Politicians Are Like Diapers. They Should Be Changed Regularly

Mark Twain? Betty Carpenter? Bumper Sticker? Jake Ford? Bill Quraishi? John Wallner? Robin Williams? Barry Levinson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The number of sayings spuriously ascribed to Mark Twain seems to grow every year. Here are two versions of a remark credited to the famous son of Hannibal, Missouri:

  • Politicians and diapers should be changed often.
  • Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed regularly and for the same reason.

The Wikiquote webpage for Twain contends that the statement is misattributed. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain who died in 1910 said or wrote this joke. It does not appear on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2

Several researchers have explored this topic, and the earliest pertinent citations previously known occurred in 1992. QI has made incremental progress by uncovering a match in October 1987. “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Ohio printed a collection of short pieces about electoral candidates such as Betty Carpenter who was running for a position on the Fort Thomas Council. Carpenter made the following comment containing the core of the joke. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

This has been a quiet campaign as far as issues go, but I think politicians, like diapers, should be changed regularly. New faces bring fresh new ideas and perspectives to the government.

Carpenter may have crafted this saying, but QI hypothesizes that it was already in circulation before 1987. Yet, it is difficult to trace because the phrasing of the quip is highly variable.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Politicians Are Like Diapers. They Should Be Changed Regularly


  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched October 17, 2018) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. 1987 October 25, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Section: Special Report: Election Guide 1987, Fort Thomas Council: Betty Carpenter, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

If You Can Read This, You’ve Come Too Close

Dorothy Parker? Lillian Hellman? Ford Model T Label? Frank Sullivan? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

close07Dear Quote Investigator: The witty author Dorothy Parker was once asked to suggest an epitaph for her tombstone. Over the years she crafted several different candidates, and I am interested in the following saying which can be expressed in multiple ways:

If you can read this you are too close.
If you can read this you’ve come too close.
If you can read this, you are standing too close.

Would you please explore the provenance of this statement?

Quote Investigator: QI plans to examine at least five different epitaphs that have been attributed to Dorothy Parker. Here is a link to a webpage that will have pointers to the five separate analyses when they are completed.

There is evidence that Dorothy Parker did present this saying as an epitaph for herself. This information emanated from Lillian Hellman who was a long-time friend of the writer, and who acted as her controversial literary executor. Hellman delivered a memorial speech after Parker’s death during which she asserted that Parker desired a gravestone with the following message:

If you can read this you’ve come too close.

Hellman’s remark was discussed in publications in 1968 and 1969 and in her own memoir. Detailed citations are given further below.

The origin of the phrase chosen by Parker was intriguing to QI. The statement was used as a comical cautionary sign appearing on the back of Ford Model T automobiles during the 1920s. Parker humorously repurposed the expression and shifted its semantics. She performed the same alchemy on the statement “Excuse My Dust” as discussed here.

In January 1925 a newspaper in Portland, Oregon reported on a sign that had been seen in Pennsylvania. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A Novel Warning.

A driver of a motor car In Washington, Pa., while trailing a small coupe, noticed very small letters on the spare tire covering. Anxious to know what was being advertised, he drove close enough to read the inscription, which said: “If you can read this you are too darn close.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Can Read This, You’ve Come Too Close


  1. 1925 January 11, The Sunday Oregonian (Oregonian), Section 7, A Novel Warning, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)