Flowers: Don’t Cut Off Their Heads and Stick Them in Pots

George Bernard Shaw? Blanche Patch? Archibald Henderson? Bennett Cerf? Walter Winchell? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: A visitor to the home of a famous wit expected to find vases filled with beautiful cut flowers, but there were none. The wit explained the absence by making a comically grotesque comparison between cut flowers and decapitated people. Would you please help me to identify the humorist and find a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in 1899 within the London journal “The Garden” which published a short item crediting Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw with the joke. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1899 May 20, The Garden: Illustrated Weekly Journal of Horticulture in All Its Branches, Volume 55, Number 1435, The New Style, Quote Page 358, Column 1, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link

Mr. G. Bernard Shaw on flowers is—well, he is Mr. G. Bernard Shaw, just as he is on the drama and things generally. As thus: “A well-balanced mind has no favourites. People who have a favourite flower generally cut off its head and stick it into a button-hole or a vase. I wonder they do not do the same to their favourite children. It is a crime to pluck a flower. I dislike formal gardens. At any given moment two thirds of its blossoms are dead.

The journal did not specify the source of this tale. Shaw received credit for variations of this quip in later years.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Flowers: Don’t Cut Off Their Heads and Stick Them in Pots

References

References
1 1899 May 20, The Garden: Illustrated Weekly Journal of Horticulture in All Its Branches, Volume 55, Number 1435, The New Style, Quote Page 358, Column 1, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link

“Lady X Will Be At Home Thursday Between 4 and 6” “Mr. Bernard Shaw Likewise”

George Bernard Shaw? Walter Winchell? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: A person who was enamored with celebrities wanted George Bernard Shaw to attend a social gathering. Several attempts at interesting Shaw failed. So a formal invitation was sent. Shaw appended a short reply and sent the note back:

“Lord X will be at home on the 25th between four and six o’clock.”
“So will G. B. Shaw.”

Here is another version of the interaction:

“Lady X will be at home Tuesday between the hours of two and five in the afternoon.”
“George Bernard Shaw likewise.”

Is this episode genuine? Would you please explore this anecdote?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the syndicated gossip column of Walter Winchell in September 1939. Winchell stated that the tale had been circulating in British magazines. A wealthy woman who enjoyed gathering celebrities at her home had been unable to attract Shaw. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1939 September 12, The Morning Post, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 17, Column 3, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

Despite her failure, she persisted, and one day sent Shaw a card inviting him to tea. It read: “Lady X will be at home Thursday between 4 and 6” . . . Shaw sent it back with the comment: “Mr. Bernard Shaw likewise.”

QI has not yet located an earlier instance of this tale in a British periodical. Shaw was alive when this anecdote was published. He died in 1950 when he was 94 years old. This evidence is substantive, but the information was obtained neither from Shaw nor a direct participant; hence, its credibility is reduced.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Lady X Will Be At Home Thursday Between 4 and 6” “Mr. Bernard Shaw Likewise”

References

References
1 1939 September 12, The Morning Post, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 17, Column 3, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

During Christmas People Will Forget the Past With a Present

Gladys Parker? Don Marquis? Walter Winchell? Uncle Ezra? Phyllis Diller? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A collection of Christmas season quips employ wordplay based on “past” and “present”. Here are two examples:

What I like about Christmas is that you can make people forget the past with a present.

At Christmas time youngsters want the past forgotten and the present remembered.

Remarks of this type have been attributed to humorist Don Marquis, cartoonist Gladys Parker, and comedian Phyllis Diller. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This family of jokes is difficult to trace because the phrasing is variable. In January 1933 a one-panel cartoon called “Flapper Fanny Says” by Gladys Parker depicted a woman opening a present. The caption said the following. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1933 January 19, Public Opinion, (Caption of one panel cartoon: Flapper Fanny Says by Gladys Parker), Quote Page 12, Column 3, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Nothing smoothes out the past like a present.

