Quotes Uncovered: Beer or Wine as Proof?

Photo: iStockphoto

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 researches.

Todd asked:

Many have heard the quote “Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy” attributed to Benjamin Franklin; a few less know that our friend Ben didn’t really say that, and that the quote is paraphrasing and taking poetic liberty regarding wine.  But just when and where did the misquoting of the original Benjamin Franklin quote occur?

You are spot-on about this originally being a wine quote.  In an undated letter to the Abbe Morellet, Franklin wrote (this is a translation of the original French):  “We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana, as of a miracle.  But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes.  Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!”

Finding the earliest misquoting of Franklin is of course very difficult.  When I search LexisNexis, the earliest I find for the “beer” version is Beverage World, Feb. 1, 1996.  It makes sense that the transition from extolling wine to extolling beer would happen in the era of Homer Simpson.  Can one of the ace researchers who regularly comments on my postings here push it back further than 1996?

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

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



View All Comments »
  1. Smashley says:

    I heard recently that the quote, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes,” usually attributed to Mark Twain, is not actually by him. Which is delightfully ironic, if true.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  2. Chad says:

    I thought this was going to be about why alcoholic beverages are listed as “XX Proof”. And also, why is it that proof is just % x 2?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  3. Robert says:

    “chief cook and bottle washer”?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  4. G says:

    I as well thought this would be a reference to alcoholic proof. Why is alcohol referred to in proof and not a simple percentage?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • MS says:

      This is what I’ve always heard: At 50% alcohol content (100 proof), the liquid is flammable. So if a distiller delivers a batch that can be burned, it’s “proof” that it hasn’t been diluted. (I guess they figured 50% was acceptable)

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. nobody.really says:

    You can wake up a sleeping man with the slightest sound but no amount of noise, no matter how loud, can wake someone pretending to sleep. (Jonathan Safran Foer, “Eating Animals”)

    Any earlier source for this quote, or something similar?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. Ninkasi says:

    Your little stab at the beer-drinking Homer Simpsons of the late 20th century only serves to reveal your own bias. There are plenty of quotes about how great beer is dating back many thousands of years.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 5
  7. Eric M. Jones says:

    It was at least attributed to Ben Franklin quite early, although for wine, not beer. The “beer part” is almost certainly Homer Simpson.

    Ben Franklin: “…Behold the water which falls from the skies upon our vineyards; there it enters into the roots of the vines to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and that he loves to see us happy.”

    There are several early sources for this.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
  8. Josh says:

    I’m curious when a the pot first called the kettle black. My pots are steel and my kettle is painted white. I assume all pots were black at one point, but I’m uncertain when. Nowadays with pots and kettles coming in a variety of colors the quote makes no sense, but people still use it.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
    • Alice says:

      I always heard it was first in print from Cervantes, Don Quixote, Chapter 67.

      “It seems to me,” said Sancho, “that your worship is like the common
      saying, ‘Said the frying-pan to the kettle, Get away, blackbreech.’
      You chide me for uttering proverbs, and you string them in couples

      But obviously, it was a pretty common saying before then.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
    • James says:

      If you think the saying makes no sense today, it’s pretty obvious that you’ve never cooked on a wood stove, or over an open fire.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0