Whiskey Is for Drinking; Water Is for Fighting Over

Mark Twain? Warren Neufeld? Bruce Babbitt? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Fresh water is an essential resource, and the battles over water rights in the Western region of the United States can be bruising. Famed humorist Mark Twain is often given credit for an incisively funny remark about this. Here are three versions:

Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.
Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting.
Whisky’s for drinkin’ and water’s for fightin’.

However, I have never seen a pointer to a document or book from Twain’s time period containing this expression. Is this another fake Twain quotation?

Quote Investigator: Multiple researchers have examined this saying and there is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said or wrote it. The website TwainQuotes.com edited by Barbara Schmidt is an important reference tool for checking statements ascribed to Twain, and Schmidt notes: 1

This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but until the attribution can be verified, the quote should not be regarded as authentic.

Twain died in 1910, and the earliest evidence of the expression located by QI was quite modern. In April 1983 the Aberdeen American News of Aberdeen, South Dakota printed the saying. The words were spoken by the head of a government agency named Warren Neufeld, but the context suggested he was employing an anonymous adage. Twain was not mentioned: 2

“Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.” Those words were a realism in South Dakota until a few years ago, says Warren (Bob) Neufeld, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Water and Natural Resources.

In the Summer 1983 issue of “Western Wildlands: A Natural Resource Journal” a periodical from Missoula, Montana an article titled “River Conservation in the 1980s” by Christopher N. Brown was published. A version of the maxim was printed in the table of contents and ascribed to Twain: 3

Mark Twain was more than prescient when he said: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Whiskey Is for Drinking; Water Is for Fighting Over

Notes:

  1. TwainQuotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, Comment at bottom of webpage titled Whiskey. (Accessed twainquotes.com on June 3, 2013) link
  2. 1983 April 12, Aberdeen American News (Aberdeen Daily News), Neufeld: Water development key to economy by Cindy Eikamp, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Aberdeen, South Dakota. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1983 Summer, Western Wildlands: A Natural Resource Journal, Volume 9, Number 2, “River Conservation in the 1980s” by Christopher N. Brown, Quote in Table of Contents and also on page 26, Montana Forest and Conservation Experiment Station, Missoula, Montana. (Verified with scans thanks to Charles Doyle and the University of Georgia library system; quotation is based on text in table of contents. A second instance on page 26 has slightly different punctuation)