Politicians Are Like Diapers. They Should Be Changed Regularly

Mark Twain? Dick Nolan? Ad Schuster? 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

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a column by Dick Nolan in “The San Francisco Examiner” of California in 1966. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

Seasoned politics-watchers can only remind the gloomies that a more or less regular turnover is good for the Republic. In a sound democracy, our rulers ought to be changed routinely, like diapers for the same reason.

QI hypothesizes that this expression evolved from an earlier family of sayings based on the replacement of socks instead of diapers.

Multiple researchers have cooperatively explored this topic, e.g., Barry Popik has found several valuable citations, and this article includes citations located by other researchers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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

Notes:

  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. 1966 November 10, The San Francisco Examiner, See—I’ve Still Got a Neck by Dick Nolan, Quote Page 41, Column 4, San Francisco, California. (Newspapers_com)

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

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

Dear 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

Notes:

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