This instance of the quip did not mention Christmas, but it contained the key wordplay elements.

In February 1933 the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle” of New York printed an instance about birthdays with an anonymous attribution:[2] 1933 February 24, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Reverting to Type by Art Arthur, Quote Page 12, Column 2, Brooklyn, New York. (Newspapers_com)

… the latest bit of wisdom scribbled on the bulletin board at Connie’s Inn reads, “On her birthday every girl wants her past forgotten and her presents remembered”

In July 1934 Gladys Parker revisited this notion in her one-panel cartoon “Flapper Fanny Says”. Parker’s illustration depicted a woman tending the flowers on a trellis, and the caption said:[3] 1934 July 3, The Canton Repository, (Caption of one panel cartoon: Flapper Fanny Says by Gladys Parker), Quote Page 3, Column 4, Canton, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

Many a person will forget the past for a present.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading During Christmas People Will Forget the Past With a Present

References

References
1 1933 January 19, Public Opinion, (Caption of one panel cartoon: Flapper Fanny Says by Gladys Parker), Quote Page 12, Column 3, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
2 1933 February 24, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Reverting to Type by Art Arthur, Quote Page 12, Column 2, Brooklyn, New York. (Newspapers_com)
3 1934 July 3, The Canton Repository, (Caption of one panel cartoon: Flapper Fanny Says by Gladys Parker), Quote Page 3, Column 4, Canton, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

It Isn’t Enough To Write So You Will Be Understood. You Have To Write So You Can’t Be Misunderstood

Quintilian? William Cobbett? John Cooke? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? W. E. Smith? Walter Winchell? Rollin D. Salisbury? William H. Taft?

Dear Quote Investigator: A maxim about the goal of communication expresses an ideal that is desirable but nearly impossible to achieve. Here are three versions:

(1) You must not only speak so that people can understand you, but so that they cannot misunderstand you.

(2) Teach not only so that the children can understand you, but so that they cannot misunderstand you.

(3) You must write not so that you can be understood but so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood.

Would you please explore the provenance of this family of sayings?

Quote Investigator: The Roman educator Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus) published a multi-volume work about rhetoric titled “Institutio Oratoria” (“Institutes of Oratory”) around the year 95 CE. Quintilian discussed strategies of persuasion. Here is a passage from book 8 chapter 2 translated into English by scholar Harold Edgeworth Butler. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1922, The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian With an English Translation by H. E. Butler (Harold Edgeworth Butler, Professor of Latin in London University), Volume 3 of 4, Book 8, Chapter 2, Quote … Continue reading

For we must never forget that the attention of the judge is not always so keen that he will dispel obscurities without assistance, and bring the light of his intelligence to bear on the dark places of our speech. On the contrary, he will have many other thoughts to distract him unless what we say is so clear that our words will thrust themselves into his mind even when he is not giving us his attention, just as the sunlight forces itself upon the eyes.

Therefore our aim must be not to put him in a position to understand our argument, but to force him to understand it. Consequently we shall frequently repeat anything which we think the judge has failed to take in as he should.

Below is the key phrase in its original Latin form:[2]1922, The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian With an English Translation by H. E. Butler (Harold Edgeworth Butler, Professor of Latin in London University), Volume 3 of 4, Book 8, Chapter 2, Quote … Continue reading

Quare non, ut intelligere possit, sed, ne omnino possit non intelligere, curandum.

