonym ‘omnibibulous’ appeared in “The Smart Set” magazine with two authors specified in the byline: George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:
As for me, I am prepared to admit some merit in every alcoholic beverage ever devised by the incomparable brain of man, and drink them all when the occasions are suitable—wine with meat, the hard liquors when the soul languishes, beer on jolly evenings. In other words, I am omnibibulous, or, more simply, ombibulous.
The prefix ‘omni’ means all, and ‘bibulous’ means fond of alcoholic beverages sometimes to excess.
In later publications Mencken indicated that the 1920 passage above was his. Mencken did not coin the word ‘omnibibulous’, but QI‘s exploration suggests that he did coin the shortened form ‘ombibulous’. See below for additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading I Am Omnibibulous, or, More Simply, Ombibulous
Dorothy Parker? George Jean Nathan? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The trenchant prose of Dorothy Parker has always impressed me. Reportedly she once lacerated a writer who was receiving a superfluity of undeserved accolades with the following:
He is a writer for the ages — the ages of four to eight.
Is this Parker’s joke? When was this written?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI of a remark matching this template appeared in the ‘Patter’ section of “The Reader’s Digest” in 1938. The age limits were different, and the barb was aimed at a playwright, but the core joke was the same. In addition, the words were not attributed to Dorothy Parker; instead, another wit named George Jean Nathan was credited. Here are two examples from the ‘Patter’ section:
When the Critics Crack the Quip
Tallulah Bankhead barged down the Nile last night as Cleopatra — and sank. —John Mason Brown in N.Y. Post
Mr. ———— writes his plays for the ages — the ages between five and twelve —George Jean Nathan
A decade later, in 1948 the anecdote and quotation collector Bennett Cerf published the volume “Shake Well Before Using”, and he included an instance of the saying ascribed to Parker:
Miss Parker was asked another time to express an opinion of an overpraised novelist. She remarked, “He’s a writer for the ages—for the ages of four to eight.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading He’s a Writer for the Ages—For the Ages of Four to Eight
Groucho Marx? Walter Winchell? George S. Kaufman? George Jean Nathan?
Dear Quote Investigator: When a friend asked me my opinion of a terrible play that I saw recently I answered:
I did not like it, but perhaps this judgment is unfair. I saw it under adverse conditions — the curtain was up.
Eventually she coaxed me into admitting that this joke is from Groucho Marx. However, my memory is imperfect so I decided to check with a Google search, and I found that a playwright named George S. Kaufman is also listed as the originator. Could you determine if this is a real Groucho quote or a fake one? Also, can you ascertain which show was being ridiculed?
Quote Investigator: Evidence indicates that Groucho did utter a version of this quote in 1931 to Walter Winchell who promptly reported it in his widely-read and highly-influential newspaper column. The confusion about the attribution arises because Groucho gave credit to the playwright and humorist George S. Kaufman for the quip when he told it to Winchell. In fact, the initial newspaper report in 1931 mentions only Kaufman’s name.
The target of the jest was a show called “Vanities” by the major Broadway producer Earl Carroll, and he was not happy to hear the mocking comment. His anger was primarily directed at Winchell, but there were repercussions over a period of years including: strained relationships, publicly traded insults, and a theater attendance ban.
Continue reading Theatrical Review: I Saw It Under Adverse Conditions. The Curtain Was Up