The Cat / Dog Is Always On the Wrong Side of the Door

T. S. Eliot? Ogden Nash? Kate Upson Clark? William Lyon Phelps? O. M. Gregor? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some pets are constantly signaling a desire to enter or leave a domicile. Here are two pertinent expressions:

  • A cat is always on the wrong side of a door.
  • A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of.

This notion has been attributed to the poets T. S. Eliot and Ogden Nash. Would you please help me to find citations and precise phrasings?

Quote Investigator: This saying can be phrased in many ways; thus, it is difficult to trace. The expression has been applied to individual animals and to classes of animals. The earliest match located by QI appeared in the “Manchester Weekly Times” of England in 1898 within an article about pets owned by royalty. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Cats cannot be picked up and carried from pillar to post, while dog’s rather enjoy change of scene. In fact, the pet dog is always on the wrong side of the door, and never happy unless he is either going out or coming in.

The journalist who wrote the text above was unidentified, and QI conjectures that he or she was repeating a remark that was already in circulation.

A 1939 poem by T. S. Eliot about a cat includes an instance of this statement. Ogden Nash included instances in two different poems in 1941 and 1953. Details for these citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Cat / Dog Is Always On the Wrong Side of the Door


  1. 1898 November 11, Manchester Weekly Times, Cream of Current Literature: Some Royal Favourites Dogs and Cats, Quote Page 14, Column 1, Manchester, Greater Manchester, England. (Newspapers_com)

A Gorgeous Bird is the Pelican, Whose Beak Will Hold More Than His Bellican

C. M. Marshton? Dixon Lanier Merritt? Ogden Nash? Jeff McLemore? Bennett Cerf? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A comical poem about the pelican uses a creative rhyming scheme with the word “pelican” matched to the invented words “belican” (belly can) and “helican” (hell he can). Would you please explore the provenance of this work?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this poem known to QI appeared in “The Tampa Morning Tribune” of Florida on April 2, 1913. The words were ascribed to C. M. Marshton. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

It has remained for one rhymer to produce one little “piece” that saves the season from utter mediocrity. This benefactor dwells in Chicago and he has written a classic–one which merits conspicuous publication in all the high-class literary journals. The author is C. M. Marshton, one of the editors of the Chicago Record-Herald, and the “poem” was written and sent by him to relatives who were spending the winter at St. Petersburg . . .

At the risk of infringing on a copyright, the Tribune prints the masterpiece of the Florida poetry season of 1912-13. Here it is:

A gorgeous bird is the pelican,
Whose beak will hold more than his bellican.
He can put in his beak
Food enough for a week.
But I’m d—- if I see how in hellecan.

C. M. Marshton is the leading candidate for creator of this poem based on current evidence.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Gorgeous Bird is the Pelican, Whose Beak Will Hold More Than His Bellican


  1. 1913 April 2, The Tampa Morning Tribune, Real Florida “Poetry”, Quote Page 20, Column 2 and 3, Tampa, Florida. (Newspapers_com)

No Stone Unturned. No Tern Unstoned. No Stern Untoned

Ogden Nash? James Nelson Gowanloch? Frank Colby? Arthur Knight? Alfred Hitchcock? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular creator of light verse Ogden Nash once crafted a poem that playfully altered a common phrase describing a thorough search: “no stone unturned”. The comical transformation produced “no tern unstoned” and “no stern untoned”. Did Nash originate these two phrases?

Quote Investigator: In 1952 Ogden Nash published “The Private Dining Room and Other New Verses” which included a poem titled “Everybody’s Mind To Me a Kingdom Is or A Great Big Wonderful World It’s”. The following lines exhibited the wordplay. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This I shall do because I am a conscientious man, when I throw rocks at sea birds I leave no tern unstoned,

I am a meticulous man, and when I portray baboons I leave no stern untoned,

Interestingly, both of these phrases were already in circulation as shown below.