QI believes that Quintilian’s statement was the seed which produced the efflorescence of sayings under examination. For example, in 1807 James Beattie who was a Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic at Marischal College in Scotland published “Elements of Moral Science”. Beattie cited Quintilian when he presented his own version of the saying:[3]1807, Elements of Moral Science by James Beattie (Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic in the Marischal College, and University of Aberdeen), Volume 2 of 2, Second Edition, Part 4, Chapter 1, … Continue reading

We should study, says Quintilian, not only to be understood in what we speak or write, but to make it impossible for the attentive to misunderstand us.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Isn’t Enough To Write So You Will Be Understood. You Have To Write So You Can’t Be Misunderstood

References

References
1 1922, The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian With an English Translation by H. E. Butler (Harold Edgeworth Butler, Professor of Latin in London University), Volume 3 of 4, Book 8, Chapter 2, Quote Page 210 and 211, William Heinemann, London. (Google Books Full View) link
2 1922, The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian With an English Translation by H. E. Butler (Harold Edgeworth Butler, Professor of Latin in London University), Volume 3 of 4, Book 8, Chapter 2, Quote Page 210 and 211, William Heinemann, London. (Google Books Full View) link
3 1807, Elements of Moral Science by James Beattie (Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic in the Marischal College, and University of Aberdeen), Volume 2 of 2, Second Edition, Part 4, Chapter 1, Section 2, Quote Page 283, Printed for William Creech; Edinburgh and T. Cadell and W. Davies, London. (Verified with scans)

Like a Little Bridegroom On a Wedding Cake

Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Marie Corelli? Jane Burr? Rose Guggenheim Winslow? Nancy Hale? Ruth Hanna McCormick? Walter Winchell? Ethel Barrymore? Grace Hodgson Flandrau?

Dear Quote Investigator: A U.S. politician running for president was once described as a “little man on a wedding cake” and a “bridegroom on the wedding cake”. This ridicule harmed his campaign, and he lost the race. The remark has been attributed Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, although on several occasions she denied authorship. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Alice Roosevelt Longworth did use this expression when describing presidential aspirant Thomas Dewey in July 1944, but she was not the first. The phrase “little bridegroom on every wedding cake” was intended as a compliment when it was applied to Dewey in June 1944. This vivid saying can be traced backwards at least a few more decades. It has been used with both positive and negative connotations.

In 1904 the novel “God’s Good Man: A Simple Love Story” by Marie Corelli employed a wedding-cake-topper simile positively to portray a new wife:[1] 1904, God’s Good Man: A Simple Love Story By Marie Corelli, Chapter 10, Quote Page 172, Methuen & Company, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link

“But ’ere was we all a-thinkin’ she’d be a ’igh an’ mighty fashion-plate, and she ain’t nothin’ of the sort, onny jest like a little sugar figure on a weddin’-cake wot looks sweet at ye and smiles pleasant…”

In 1908 a serialized work in a Washington D.C. newspaper titled “Letters From a New Congressman’s Wife” described a party during which a connubial couple waited stiffly for the arrival of a dignitary. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[2]1908 February 16, The Sunday Star (Evening Star), Section: Sunday Magazine, Letters From a New Congressman’s Wife (Continuation title: Congressman’s Wife), Start Page 9, Quote Page 18, … Continue reading

Of course, it was rather strained while the Secretary and his plump little wife stood up like the bride and groom figures on a wedding cake, waiting for the great guest of honor to arrive . . .

In 1921 Jane Burr published the novel “The Passionate Spectator”. According to the “Handbook of Pseudonyms and Personal Nicknames” Jane Burr was a pseudonym for Rose Guggenheim Winslow.[3] 1972, Handbook of Pseudonyms and Personal Nicknames, Compiled by Harold S. Sharp, Volume 1: A to J, Quote Page 524, The Scarecrow Press Inc., Metuchen, New Jersey. (Verified with scans) The book wielded the phrase to disparage a fictional character:[4] 1921, The Passionate Spectator by Jane Burr, Chapter 11, Quote Page 89, Thomas Seltzer, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Dr. Leighton was little and homely, with a voice like a ’cello. In his prim black clothes he reminded me of a candy groom on a wedding cake.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Like a Little Bridegroom On a Wedding Cake

