The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese

Stephen Wright? Ernst Berg? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I am trying to discover where the following maxim comes from:

The second mouse gets the cheese.

Sometimes this phrase appears as part of a longer saying:

The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

Your help would be greatly appreciated.

Quote Investigator: The earliest dated instance of this type of joke located by QI appeared in December 1994 in a message posted to the Usenet distributed discussion system in a newsgroup called alt.buddha.short.fat.guy. The saying was freestanding without attribution, and it was surrounded by ornamental text. The phrasing employed alluded to ethical precepts. The handle “Ernst Berg” was listed as the sender of the message: 1

-*- Blessed is the Second mouse for he shall inherit the Cheese. -*-

In the common mousetrap design shown above the first mouse attempting to take the cheese out of the trap would probably be injured or killed. The second mouse attempting to retrieve the cheese after the trap has been triggered would probably be successful.

In February 1995 the twisted proverb or anti-proverb version appeared in the Usenet newsgroup rec.games.video.arcade in a message posted by “David Jakovac”. The saying was freestanding and no attribution was given: 2

The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese!

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese

Notes:

  1. 1994 December 14, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.buddha.short.fat.guy, From: Ernst Berg at moamiex.com, Subject: Thinking Out Loud. (Google Groups Search; Accessed January 24, 2013) link
  2. 1995 February 2, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: rec.games.video.arcade, From: David Jakovac at freenet.vancouver.bc.ca, Subject: Fright of an arcader’s lifetime!, (Google Groups Search; Accessed January 24, 2013) link