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.
- Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched October 17, 2018) link ↩
- 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search) ↩
- 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) ↩