Politicians Are Like Diapers. They Should Be Changed Regularly

Mark Twain? Dick Nolan? Ad Schuster? Betty Carpenter? Bumper Sticker? Jake Ford? Bill Quraishi? John Wallner? Robin Williams? Barry Levinson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The number of sayings spuriously ascribed to Mark Twain seems to grow every year. Here are two versions of a remark credited to the famous son of Hannibal, Missouri:

  • Politicians and diapers should be changed often.
  • Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed regularly and for the same reason.

The Wikiquote webpage for Twain contends that the statement is misattributed. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain who died in 1910 said or wrote this joke. It does not appear on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a column by Dick Nolan in “The San Francisco Examiner” of California in 1966. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

Seasoned politics-watchers can only remind the gloomies that a more or less regular turnover is good for the Republic. In a sound democracy, our rulers ought to be changed routinely, like diapers for the same reason.

QI hypothesizes that this expression evolved from an earlier family of sayings based on the replacement of socks instead of diapers.

Multiple researchers have cooperatively explored this topic, e.g., Barry Popik has found several valuable citations, and this article includes citations located by other researchers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Politicians Are Like Diapers. They Should Be Changed Regularly

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched October 17, 2018) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. 1966 November 10, The San Francisco Examiner, See—I’ve Still Got a Neck by Dick Nolan, Quote Page 41, Column 4, San Francisco, California. (Newspapers_com)

If You Remember the ’60s, You Really Weren’t There

Robin Williams? Charlie Fleischer? Paul Krassner? Paul Kantner? Grace Slick?

Dear Quotation Investigator: I lived through the 1960s, but the only thing I remember about it is the following quotation:

If you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t really there.

Does anyone recall who said this?

Quote Investigator: Yes, many people think they remember who said this. The problem is they disagree: Paul Kantner, Robin Williams, Paul Krassner, Pete Townshend, Grace Slick, Timothy Leary, and many others have been credited with the saying. Of course, no one who was there really remembers.

The earliest citation currently known by QI for this expression was found by the outstanding researcher Stephen Goranson.

The cite is a two-line article in the Comedy column of the Los Angeles Times in 1982: 1

EXIT LINE: Comedian Charlie Fleischer observes: “If you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there.”

Apparently it took all of the 1970s to recover from the 1960s and create the quip. Until further citations are located, Charles Fleischer gets the credit.

Notes:

  1. 1982 June 13, Los Angeles Times, The Comedy Column: Shandling Takes the Low-Key Road by Lawrence Christon, Page M60, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)