Eight weeks ago, I invited readers to submit quotations for which they wanted me to try to trace the origins, using The Yale Book of Quotations and more recent research by me. Scores of people have responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, a couple per week.
And another pseudo-Twain quote: “Everybody always talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.”
The Yale Book of Quotations cites the Hartford Courant, August 24, 1897:
A well-known American writer said once that while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it.
The YBQ then notes:
The “well-known American writer” is usually taken to be Twain, but the writer could also have been Charles Dudley Warner, who was the editor of the Hartford Courant in 1897.
Alexandra Spyker asks:
How about “going to hell in a hand basket”? I have noticed that in Catholic services a basket attached to a long pole is passed via a volunteer reaching across worshipers. Protestants pass a basket from hand to hand — a hand basket. I think I read that the quote may or may not have been from a sermon in the 1800’s. Any ideas of its origin?
Jesse Sheidlower, the North American editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, has written on his former “Jesse’s Word of the Day” web site:
Well, you have to get there somehow, don’t you? And a handbasket has the advantage of alliteration, which is always important when it comes to this sort of phrase. … Simple but pungent expressions [like “go to hell”] often develop elaborate variants.
For example, the imprecation “kiss my a–!” can be expanded (from one direction) into “kiss my royal Irish a–!” or (from another) into “kiss my a– in Macy’s window!” Similarly, the expression “go to hell” developed a number of variants describing the conveyance for reaching Pluto‘s realm, and these conveyances don’t necessarily make sense.
Carl Sandburg, writing about the 1890’s, comments that: “The first time I heard about a man ‘going to hell in a hanging basket,’ I did a lot of wondering what a hanging basket is like.”
Whatever a “hanging basket” is, it gives us the alliteration, like such other common examples as “going to hell in a hack” [i.e. a taxicab], “handcart,” and our “handbasket.” Non-alliterating versions include “in a wheelbarrow,” “on a poker,” “in a bucket” ( “But at least I’m enjoying the ride,” as the Grateful Dead say), and “in a basket.”
Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?