You Can Always Tell a Harvard / Yale Student, But You Can’t Tell Them Much

William Howard Taft? Arthur Twining Hadley? Zora Neale Hurston? James Barnes? Wigg? Wagg? LeBaron Russell Briggs? Joseph Choate? Anonymous?

Question for Quote Investigator: The rivalry between the universities Yale and Harvard exists in the domain of quips. The following jests use wordplay based on two different meanings of “tell”:

(1) You always can tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much.
(2) It’s easy enough to tell a Yale man, but you can’t tell him much.

Can you determine the original target of this barb? Would you please explore this family of jibes?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match for this joke template located by QI appeared in December 1886 within the “Democrat and Chronicle” of Rochester, New York which acknowledged a Somerville, Massachusetts newspaper. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1886 December 3, Democrat and Chronicle, Came With the Cold Wave, Quote Page 5, Column 3, Rochester, New York. (Newspapers_com)

“You can always tell a man who has once been a clerk in a hotel,” says an exchange. Our experience has always been that you can’t tell him much. He thinks he knows it all.—Somerville Journal.

Thus, the first target of this barb was a hotel clerk and not a college student. During the ensuing decades the template was filled with a wide variety of entities. By 1895 the quip was aimed at the “Yale man”, and by 1906 the “Harvard man” was criticized.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Can Always Tell a Harvard / Yale Student, But You Can’t Tell Them Much

References

References
1 1886 December 3, Democrat and Chronicle, Came With the Cold Wave, Quote Page 5, Column 3, Rochester, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Few Souls Are Saved After the First Twenty Minutes of a Sermon

Mark Twain? John Wesley? John M. Bartholomew? Arthur Twining Hadley? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Lengthy orations on spiritual topics are unlikely to change the views of resistant audience members. Here are three versions of a pertinent adage:

  • Few sinners are saved after the first 20 minutes of a sermon.
  • Few souls are saved after the first half-hour of a sermon.
  • No souls saved after the first 15 minutes.

This saying has been credited to humorist Mark Twain and 18th-century English evangelist John Wesley. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI occurred in 1864 within “The Monthly Journal of the American Unitarian Association”. No attribution was specified, and the crucial phrase was placed between quotation marks signaling that it was already in circulation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1864 May, The Monthly Journal of the American Unitarian Association, Volume 5, Number 5, Stray Hints Too Parishes, Start Page 215, Quote Page 219, American Unitarian Association, Boston, … Continue reading

The correct view of this subject is contained in the statement, that there should be no indecent haste in disposing of topics so dignified as those of the pulpit, but “few souls are saved after the first half-hour.”

The first known ascriptions to John Wesley and Mark Twain occurred many years after their respective deaths. Thus, the evidence supporting these ascriptions is weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Few Souls Are Saved After the First Twenty Minutes of a Sermon

References

References
1 1864 May, The Monthly Journal of the American Unitarian Association, Volume 5, Number 5, Stray Hints Too Parishes, Start Page 215, Quote Page 219, American Unitarian Association, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link