Mark Twain? Betty Carpenter? Bumper Sticker? Jake Ford? Bill Quraishi? John Wallner? Robin Williams? Barry Levinson? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The number of sayings spuriously ascribed to Mark Twain seems to grow every year. Here are two versions of a remark credited to the famous son of Hannibal, Missouri:
- Politicians and diapers should be changed often.
- Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed regularly and for the same reason.
The Wikiquote webpage for Twain contends that the statement is misattributed. What do you think?
Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain who died in 1910 said or wrote this joke. It does not appear on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2
Several researchers have explored this topic, and the earliest pertinent citations previously known occurred in 1992. QI has made incremental progress by uncovering a match in October 1987. “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Ohio printed a collection of short pieces about electoral candidates such as Betty Carpenter who was running for a position on the Fort Thomas Council. Carpenter made the following comment containing the core of the joke. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3
This has been a quiet campaign as far as issues go, but I think politicians, like diapers, should be changed regularly. New faces bring fresh new ideas and perspectives to the government.
Carpenter may have crafted this saying, but QI hypothesizes that it was already in circulation before 1987. Yet, it is difficult to trace because the phrasing of the quip is highly variable.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched October 17, 2018) link ↩
- 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search) ↩
- 1987 October 25, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Section: Special Report: Election Guide 1987, Fort Thomas Council: Betty Carpenter, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com) ↩