Tag Archives: Franklin P. Adams

The Race Is Not Always to the Swift, Nor the Battle to the Strong; But That Is the Best Way to Bet

Damon Runyon? Franklin P. Adams? Hugh E. Keough? George D. Prentice? Luke McLuke? Grantland Rice? Burns Mantle? Anonymous?

hare09Dear Quote Investigator: A famous verse in the Bible instructs readers that the advantages enjoyed by an individual do not guarantee his or her success: 1

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

A humorous reaction to this proverbial wisdom has become popular. Here are two versions:

1) The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet.
2) It may be that the race is not always to the swift, but that is the best way to bet.

These words have been attributed to Damon Runyon, a newspaperman whose short stories inspired the Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls” and to Franklin P. Adams, an influential columnist who composed “The Conning Tower”. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match for the expression found by QI appeared in the widely circulated magazine “Collier’s” in February 1919. Franklin P. Adams wrote the saying, but he did not take credit for the remark; instead, he ascribed the quip to a prominent sportswriter named Hugh E. Keough. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

As Hugh Keough used to say: “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but that is the way to bet.”

Damon Runyon also employed the saying, but he credited Keough. In addition, other well-known columnists such as drama critic Burns Mantle and sportswriter Grantland Rice ascribed a similar joke to Keough.

Yet, the situation was complicated because the jest has been evolving for more than one hundred and eighty years, and multiple versions have achieved wide distribution during this long period. A precursor that presented betting odds appeared in 1833 in “Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine”: 3

Now we say that the race is—if not always—ninety-nine times in a hundred—to the swift, and the battle to the strong.

In July 1861 “The New York Ledger” printed a collection of sayings under the title “Wit and Wisdom”. The following instance used the phrase “ninety-nine times in a hundred”, and the quip structure was parallel to the modern version: 4

To be sure the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but it is ninety-nine times in a hundred.

The newspaper article was prepared by George D. Prentice, and it was described as a mixture of original and reprinted material. On the same day, a matching saying was printed in “The Springfield Daily Republican” of Springfield, Massachusetts. 5 The article was titled “Selected Miscellany”, and no author was listed. Perhaps Prentice reformulated a statement he had previously read or heard.

Special thanks to top researcher Barry Popik for his invaluable efforts on this topic that were recorded on his web page here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. Website: Bible Hub, Bible Translation: King James Bible, Section: Ecclesiastes, Chapter 9, Verse 11, Website Description: “Bible hub is a production of the Online Parallel Bible Project.” (Accessed biblehub.com on June 4, 20015) link
  2. 1919 February 8, Collier’s: The National Weekly, Demobilizing, Washington by Franklin P. Adams, Start Page 9, Quote Page 9, Column 3, P. F. Collier & Son, Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1833 October, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 34, Morning Monologues By an Early Riser, No. 1, Start Page 429, Quote Page 432, Published by William Blackwood, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1861 July 20, New York Ledger, Wit and Wisdom: Original and Selected, Prepared expressly for the Ledger by Geo. D. Prentice, Quote Page 3, Column 5, New York, New York. (GenealogyBank)
  5. 1861 July 20, Springfield Daily Republican, Selected Miscellany: Sense and Sentiment, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)

Your Bald Head Feels as Smooth as My Wife’s Cheek

Marc Connelly? Nicholas Longworth? S. H. Hale? Franklin P. Adams? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

barber08Dear Quote Investigator: Recently I saw a list of the funniest ripostes, but it did not include the squelcher that I believe is the best. An unhappy card player wished to embarrass a bald man who was excelling. The disgruntled man placed his hand on the winner’s gleaming dome and said, “Hey, this feels smooth and soft exactly like my sweet wife’s behind.”

In response the man touched his glabrous scalp thoughtfully and said, “That is curious. You know; you’re right.”

The punchline of this anecdote was been attributed to the playwright Marc Connelly who was a member of the celebrated Algonquin Round Table and to Nicholas Longworth who was the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Would you explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published version of this tale found by QI was set in a barber shop and was less risqué. In July 1924 “The Roswell Daily Record” of Roswell, New Mexico printed the following. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

S. H. Hale tells this one on a fresh young barber he had working for him several years ago. This particular barber thought he would kid a bald-headed man.

“Don’t you know,” he said, rubbing the bald spot, “your head feels just like my wife’s cheek”.

The customer reached up and stroked his head for a moment and then said: “By golly it does, doesn’t it.”

The word “cheek” presented a double-entendre, but QI believes that the Roswell newspaper editor in 1924 probably expected readers to think of the face and not the buttocks.

The joke was bawdy, and it suggested cuckoldry; hence, coarser instances probably circulated only via the spoken word initially. Newspapers in the 1920s printed a version with the phrase “my wife’s cheek”, and periodicals in the 1950s printed a variant referencing “my wife’s leg”. By the 1960s a biography printed an instance with “my wife’s bottom”, and a memoir printed an instance with “my wife’s behind”.

Privately printed literature was more candid. In 1934 a limited edition collection of taboo humor included an instance with “my wife’s ass”. The rejoinder was attributed to Mark Connelly.

Nicholas Longworth was Speaker of the House from 1925 to 1931, i.e., after the barber shop version of the anecdote was circulating. He died in 1931. The earliest citation found by QI crediting the punchline to Longworth was published in a 1968 book about Washington politics. Detailed information is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1924 July 12, The Roswell Daily Record, Local Snap Shots (Contributed), Quote Page 4, Column 5, Roswell, New Mexico. (NewspaperArchive)

He Who Laughs, Lasts

Mary Pettibone Poole? W. E. Nesom? George F. Worts? H. L. Mencken? Joe Laurie Jr.? Franklin P. Adams? Anonymous?

rembrandt08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous proverb that asserts the last person to laugh is the person who laughs the best or the longest. I am interested in a cleverly modified statement emphasizing the connection between humor and longevity:

He who laughs—lasts.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: For many years this comical remark has been ascribed to Mary Pettibone Poole who published a compilation of quotations and quips in 1938 with the vividly absurdist title “A Glass Eye at a Keyhole”. Poole placed this joke in a section “Beggars Can’t Be Losers”: 1

He who laughs, lasts!

None of the statements in Poole’s work were given attributions, and some were probably original; however, many were not. QI can now report some earlier instances of the joke above.

In November 1917 the humor magazine “Judge” printed a poem by W. E. Nesom titled “Perverted Proverbs” that playfully modified adages. The fifth stanza was the following. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

If laughter be an aid to health,
Then logic of the strongest
Impels us to the cheerful thought
That he who laughs lasts longest.

The above citation was located by top researcher Stephen Goranson, and W. E. Nesom may have been the originator of this proverbial twist. Currently, this is the earliest evidence known to QI.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1938, A Glass Eye at a Keyhole by Mary Pettibone Poole, Section: Beggars Can’t Be Losers, Quote Page 40, Published by Dorrance and Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans; thanks to Dennis Lien and the University of Minnesota library system)
  2. 1917 November 3, Judge, Poem: Perverted Proverbs by W. E. Nesom (Fifth stanza), Unnumbered Page (2 pages away from back cover), Column 3, Published by Leslie-Judge Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link link

Advice: Substitute ‘Damn’ Every Time You’re Inclined to Write ‘Very’

Mark Twain? William Allen White? Franklin P. Adams? Brock Pemberton? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I’ve been quoting an editor-friend’s advice for years, and suddenly tonight I see it online attributed to Mark Twain:

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

If that’s really Twain, what work is it from, please? It’s all over the Internet on quote sites.

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said this. It is not listed on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt. 1

In the earliest citation located by QI the humorous advice was credited to William Allen White who was a prominent newspaper editor based in Emporia, Kansas. Here is the tale as told in 1935 by a columnist in a Seattle, Washington newspaper: 2

William Allen White’s visit here, en route to the Philippines, recalled the story of the famous Kansas editor and publisher’s meeting several years ago with a group of fledgling newspaper men in Lawrence. Kas. The “cubs” listened eagerly to everything “the Sage of Emporia” had to say and besought him to give them some advice about news writing.

“I never give advice,” said Mr. White, “but there is one thing I wish you would do when you sit down to write news stories, and that is: Never use the word, ‘very.’ It is the weakest word in the English language; doesn’t mean anything. If you feel the urge of ‘very’ coming on, just write the word, ‘damn,’ in the place of ‘very.’ The editor will strike out the word, ‘damn,’ and you will have a good sentence.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. TwainQuotes.com website edited by Barbara Schmidt. [Mark Twain Quotations, Newspaper Collections, & Related Resources] (Searched August 29, 2012) link
  2. 1935 October 18, Seattle Daily Times, Strolling Around the Town, Second Main News Section: Front Page [GNB Page 37], Column 3 and 4, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)

Meretricious and a Happy New Year

Gore Vidal? Franklin P. Adams? George S. Kaufman? Mary Horan? Chico Marx? Walter Winchell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The holiday season is here, and I have a question about a pun. A critic once told Gore Vidal that one of his novels was meretricious and Gore pointedly replied:

Really? Well, meretricious and a happy New Year to you too!

This anecdote is set in the 1970s and when I read about it recently I was reminded of stories about the Algonquin Round Table. The group members used to play a game in which a word was selected and a participant was challenged to create a clever sentence using it. I think meretricious was one of the words chosen, and the result was the quip used by Gore Vidal many years later. Could you check into this?

Quote Investigator: The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, a top-notch reference that is enjoyable to browse, lists this anecdote of verbal jousting under the name of Gore Vidal. But the entry also mentions some instances of the pun as early as 1933 credited to The Marx Brothers and Franklin P. Adams [ODHM].

The earliest instance located by QI was published in December 1929 by the famous columnist Walter Winchell who referred to the sentence construction activity as a “parlor diversion.” Winchell presented two examples of puns which he attributed to the actress Mary Horan. The third example used meretricious, but the joke was not credited to a specific person.

The second earliest citation was published in December 1930. Once again Walter Winchell described the sentence construction activity as a “parlor pastime.” The example using meretricious was deemed “one of the cleverest”. Winchell mentioned several members of the Round Table: Alexander Woollcott, Franklin P. Adams, and Dorothy Parker, but he did not provide a name for the originator of the wordplay for meretricious in 1929 or 1930.

Twelve years later in 1942 Winchell credited the pun to the playwright and Round Table member George S. Kaufman. In 1945 a biographer of Alexander Woollcott assigned the joke to Franklin P. Adams. In modern times the wordplay is often attributed to Gore, Adams, and The Marx Brothers .

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading