Brother, Can You Paradigm?

William Safire? Marie Shear? Cornell Daily Sun? Walter Gieber? Inis L. Claude Jr.? Ben Yagoda? Jack L. Walker? John Leonard? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A U.S. song that was popular during the Great Depression era depicted an impoverished person making a plaintive request:

Brother, can you spare a dime?

This song title inspired the creation of a collection of puns:

Buddy, can you paradigm?
Brother, can you spare a paradigm?
Sister, can you paradigm?

William Safire, the language columnist “The New York Times”, used the second of these expressions. Would you please explore the provenance of this wordplay?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1933 within the student newspaper of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill called “The Daily Tar Heel”. The paper acknowledged another college while printing the pun. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

To Our Hall Of Fame We Nominate

The Cornell Daily Sun for: “Then there’s the song the Greek prof sings in his classes—Buddy Can You Paradigm?

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Brother, Can You Paradigm?


  1. 1933 January 20, The Daily Tar Heel, To Our Hall Of Fame We Nominate, Quote Page 2, Column 6, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)