Dorothy Parker? Corey Ford? John Keats? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Apparently, the famous wit Dorothy Parker was once asked why she had selected the curious name Onan for her pet canary. She replied:
Because he spills his seed on the ground.
What is the veracity of this tale?
Quote Investigator: The biblical figure Onan appeared in the Book of Genesis. He disobeyed God by refusing to impregnate his brother’s widow and spilling his seed on the ground. This behavior irked the Deity and proved fatal to Onan.
The earliest version of the Parker anecdote located by QI occurred within a chapter profiling her in the 1934 book “While Rome Burns” by Alexander Woollcott who helped to build her reputation for clever banter. Woollcott’s statement was elliptical. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Of her birds, I remember only an untidy canary whom she named Onan for reasons which will not escape those who know their Scriptures.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1934, While Rome Burns by Alexander Woollcott, Chapter “Some Neighbors IV: Our Mrs. Parker”, Quote Page 152, Viking Press, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