Continue reading No Stone Unturned. No Tern Unstoned. No Stern Untoned


  1. 1953 (U.S Publication 1952), The Private Dining Room and Other New Verses by Ogden Nash, Poem: Everybody’s Mind To Me a Kingdom Is or A Great Big Wonderful World It’s, Start Page 27, Quote Page 27, J. M. Dent & Sons, London. (Verified with hardcopy)

A Drama Critic Leaves No Turn Unstoned

George Bernard Shaw? Catholic Standard and Times? Ethel Watts Mumford? Oliver Herford? Addison Mizner? Arthur Wimperis? Colette d’Arville? Ogden Nash? Diana Rigg?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous playwright George Bernard Shaw has been credited with a clever bit of wordplay concerning the role of a critic. The quip transforms the following venerable idiom describing a thorough search:

Leave no stone unturned

Shaw’s challenging plays sometimes received poor reviews, and according to legend he once responded:

A dramatic critic is a man who leaves no turn unstoned.

The word “turn” refers to the performance given by an individual on the stage. Would you please help me to trace this comical phrase?

Quote Investigator: George Bernard Shaw received credit for this expression from a journalist in London in 1930. See further below. Yet, no precise source was specified, and the joke had already been circulating for many years.

In 1899 the characters “Hi Tragerdy” and “Lowe Comerdy” exchanged lines about an unsuccessful vaudeville show encountering a hostile audience. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Your experience in vaudeville, then, was not very pleasant?” Hi Tragerdy was saying.
“No,” replied Lowe Comerdy; “at Oshkosh they threw rocks at each one of us as we came on for our acts.”
“Pretty severe way of showing their disapproval.”
“Yes; in their efforts to impress us with their utter disgust they left no turn unstoned.”-Standard and Catholic Times

The above item appeared in multiple periodicals such as “The Dallas Morning News” of Dallas, Texas; “The Daily Northwestern” of Oshkosh, Wisconsin; 2 “The Record-Union” of Sacramento, California; 3 and “Puck” of New York City. 4 The Texas newspaper acknowledged the “Standard and Catholic Times”. The other three acknowledged the “Catholic Standard and Times”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Drama Critic Leaves No Turn Unstoned


  1. 1899 August 17, The Dallas Morning News, Light Things, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1899 August 29, The Daily Northwestern (The Oshkosh Northwestern), Short Notes, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1899 September 15, The Record-Union, One Bad Turn Deserves Another (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 4, Sacramento, California. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1899 October 11, Puck, Volume 46, Issue 1170, One Bad Turn Deserved Another, Quote Page 15, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)

I Think that I Shall Never See a Billboard Lovely as a Tree

Joyce Kilmer? Ogden Nash? Confucious? Anonymous?

freeway10Dear Quote Investigator: April is National Poetry Month in the U. S., and Arbor Day also occurs in this month. A famous poem by Joyce Kilmer begins with the following couplet: 1

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A comical riff on this work begins with the following lines:

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.

I have seen multiple versions of this humorous poem that criticizes the massive signs next to highways. Would you please determine the proper text and the creator’s identity?

Quote Investigator: The October 15, 1932 issue of “The New Yorker” published a poem titled “Song of the Open Road” by Ogden Nash who was a popular wordsmith of light verse. This was the earliest publication known to QI: 2

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.

Over the decades, variants of the text have evolved. By 1940 Ogden Nash had produced a modified version of his own verse. He published a collection of works titled “The Face is Familiar” containing an instance of the poem that replaced the word “perhaps” with the word “indeed”. This made the point of the poem more emphatic.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Think that I Shall Never See a Billboard Lovely as a Tree


  1. Date: 1913 October, Periodical: Boys’ Life, Poem title: Trees, Poem author: Joyce Kilmer, Quote Page 2, Publisher: Boy Scouts of America, Inc. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Date: 1932 October 15, Periodical: The New Yorker, Poem title: Song of the Open Road, Poem author: Ogden Nash, Quote Page 18, Column 2, Publisher: F.R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online Archive of page scans of The New Yorker; accessed April 11, 2015)

Not a Shred of Evidence Exists in Favor of the Argument That Life Is Serious

Joseph Campbell? Ogden Nash? Brendan Gill? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here is a quick question. Which of the following quotations is accurate?

There is not one shred of evidence that life is serious. —Joseph Campbell

There is not a shred of evidence that life is serious —Ogden Nash

Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious. —Brendan Gill

Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious. —Anonymous

If each of these four quotes is inaccurate can you determine the original quotation and coiner? My friend has some magnets that credit the poet and humorist Ogden Nash.

