A Notable Family Named Stein With Gertrude, Ep, and Ein

A. H. Reginald Buller? Resident of Brighton? E. V. Lucas? Carolyn Wells? Walter Winchell? Robert Conquest? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a comical limerick about a “family” named Stein. The three referents were prominent writer Gertrude Stein, influential sculpture Jacob Epstein, and famous scientist Albert Einstein. Wordplay was used to split “Stein” from “Gertrude”, “Ep”, and “Ein”. Would you please explore the provenance of this poem?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match for the limerick located by QI appeared in March 1931, and that citation is given further below.

An interesting precursor occurred in the London humor magazine “Punch” in September 1929. The poem was titled “Precious Steins”, and it employed the same splitting wordplay. These were the first three verses: 1

What with Gertrude, Ep and Ein,
When I hear the name of Stein,
I go creepy down the spine.

Ein has caught the ether bending,
Gert has sentences unending,
Ep is really most art-rending.

Ein’s made straight lines parabolic,
Eppie’s “Night” is alcoholic,
Gertie’s grammar has the colic.

The final fifth verse suggested that life and art were out of step, and the poem’s creator was down-hearted. No attribution was specified for the poem. Thus, it was either written by a staff member of “Punch”, or it was sent to the magazine by a reader who was compensated.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Notable Family Named Stein With Gertrude, Ep, and Ein

Notes:

  1. 1929 September 11, Punch, Or The London Charivari, Volume 177, Precious Steins, Quote Page 282, Column 3, Published at the Office of Punch, London. (Verified with scans)

There Was a Young Lady Named Bright Whose Speed Was Far Faster Than Light

Bishop of Chelmsford? A. H. Reginald Buller? Albert Einstein? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a popular comical limerick about a young woman named White or Bright that highlights the counterintuitive nature of time measurements in Einstein’s theory of relativity. Do you know this poem? Do you know who composed it?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in an issue of the London humor magazine “Punch” in 1923. Initially, the limerick “Relativity” was published without attribution: 1

Relativity.

There was a young lady named Bright
Whose speed was far faster than light;
She set out one day
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.

In 1937 a Professor of Botany named A. H. Reginald Buller wrote a letter to “The Observer” newspaper in London and claimed authorship of the limerick. Top quotation references such as “The Yale Book of Quotations” 2 and “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations” 3 support the ascription to Buller. Details for this 1937 citation are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Was a Young Lady Named Bright Whose Speed Was Far Faster Than Light

Notes:

  1. 1923 December 19, “Punch, or The London Charivari”, Volume 165, Relativity (Limerick), Quote Page 591, Column 1, London. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Arthur Buller, Page 113, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2001, Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Nigel Rees, Section: Limericks, Quote Page 256, [Cassell, London], Sterling Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper)