The Hurrier I Go, the Behinder I Get

Lewis Carroll? Charles L. Dodgson? Alice in Wonderland? White Rabbit? March Hare? Emmaleta Hicks? Gene Meihsner? Ed Sussdorff? Milton Berle? Truck Driver Named Bill? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of statements about the difficulty of keeping up with a heavy workload. Here are four instances:

  • The harder I work, the behinder I get.
  • The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.
  • The hurrieder I work, the behinder I get.
  • The faster I run, the behinder I get.

This saying has often been credited to Lewis Carroll (pen name of Charles L. Dodgson) who wrote the famous fantasy works “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass”. Yet, I have searched Carroll’s books and have not found this expression; therefore, I doubt this attribution. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Lewis Carroll penned this saying; it does not appear in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” or “Through the Looking-Glass”. It has been difficult to trace. QI believes the expression evolved over time, and the originator remains uncertain. The saying was deemed Carrollian by some careless wordsmiths, and it was eventually incorrectly reassigned to the popular fantasist.

The earliest match located by QI containing the keyword “behinder” appeared in “The Detroit Free Press” of Michigan in January 1943. The saying was spoken by a truck driver with the common first name of “Bill”: 1

BEHINDER—Emmaleta Hicks clerical worker at the Michigan Central Terminal, reports this scrap of conversation between two truck drivers in the middle of the daily parcel blitz:

“Ya gettin’ caught up with your work, Bill?”
“Naw,” replied Bill, dejectedly, “the harder I work the behinder I get.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Hurrier I Go, the Behinder I Get

Notes:

  1. 1943 January 30, The Detroit Free Press, Behind the Front Page by FP Staff, Quote Page 15, Column 1, Detroit, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)

Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There

Elvis Presley? Dwight D. Eisenhower? The White Rabbit? Clint Eastwood? Martin Gabel? Adlai Stevenson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some humorous quotations are created by cleverly transforming prosaic expressions. Most people are familiar with the exhortation:

Don’t just stand there, do something.

However, occasionally inaction is preferable, and the following rearranged sentence has been employed:

Don’t just do something, stand there.

I have seen these words attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clint Eastwood, and Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit. Any idea who should be credited?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in the popular syndicated gossip column of Leonard Lyons in 1945. The phrase was used by an actor and producer named Martin Gabel: 1

At the first rehearsal of Irwin Shaw’s play, “The Assassin,” Producer Martin Gabel noticed a young actress gesticulating wildly instead of remaining motionless. Gabel shouted: “Don’t just do something; stand there.”

This quip has been used by many people over the years including politician Adlai Stevenson and Hollywood star Clint Eastwood.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There

Notes:

  1. 1945 August 31, Amarillo Daily News, The Lyon’s Den by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 10, Column 3, Amarillo, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)