Quote Investigator: Brendan Gill wrote for The New Yorker magazine for six decades. In 1975, near the four decade mark, he published a memoir titled “Here at The New Yorker” that included the following passage: 1

In fact, not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the argument that life is serious, though it is often hard and even terrible. And saying that, I am prompted to add what follows out of it: that since everything ends badly for us, in the inescapable catastrophe of death, it seems obvious that the first rule of life is to have a good time; and that the second rule of life is to hurt as few people as possible in the course of doing so. There is no third rule.

Gill’s actual statement is very similar to the one given by the questioner but not identical. The word “argument” is used instead of “idea”. This altered version has become more popular over time. In 1979 the compilation “1,001 Logical Laws” gathered by John Peers included the following instance with the word “idea”: 2

Gill’s Law:
Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Not a Shred of Evidence Exists in Favor of the Argument That Life Is Serious


  1. 1975, Here at The New Yorker by Brendan Gill, Chapter: 6, Quote Page 49, Random House, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1979, 1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles, Compiled by John Peers, Edited by Gordon Bennett, Quote Page 120, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)

Hogamous, Higamous, Man is Polygamous, Higamous, Hogamous, Woman is Monagamous

William James? Dorothy Parker? Ogden Nash? Mrs. Amos Pinchot? Alice Duer Miller? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I read a wild story about William James, the prominent psychologist, educator, and philosopher. One night he experimented with the psychoactive gas nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas. While experiencing a reverie James became convinced that he had developed a profound insight into the universe. The next day when he examined the paper on which he scrawled his precious wisdom he read this bit of doggerel:

Hogamous, Higamous,
Man is polygamous,
Higamous, Hogamous,
Woman is monagamous.

Could this comical tale about the famous psychologist be correct?

Quote Investigator: Probably not. This poem has been attributed to Mrs. Amos Pinchot, William James, Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash, and others. The earliest citation located by QI appeared in 1939 and credited Pinchot, but a cite in 1942 claimed that she denied the attribution. No decisive candidate for authorship has yet emerged in QI’s opinion.

William James did experiment with psychoactive agents, but his name was not connected to this verse until many years after his death. The earliest attribution to James located by QI was dated 1953, yet his life ended in 1910.

The first known evidence of this unusual anecdote appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper in November 1939. The article “Thanksgiving Nightmare” by Claire MacMurray discussed dreams and not drugs. MacMurray presented a supposed episode in the mental life of a person named Mrs. Amos Pinchot [APCM]:

She dreamed one night that she had written a poem so beautiful, so wise, so close to the ultimate truth of life that she was immediately acclaimed by all the peoples on the earth as the greatest poet and philosopher of all the ages. Still half asleep as the dream ended, she stumbled out of bed and scribbled the poem down, realizing that she must take no risk of forgetting such deathless lines. She awoke in the morning with the feeling that something wonderful was about to happen—oh, yes! Her poem.

She clutched the precious paper and, tense with excitement, read the words she had written. Here they are:

Hogamus Higamus
Men are Polygamous
Higamus Hogamus
Women Monogamous

The spelling and wording of this poem do differ from the most common modern versions, but QI believes that the words above likely correspond to the ancestral verse. The dream state is certainly an altered state, and it does generate insights, both genuine and spurious. But it is a relatively conventional mental excursion.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Hogamous, Higamous, Man is Polygamous, Higamous, Hogamous, Woman is Monagamous

America Is the Only Country That Went from Barbarism to Decadence Without Civilization In Between

Ogden Nash? George Bernard Shaw? James Agate? La Liberté? Winston Churchill? Henry James? Oscar Wilde? Georges Clemenceau?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous humorous saying about the United States that has been credited to four celebrated wits: George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, and Georges Clemenceau:

America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without knowing civilization.

Could you reduce the uncertainty and determine who coined this acerbic comment?

Quote Investigator: A partial match of the quotation appeared in a French history text in 1841 which stated that the ruler of Russia pushed the country without transition from barbarism to decadence. Thanks to Dan Bye and the volunteer editors of Wikiquote for this citation: 1

… il fit passer son pays sans transition de la barbarie à la décadence, de l’enfance à la caducité.

