They Will Never Agree. They Argue from Different Premises

Sydney Smith? Punch? Evan Esar? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A disagreement between two people is sometimes caused by a difference in underlying assumptions. Two individuals arguing from different premises are likely to reach different conclusions.

This notion can be comically transformed via a pun on the word “premises” which can mean “assumptions” or “residences”. The famous English wit Sydney Smith has received credit for crafting this type of joke, but skepticism is justified because he is a quotation magnet. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the London humor magazine “Punch” in September 1841. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

When a person holds an argument with his neighbour on the opposite side of the street, why is there no chance of their agreeing?–Because they argue from different premises.

No attribution was specified; hence, QI conjectures that the joke was crafted by one of the “Punch” editors or a contributor:

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Will Never Agree. They Argue from Different Premises

Notes:

  1. 1841 September 25, Punch, Or The London Charivari, Volume 1, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 123, Column 1, Published at The Punch Office, London. (Google Books Full View) link

The Curate’s Egg: Parts of It Are Excellent

Punch Magazine? Judy Magazine? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A famous one-panel comic shows a lowly curate who is visiting the house of a powerful bishop for breakfast. The bishop notices that the curate has unfortunately been served a spoiled egg, and the curate’s response is overly polite and deferential. Here are two versions:

  • My lord, really, some parts of it are very good.
  • My lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent.

A spoiled egg is typically thrown away and not eaten. It is viewed as entirely bad. Nevertheless, the meaning of the term “curate’s egg” has shifted over time. It is used figuratively to refer to something which has a mixture of positive and negative attributes. It is both good and bad. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This joke is usually traced to a cartoon published in the humor magazine “Punch” on November 9, 1895, and that cartoon is shown further below; however, the origin can actually be traced to an earlier time.

A precursor anecdote without a cartoon illustration appeared in “The Academy” journal in 1875. The creator of the story was unidentified, and the punchline was a bit different. Also, it did not include the claim that parts of the egg were good. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Without pledging our credence, we could afford a grin to the story of the “young Levite” who at a bishop’s breakfast-table, was so ‘umble as to decline the replacement of a bad egg by a good one with a “No thank you, my Lord, it’s good enough for me;” . . .

On May 22, 1895 “Judy: The London Serio-Comic Journal” published a cartoon with a bishop and curate. This is the first close match located by QI: 2

SCENE—BISHOP’S BREAKFAST TABLE.
Bishop (to timid Curate on a visit). DEAR ME, I’M AFRAID YOUR EGG’S NOT GOOD!
Timid Curate. OH, YES, MY LORD, REALLY-ER-SOME PARTS OF IT ARE VERY GOOD.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Curate’s Egg: Parts of It Are Excellent

Notes:

  1. 1875 July 26, The Academy, Book Review of: “Our Bishops and Deans” by the Rev. F. Arnold (Late of Christ Church Oxford), Start Page 651, Quote Page 652, Column 2, Robert Scott Walker, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1895 May 22, Judy: The London Serio-Comic Journal, Scene-Bishop’s Breakfast Table (Single-panel comic showing a Bishop and Curate at a breakfast table), Quote Page 245, London, England. (Gale 19th Century UK Periodicals)

What Is Matter?—Never Mind. What Is Mind?—No Matter

Creator: “Punch”, London humor magazine

Context: On July 14, 1855 “Punch” published the following brief item containing the quotation: 1

A SHORT CUT TO METAPHYSICS.
What is Matter?—Never mind.
What is Mind?—No matter.

Related Article: Those Who Mind Don’t Matter, and Those Who Matter Don’t Mind

Notes:

  1. 1855 July 14, Punch, Or the London Charivari, (Filler item), Quote Page 19, Column 2, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link