I Really Don’t Mind What People Do, So Long As They Don’t Do It In the Street and Frighten the Horses

Mrs. Patrick Campbell? Beatrice Stella Tanner? Helen Maud Tree? Oscar Wilde? Linkum Fidelius? Washington Irving? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Eric Erskine Wood? Mrs. Claude Beddington? Frances Ethel Beddington? John Moore? King Edward VII? Ronald Reagan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Enforcing societal norms and taboos is an important activity for some people. Others hesitate to proscribe conduct. They are broad-minded about unconventional behaviors. Here are two versions of a humorous remark reflecting the latter perspective:

(1) I don’t care what anybody does, so long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.

(2) There is no harm provided they don’t do it in the street and scare the horses.

This saying has been credited to Beatrice Stella Tanner, Helen Maud Tree, Oscar Wilde and others, Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that the saying evolved over time. A partial instance appeared in “The Lancaster Daily Intelligencer” of Pennsylvania in 1879. An article mentioned that families with servants sometimes required them to wear special clothing whenever the leading member of the family died. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The fashion prevails in New York of putting the servants into mourning on the death of the head of the family, as in Europe, so it happens then many of the coachmen strikingly resemble, with their white cravats and long single-breasted black coats of the M. B. pattern, a ritualistic clergyman. “Taste is taste,” as Linkum Fidelius sagely remarks. So long as they don’t frighten the horses it matters little.

Linkum Fidelius was a comically erudite character appearing in the works of the prominent U.S. writer Washington Irving. This version of the expression did not include a reference to the street.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Really Don’t Mind What People Do, So Long As They Don’t Do It In the Street and Frighten the Horses

Notes:

  1. 1879 October 2, The Lancaster Daily Intelligencer (Intelligencer Journal), Wit and Wisdom: Fresh Gleanings From the Fruitful Harvest of American Humor, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)