If You Are Not at the Table Then You’re Probably on the Menu

Elizabeth Warren? Ann Richards? Julia Louis-Dreyfus? Cecile Richards? Pat Rusk? David Horowitz? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: If one wishes to influence a decision then one must be present at the negotiation table. If one is absent then an unfavorable decision is likely. Metaphorically, one’s rights and interests will be consumed by the other participants at the table. This notion has been expressed as follows:

If you aren’t at the table then you’re on the menu.

Politicians Ann Richards and Elizabeth Warren have each received credit for this remark . Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Many variants of this adage have evolved over time. Here is chronological sampling:

1993 Sept: At the Table or on the Menu?
2002 Jul: If you are not at the table, then you could be on the menu
2003 Mar: Instead of being on the menu, we have a seat at the table
2003 Jun: You’re either at the table, or you’re on the menu
2004 Apr: If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu

The first citation containing a strong match was recorded in “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” compiled by researchers Charles C. Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro. Boldface has been added to excerpts by QI: 1

1993 “Lebanon — At the Table or on the Menu?” Middle East Insight 10, no. 6 (Sep.– Oct.) 5 (commentary on a pending Syria-Israel accord).

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Are Not at the Table Then You’re Probably on the Menu


  1. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 248, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

Born with a Silver Foot in His or Her Mouth

Speaker: George Dixon? Ann Richards? Vito Marcantonio? Oliver Herford?

Target: Harold Ickes? George H. W. Bush? Newbold Morris? Jones?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person who is born into a wealthy and successful family is “born with a silver spoon in his or her mouth” according to a longstanding idiom. There is a funny variant that applies to a gaffe-prone person:

Born with a silver foot in his or her mouth.

Would you please explore who crafted this barb, and who was targeted?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI occurred in the syndicated column of George Dixon in November 1944. Dixon aimed his criticism at Harold Ickes, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, who helped to implement President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ policies. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Suppose Ickes was gone? What would I do on dull days? I’d have to scurry around and do some work, that’s what I’d have to do.

But, the way things transpired, I will always have him on tap when I need him. And he never fails. If ever a man was born with a silver foot in his mouth, it was old Harold.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Born with a Silver Foot in His or Her Mouth


  1. 1944 November 10, Evening Herald (Republican and Herald), Washington Scene by George Dixon, Quote Page 2, Column 4, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Life Isn’t Fair, But Government Must Be

Ann Richards? John F. Kennedy? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a new one-woman play titled “ANN” about Ann Richards who was the Governor of Texas in the 1990s. The theatrical presentation contains a memorable line about her philosophy of government. I am not sure if I remember it exactly, but the statement is similar to this:

Life isn’t fair, but government should be.

Did Ann Richards say this? When? When I searched I found some people claiming JFK said this.

Quote Investigator: Ann Richards was sworn in as governor of Texas on January 15, 1991, and she delivered a speech during the inauguration festivities that was reported on the next day in the San Antonio Express-News. The expression she spoke differed by one word from the phrase given in the query: 1

Focusing on her campaign themes of “A New Texas” and giving the government back to the people, Richards said, “There is nothing more fundamentally important to me than the understanding that this administration exists to serve the taxpayers.”

“Life isn’t fair, but government must be,” she said.

Interestingly, the Houston Chronicle also reported on the inauguration festivities and presented a line spoken by Richards; however, the wording was slightly different. The word “absolutely” was included: 2

Richards, in summoning the slain president’s memory, said: “Years ago, John Kennedy said that ‘Life isn’t fair.’ Life is not fair, but government absolutely must be.”

QI has not heard an audio recording of the speech by Richards and does not know which transcript is accurate. It is also conceivable that Richards employed the saying more than once on inauguration day. If she did say it twice, perhaps both versions were accurate.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life Isn’t Fair, But Government Must Be


  1. 1991 January 16, San Antonio Express-News, “New governor vows return of government for the people” by Bruce Davidson, Page 1A, San Antonio, Texas. (NewsBank Access World News)
  2. 1991 January 16, Houston Chronicle, Section: A, “New governor greets the people – Richards, Bullock pledge a ‘New Texas’ by R.G. Ratcliffe and Clay Robison, Quote Page 1, Houston, Texas. (NewsBank Access World News)

The Rooster May Crow, But It’s the Hen Who Lays the Egg

Margaret Thatcher? Ann Richards? Joel Chandler Harris? Uncle Remus? African-American folklore? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, passed away recently, and I was reminded of a pointed saying that is credited to her. Here are three versions:

  • The cock may crow, but it’s the hen who lays the egg.
  • It is the hen that lays the egg, and the rooster crows about it.
  • Roosters crow; hens deliver.

Did she use this expression, and did she coin it?

Quote Investigator: Margaret Thatcher did employ this saying, but it has a very long history, and she did not craft it originally. In 1989 the Sunday Times of London published an appraisal of a biography of Thatcher, and the reviewer, Robert Skidelsky, stated that he heard her use a version of the expression in 1987. Boldface has been added to some passages below: 1

Above all, Thatcher never hid her belief that women are better than men at getting things done. She brought to government “the tendency of the indefatigable woman to suppose that nothing would be done right, unless she personally saw to it”. “The cocks may crow, but it’s the hen that lays the egg,” I heard her proclaim at a private dinner party in 1987. Men are the talkers, the dreamers: Women are the doers.

The above citation was included in “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations” compiled by Nigel Rees. 2

A precursor saying using a different phrasing was in circulation by 1659 as noted in an entry in “The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs”: 3

The cock crows but the hen goes. 1659: Howell, 19. 1670: Ray, 5. 9.

A strong conceptual match written in heavy dialect was printed in 1881 in “Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-lore of the Old Plantation” by Joel Chandler Harris. Harris became famous in the 1800s recording and printing tales from the African-American oral tradition: 4

Rooster makes mo’ racket dan de hin w’at lay de aig.
[The rooster makes more racket than the hen that laid the egg.]

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Rooster May Crow, But It’s the Hen Who Lays the Egg


  1. 1989 April 9, The Sunday Times (of London), Section: G: Books, Housewife Superstar by Robert Skidelsky, (Book Review of “One of Us: A Biography of Margaret Thatcher”), Page G1, column 4, London, England. (NewsVault GaleGroup; also Academic OneFile GaleGroup; special thanks to Jonathan Betz-Zall, Mary Somers, and Dan J. Bye)
  2. 2001, Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Nigel Rees, Section: Noise, Page 305, (Cassell, London), Sterling Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2006, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs, Entry: Cock, Quote Page 105, Column 1, Wordsworth Editions Limited, London. (Google Books Preview)
  4. 1881, Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-lore of the Old Plantation by Joel Chandler Harris, Plantation Proverbs, Quote Page 151, D. Appleton and Company, New York. (Google Books full view) link