“I Bet I Could Get Three Words Out of You.” “You Lose.”

Calvin Coolidge? Frank B. Noyes? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: President Calvin Coolidge was known as “Silent Cal” because of his extraordinarily laconic speech. A famous anecdote tells of a dinner party during which the person sitting adjacent to the Coolidge said: “Mr. President I’ve made a large bet that I would be able to make you say more than two words.” Coolidge considered this proposition carefully and then replied slowly and emphatically, “You lose.”

Would you please explore the veracity of this comical tale?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in several newspapers in April 1924 which were reporting on a short speech of introduction delivered at the annual luncheon of the Associated Press news service by Frank B. Noyes who was the President of the organization. The introduction was for the main speaker at the event, President Calvin Coolidge. Noyes told a story about an unnamed “very high official”, and his audience knew that the tale was supposed to be about Coolidge. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

. . . let me be reminded at this point of a story current in Washington last year.

“A very high official had a really undeserved reputation of extreme reticence, and it is related that at a dinner the lady on his right opened the conversation by saying that her neighbor had it in his power to lose or win a wager for her as she had made a bet that however reserved he might have been with others that he would talk with her. Then came a measurable pause, followed by ‘You lose.’

This version of the tale did not mention a specific number of words, e.g., “more than two words” or “at least three words”. Hence, it was not quite as funny as later instances of the anecdote.

“The New York Times” published an article about the luncheon which included the response given by Coolidge immediately after the humorous story was presented. He completely denied its accuracy. The term “President” in the following remark by Coolidge might be somewhat confusing; the term referred to Frank B. Noyes, President of the Associated Press, and not to Coolidge. 2

“Your President has given you a perfect example,” said Mr. Coolidge, “of one of those rumors now current in Washington which is without any foundation.”

The audience laughed, and then Mr. Coolidge went ahead with his prepared speech.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “I Bet I Could Get Three Words Out of You.” “You Lose.”

Notes:

  1. 1924 April 23, The Hartford Courant, President Favors New Parley for Further Limitation of Arms, Quote Page 22, Column 8, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)
  2. 1924 April 23, New York Times, Coolidge for a New Arms Conference; Demands Constructive Federal Thrift; Favors Participation in German Loan: Sees Hope in Dawes Plan, Start Page 1, Quote Page 2, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest)