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