Quotes Uncovered: As a Nicaraguan Might Say

I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent research.

James Curran asked:

Considering the unrest in the Middle East, I’m reminded of this widely attributed saying. Can you track down by whom and about whom the following statement was first made? “He’s a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s OUR son-of-a-bitch.”

This is usually attributed to Franklin Roosevelt. The earliest version I know of is the following:

To prime President Roosevelt for the visit, Sumner Welles sent him a long solemn memorandum about Somoza and Nicaragua. According to a story told around Washington, Roosevelt read the memo right through, wisecracked: “As a Nicaraguan might say, he’s a sonofabitch but he’s ours.”
Time, Nov. 15, 1948

Maybe one of the talented researchers who are among our regular commenters can find earlier evidence.

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?


Yeah, who was the first to say: "It is what it is?"


The expression "pardon my french"? George Costanza claimed he invented it


Snopes has already done a lot of the spade work.


They seem to have pushed the FDDR related references back to the early 30's, and the basic meme to the 1870s

Roger Massengale

During reporting on the recent turmoil in the Middle East, almost every newscaster I heard started their reporting by describing the current regime's reaction (whoever they happened to be) to the crowds as some stage of a "crackdown" without further explanation. Who started the original "crackdown" and where did it happen?

Good luck!



This is what i found: though i also saw somoza

Michael Wood: Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, long-term dictator of the Dominican Republic....The Americans supported him because, as Cordell Hull said, in a phrase since used countless times of other unappealing figures, 'he was a son of a bitch, but he was our son of a bitch.'

Bottom line: we don't know who said it, who it was said of, or where it came from. Or whether anyone ever said it at all. Apparently the best we can do is this guy, who tracked it back to a 1966 biography of Trujillo written by Robert Crassweller. However, when he contacted the author, Crassweller told him that although the quote had "acquired a great deal of generality," he didn't have any way of tracking it down.

Yet another famous quote that seems to have appeared out of nowhere. How many more are there?


Cañada Kid

"... head over heels." It makes no sense, because our head is always over our heels and feet.


Ever taken a tumble, like from a bike or on skis? Then I can assure you that the positions of head and heels are interchangeable, often several times. :-)

Garson O'Toole

Thanks to Tylerh for the links. The information from Bonnie Taylor-Blake about the quotation under discussion is fantastic. She has done wonderful work tracing urban legends, phrases, and terms like "Black Friday".


IT is entirely possible that American Dream is the greatest marketing fraud in global history

Eric M. Jones


Where did the homey phrase "back in the day" come from? I first started hearing it on Pawn Stars, now it seems to pop up everywhere.

ps: I bought the 1958 Cholesterol Cure to search for the origin of "couch potato" but they sent me the 1996 edition. I have taken another stab at it and the 1958 edition is on the way.

pps: Why aren't you listed as a contributor on Freakonomics?

William C. Waterhouse

What follows is from p. 27 of the 1934 book _The New Dealers_, by
"Unofficial Observer" [pseud., John Franklin Carter]:

After the Chicago Convention, General Hugh Johnson, who had worked hard with Barney Baruch to stop
Roosevelt, was asked what he thought of his nomination. Johnson replied by recalling a story of a county
convention of Democrats in which the wrong man had been chosen. Driving home from the meeting,
two politicians were comparing notes. Both had opposed the successful candidate. One said to the other,
"Damn it all! we should never have let them put Blank over. He's a son-of-a-bitch." The other man sighed and
said nothing for a long time. Then he cheered up. "After all," he observed, "Blank isn't so bad. He's _our_ son-of-a bitch!" A year later, Johnson was one of Roosevelt's principal administrators...