Dorothy L. Sayers? George Eliot? Thomas Fuller? George Herbert? George Latimer Apperson? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The ongoing pandemic reminded me of an eccentric proverb I once heard:
Love and a cough cannot be hidden.
The prominent mystery wrote Dorothy L. Sayers once referred to a statement like this. Would you please explore the history of this remark?
Quote Investigator: These types of adages have been circulating for several hundred years. Each variant lists a set of conditions or emotions which are difficult to conceal because they are expressed spontaneously or uncontrollably.
George Latimer Apperson’s important reference “English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases” contains an entry that that begins with a citation circa 1300: 1
Love and a cough cannot be hid.
c. 1300: Cursor Mundi, l. 4276
In 1590 a pertinent adage appeared in the book titled “The Royal Exchange Contayning sundry aphorismes of phylosophie, and golden principles of morrall and naturall quadruplicities”. This title reveals that spelling was not standardized in 1590. Here are standard spellings for three words that occur in the passage below: foure, four; hydden, hidden; loue, love. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2
There are foure things cannot be hydden.
1. The cough.
4. And sorrow.
These affectons are addicted to much impatience, and maketh a man so passionate, as they are almost impossible to be concealed.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1929, English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases: A Historical Dictionary by G. L. Apperson (George Latimer Apperson), Topic: Love, Quote Page 384, Column 1, J. M. Dent and Sons Limited, London, Facsimile republished in 1969 by Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan. (Verified with hardcopy of 1969 edition) ↩
- 1590, Title: The Royal Exchange Contayning sundry aphorismes of phylosophie, and golden principles of morrall and naturall quadruplicities, Author: Oraziofin Rinaldi, Publisher: Offered to the cittie of London. Rob. Greene, in Artibus Magister, Printer: Printed by I. Charlewood for William VVright At London. (Early English Books Online EEBO) link ↩