References

References
1 1904, God’s Good Man: A Simple Love Story By Marie Corelli, Chapter 10, Quote Page 172, Methuen & Company, London, England. (Google Books Full View) link
2 1908 February 16, The Sunday Star (Evening Star), Section: Sunday Magazine, Letters From a New Congressman’s Wife (Continuation title: Congressman’s Wife), Start Page 9, Quote Page 18, Column 3, Washington, District of Columbia. (Newspapers_com)
3 1972, Handbook of Pseudonyms and Personal Nicknames, Compiled by Harold S. Sharp, Volume 1: A to J, Quote Page 524, The Scarecrow Press Inc., Metuchen, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)
4 1921, The Passionate Spectator by Jane Burr, Chapter 11, Quote Page 89, Thomas Seltzer, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Always Forgive Your Enemies; Nothing Annoys Them So Much

Oscar Wilde? Walter Winchell? Reader’s Digest? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A well-known moral injunction states that one should forgive one’s enemies. A humorous twist suggests that one should grant forgiveness because it produces annoyance in one’s adversaries. This notion has been attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in 1900, and QI has found no substantive evidence that he originated this quip. It is not listed in researcher Ralph Keyes’s important compilation “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde”.[1] 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, (Note: Search indicated that quotation was absent), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy) Also, the joke does not occur in the 2006 compendium “Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms”.[2]2006, Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms, Topically Arranged with Attributions, Compiled and edited by Tweed Conrad, (Note: Search indicated that quotation was absent), … Continue reading

The earliest match located by QI appeared in the June 1954 issue of the mass-circulation magazine “Reader’s Digest”. The magazine was available to readers during the last week of May 1954. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[3] June 1954, Reader’s Digest, Volume 64, Number 386, (Filler item), Quote Page 134, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with scans)

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
— Oscar Wilde

The magazine did not provide a supporting citation. Quotations printed in “Reader’s Digest” were often provided by readers who were compensated. The information was not carefully vetted for accuracy; hence, faulty data was sometimes submitted and propagated.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Always Forgive Your Enemies; Nothing Annoys Them So Much

References

References
1 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, (Note: Search indicated that quotation was absent), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
2 2006, Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms, Topically Arranged with Attributions, Compiled and edited by Tweed Conrad, (Note: Search indicated that quotation was absent), McFarland & Company Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina. (Verified with scans)
3 June 1954, Reader’s Digest, Volume 64, Number 386, (Filler item), Quote Page 134, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with scans)

A Notable Family Named Stein With Gertrude, Ep, and Ein

A. H. Reginald Buller? Resident of Brighton? E. V. Lucas? Carolyn Wells? Walter Winchell? Robert Conquest? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a comical limerick about a “family” named Stein. The three referents were prominent writer Gertrude Stein, influential sculpture Jacob Epstein, and famous scientist Albert Einstein. Wordplay was used to split “Stein” from “Gertrude”, “Ep”, and “Ein”. Would you please explore the provenance of this poem?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match for the limerick located by QI appeared in March 1931, and that citation is given further below.

An interesting precursor occurred in the London humor magazine “Punch” in September 1929. The poem was titled “Precious Steins”, and it employed the same splitting wordplay. These were the first three verses:[1] 1929 September 11, Punch, Or The London Charivari, Volume 177, Precious Steins, Quote Page 282, Column 3, Published at the Office of Punch, London. (Verified with scans)

What with Gertrude, Ep and Ein,
When I hear the name of Stein,
I go creepy down the spine.

Ein has caught the ether bending,
Gert has sentences unending,
Ep is really most art-rending.

Ein’s made straight lines parabolic,
Eppie’s “Night” is alcoholic,
Gertie’s grammar has the colic.

