Secrecy: The Art of Telling a Thing To Only One Person At a Time

University of Oxford? Theresa Russell? Edna Worthley Underwood? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have been told with the highest level of confidentiality that the following comical definition has been employed at the University of Oxford:

Secret: You may tell it to only one person at a time.

Would you please explore the provenance of this quip?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in multiple U.S. newspapers in 1905. The joke was grouped together with several other humorous definitions, and no attribution was given. Here is a sampling of four items. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Eternity: Two hours of waiting in a dentist’s office.
Heathen: Anyone who does not profess the religion you don’t profess.
Secrecy: The art of telling a thing to only one person at a time.
Error: The mistaken act of another.

The text above was printed in “The Times-Democrat” of New Orleans, Louisiana. The same definitions appeared in “The Lexington Herald” of Lexington, Kentucky, 2 “The Sunday Gazette and Telegraph” of Colorado Springs, Colorado, 3 and other newspapers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Secrecy: The Art of Telling a Thing To Only One Person At a Time

Notes:

  1. 1905 June 13, The Times-Democrat, Silhouettes: Definitions, Quote Page 6, Column 4, New Orleans, Louisiana, (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1905 July 09, The Lexington Herald, Definitions (Acknowledgment: New Orleans Times Democrat), Quote Page 8, Column 4, Lexington, Kentucky.(GenealogyBank)
  3. 1905 July 23, The Sunday Gazette and Telegraph (Gazette-Telegraph), Definitions (Acknowledgment: New Orleans Times Democrat), page 21, Column 5, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (GenealogyBank)