Philip Gosse? John Bishop? Leonard Lyons? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: A family of popular comical anecdotes conforms to the following template. An individual suffers a grievous injury such as a spear through the chest. A companion asks about his or her status, and the reply is absurdly understated:
“Does it hurt?”
“Only when I laugh.”
Would you please explore the provenance of this tale?
Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the 1934 book “Memoirs of a Camp-Follower” by Philip Gosse who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I. After an intense battle using bombs and bayonets, Gosse encountered a seriously injured soldier who was covered with mud and soaked with rain and blood. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1934, Memoirs of a Camp-Follower by Philip Gosse, Chapter 2: We Go South, Quote Page 72 and 73, Longman’s, Green and Company. London, England. (Internet Archive at archive.org) link
While I was gently examining his wound I asked him, more for the sake of something to say than anything else, if it hurt him very much. His answer, which I shall never forget, was “No Sir, only when I laugh.”
I am glad to say little John Bishop surprised us all by surviving a long and dangerous operation and eventually recovered.
This exchange was presented as non-fiction, and the line downplaying pain was spoken to Gosse by Bishop who was a member of the London Irish Rifles regiment of the British Army.
Thanks to top-flight researcher Peter Reitan who located the above citation.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.