In 1878 the prominent literary figure Henry James published a short story with a German character who remarked on the cultural evolution of the United States using a simile based on the maturation of fruit. The following passage is conceptually similar to the quotation, but the vocabulary is different. Thanks to correspondent Rand Careaga for this citation: 2

… unprecedented and unique in the history of mankind; the arrival of a nation at an ultimate stage of evolution without having passed through the mediate one; the passage of the fruit, in other words, from crudity to rottenness, without the interposition of a period of useful (and ornamental) ripeness. With the Americans, indeed, the crudity and the rottenness are identical and simultaneous;…

The earliest evidence known to QI of a close match for this expression was published in 1926 in The Sunday Times of London. Interestingly, the country being lacerated was Russia and not the United States. In addition, none of the four gentlemen mentioned by the questioner was credited with the words.

The theatre reviewer, James Agate, saw a production of the work “Katerina” by Andreyev, and he was deeply unsympathetic to the behaviors displayed by the characters. 3 Boldface added below: 4

Everything that happens to Andreyev’s characters is repugnant to the English sense of what would, should, or could happen to people laying claim to ordinary, i.e. English sanity. This being so, the temptation is to cast about for excuses, to pity Russia for having been left out of the Roman march, and so passing from barbarism to decadence without knowing civilisation, or to talk about “retrogressive metamorphism” and the way this country has been steadily breaking Europe down ever since, in the time of Peter the Great, she first began to absorb European culture.

Special thanks to correspondent Robert Rosenberg who identified this pivotal early instance.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading America Is the Only Country That Went from Barbarism to Decadence Without Civilization In Between


  1. 1841, Histoire des Progrès de la Civilisation en Europe by Hippolyte Roux-Ferrand, Volume 6, Quote Page 72, Chez L. Hachette. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1881, Washington Square; The Pension Beaurepas; A Bundle of Letters by Henry James, Volume 2, (A Bundle of Letters; short story reprinted from The Parisian, 1878), Start Page 198, Quote Page 266, Macmillan and Co., London. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1944, Red Letter Nights by James Agate, (Review by James Agate of the play Katerina by Leonid Andreyev; starring John Gielgud and Frances Carson; Review is dated April 3, 1926 in book), Start Page 112, Quote Page 113, Jonathan Cape Ltd., London, UK. (Internet Archive) link
  4. 1926 April 4, The Sunday Times (UK), The Dramatic World: Those Russians Again by James Agate, (Review of the play Katerina by Andreyev performed on March 31), Quote Page 4, London, England. (Gale’s Sunday Times Digital Archive; thanks to Fred Shapiro and Dan J. Bye for accessing this database)

Progress May Have Been All Right Once, But It Went On Too Long

Ogden Nash? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Jeopardy is my favorite game show, and I recently watched in amazement as an IBM computer named Watson beat the two best human players in the history of the trivia tournament. I was reminded of the classic one-line observation made by the brilliantly humorous poet Ogden Nash:

Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long.

This epigram is listed in the Wikipedia entry for Ogden Nash, and I found it in some quotation references, but no one seems to know where it appeared initially. I searched the archive of The New Yorker because that magazine published many of his poems, but I could not find the phrase. Could you determine its origin?

Quote Investigator: The primary obstacle to tracing this saying is the inaccuracy of its wording. The phrasing specified in your question, which is common online and appears in many books, differs from the original text used by Ogden Nash when he published the line as part of the poem “Come, Come, Kerouac! My Generation is Beater Than Yours” in the 1950s. This is a common problem in quotation research that complicates database searches. Even when the phrasing is very similar and the semantics are nearly equivalent the rigorous word-for-word and letter-for-letter matching may fail.

Your idea to search the New Yorker database was an excellent one. The poem appeared in the April 4, 1959 issue of that magazine, but you may have missed it because your search query was based on the incorrect wording. The fourteen-line composition begins as follows [NYCK]:

My dictionary defines progress as an advance toward perfection.

There has been lots of progress during my lifetime, but I’m afraid it’s been heading in the wrong direction.

The poem ends with the following two lines:

Progress may have been all right once, but it went on too long;

I think progress began to retrogress when Wilbur and Orville started tinkering around in Dayton and at Kitty Hawk, because I believe that two Wrights made a wrong.

This saying is a favorite of the prominent political pundit George Will who first used a version of it in his doctoral thesis. Here are some additional citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Progress May Have Been All Right Once, But It Went On Too Long