The final fifth verse suggested that life and art were out of step, and the poem’s creator was down-hearted. No attribution was specified for the poem. Thus, it was either written by a staff member of “Punch”, or it was sent to the magazine by a reader who was compensated.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Notable Family Named Stein With Gertrude, Ep, and Ein

References

References
1 1929 September 11, Punch, Or The London Charivari, Volume 177, Precious Steins, Quote Page 282, Column 3, Published at the Office of Punch, London. (Verified with scans)

Live That You Wouldn’t Be Ashamed To Sell the Family Parrot To the Town Gossip

Will Rogers? Ray Thompson? Walter Winchell? Milton Berle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A talkative pet parrot can cause enormous embarrassment when it publicly recites phrases spoken in private. A comedian offered the following guidance:

Live your life so you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell your family parrot to the town gossip.

Popular entertainer Will Rogers has often received credit for this remark, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1928 in a Meyersdale, Pennsylvania newspaper which acknowledged another periodical. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1928 July 12, Meyersdale Republic, (Filler item), Quote Page 6, Column 4, Meyersdale, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

So live that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.—Troy Times.

QI has not located the pertinent issue of “Troy Times”. Hence, the creator remains anonymous at this time. Will Rogers received credit for the joke by 1946; however, this long delay weakens the value of this attribution.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Live That You Wouldn’t Be Ashamed To Sell the Family Parrot To the Town Gossip

References

References
1 1928 July 12, Meyersdale Republic, (Filler item), Quote Page 6, Column 4, Meyersdale, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Hard Work Never Killed Anyone But Some of Us Don’t Like To Take Chances

Edgar Bergen? Charlie McCarthy? Florian ZaBach? Walter Winchell? Earl Wilson? George Gobel? Sam Levenson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During my younger years when I was slow to perform a boring task my parents sometimes scolded me by proclaiming a cliché about hard work. Eventually, I came across a funny riposte:

It might be true that hard work never killed anyone, but why take a chance?

This joke has been credited to Edgar Bergen and his ventriloquist dummy character Charlie McCarthy. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared as an anonymous filler item in a Plainfield, New Jersey newspaper in September 1936. The lengthy phrasing blunted the humor. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1936 September 12, Plainfield Courier-News, (Filler item), Quote Page 6, Column 1, Plainfield, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

They say hard work never killed anyone but some of us are just naturally apprehensive and timid and don’t like to take chances.

A 1979 book by television host Joe Franklin contained a brief transcript from a performance by Edgar Bergen during which his character Charlie McCarthy employed this type of punchline, but no date was specified. The duo performed for decades starting in the 1920s.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Hard Work Never Killed Anyone But Some of Us Don’t Like To Take Chances

References

References
1 1936 September 12, Plainfield Courier-News, (Filler item), Quote Page 6, Column 1, Plainfield, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

Say Anything You Like About Me, But Spell My Name Right

George M. Cohan? P. T. Barnum? Mae West? Elinor Glyn? Babe Ruth? Damon Runyon? James J. Johnston? Charley Murphy? Max Schmeling? Walter Winchell? Oscar Wilde? Samuel Johnson? Ed Sullivan?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person once planned to write an article or book containing derogatory material about a celebrity. The unruffled response of the celebrity to this prospect was surprising. Here are three versions:

  1. I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right.
  2. I don’t care how much you pan me, but please spell the name correctly.
  3. Boost me or knock me; it doesn’t mean a thing. Just make sure you spell my name right.

This notion has been credited to Broadway musical icon George M. Cohan, showman P. T. Barnum, actress Mae West, baseball slugger Babe Ruth, and others. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in several U.S. newspapers in 1888. The line was delivered by P. T. Barnum who was a founder of Barnum & Bailey Circus. He also operated a museum filled with curiosities and hoaxes. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1888 August 8, The Evening News, The Table Gossip, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

P. T. Barnum was once interviewed by a woman who told him that she was writing a book, and that it would contain something disagreeable about him. “No matter, madam,” was his reply, “say anything you like about me, but spell my name right — P. T. B-a-r-n-u-m, P. T. Barnum — and I’ll be pleased anyway.” The blackmailer retired in confusion.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Say Anything You Like About Me, But Spell My Name Right

References

References
1 1888 August 8, The Evening News, The Table Gossip, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)