Tag Archives: Ethel Watts Mumford

A Drama Critic Leaves No Turn Unstoned

George Bernard Shaw? Catholic Standard and Times? Ethel Watts Mumford? Oliver Herford? Addison Mizner? Arthur Wimperis? Colette d’Arville? Ogden Nash? Diana Rigg?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous playwright George Bernard Shaw has been credited with a clever bit of wordplay concerning the role of a critic. The quip transforms the following venerable idiom describing a thorough search:

Leave no stone unturned

Shaw’s challenging plays sometimes received poor reviews, and according to legend he once responded:

A dramatic critic is a man who leaves no turn unstoned.

The word “turn” refers to the performance given by an individual on the stage. Would you please help me to trace this comical phrase?

Quote Investigator: George Bernard Shaw received credit for this expression from a journalist in London in 1930. See further below. Yet, no precise source was specified, and the joke had already been circulating for many years.

In 1899 the characters “Hi Tragerdy” and “Lowe Comerdy” exchanged lines about an unsuccessful vaudeville show encountering a hostile audience. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Your experience in vaudeville, then, was not very pleasant?” Hi Tragerdy was saying.
“No,” replied Lowe Comerdy; “at Oshkosh they threw rocks at each one of us as we came on for our acts.”
“Pretty severe way of showing their disapproval.”
“Yes; in their efforts to impress us with their utter disgust they left no turn unstoned.”-Standard and Catholic Times

The above item appeared in multiple periodicals such as “The Dallas Morning News” of Dallas, Texas; “The Daily Northwestern” of Oshkosh, Wisconsin; 2 “The Record-Union” of Sacramento, California; 3 and “Puck” of New York City. 4 The Texas newspaper acknowledged the “Standard and Catholic Times”. The other three acknowledged the “Catholic Standard and Times”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1899 August 17, The Dallas Morning News, Light Things, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1899 August 29, The Daily Northwestern (The Oshkosh Northwestern), Short Notes, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1899 September 15, The Record-Union, One Bad Turn Deserves Another (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 4, Sacramento, California. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1899 October 11, Puck, Volume 46, Issue 1170, One Bad Turn Deserved Another, Quote Page 15, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)