Dogs and Cigars

Photo: Mary

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.

Sarah C. asked:

“When and where did the term ‘doggie bag’ (as in bringing home leftovers from a restaurant) originate?”

It is fascinating that you ask this, since I have long used “doggie bag” as my example of how historical dictionaries like the Oxford English Dictionary can shed light on the history of things as well as the history of words. The OED cites the following as its first two illustrations of “doggie bag” and related terminology:

“It’s a pleasure to hand this beautiful Doggie Pak to your patrons To Take Home Bones For Their dog… Printed in three colors… It’s class.”
American Restaurant, Sept. 1952

“More and more restaurant meals are going to the dogs, if stepped-up demand for the ‘Doggy Bag’ is any indication.”
Huronite & Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota), July 7, 1957

Jason Kernan asked:

“I’ve always wondered where “close but no cigar” came from.”

“Close, but no cigar” is widely used to signal a near miss. The earliest instance of its use anyone has found is in the 1935 film Annie Oakley, which has the line “Close, Colonel, but no cigar!”

Why a cigar? The reference appears to be to a carnival game of strength (the “Highball” or “Hi-Striker”) in which the contestant hits a lever with a sledgehammer to try to drive a weight high enough up a column to ring a bell at the top. The standard reward for ringing the bell is a cigar.

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


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  1. Garson O'Toole says:

    Here is a candidate for antedating the 1935 citation for “close but no cigar.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper has an article about a bowling match in which the phrase appeared in 1930:

    Cite: 1930 March 6, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jake and Lena Stride to Line in A.B.C. Today [A.B.C American Bowling Congress], Page 24, Column 6, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

    Yesterday’s chromium-plated soup spoon for consistency was captured by Peters on Alley 3 when he toppled the maples for 120, 100 and 100. Scott was right behind him with 113, 115 and 117. Close-but no cigar.

    The phrase “right behind him” reinforces the evidence that “close-but no cigar” is being used with a sense comparable to its modern meaning. Yet, the scores are odd. Perhaps the commentator was saying that Peters was more consistent than Scott because Peters bowled exactly 100 twice in a row.

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  2. Groatman says:

    What is the saying that says something like “balance your accounts and if you’re groat over, happiness, and if you’re a groat under, misery” and who said it and when and where?

    I believe Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac had a later similar version of this aphorism, but, if I remember correctly, he substituted a “penny” and didn’t use the word “groat”. What was it he said exactly?

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  3. Aaron smith says:

    Where does the expression “sand bagging it” come from?

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    • Morris says:

      refers to a practice of a horse racer weigh down his horse with bags of sand, so as to make it appear less fast, and induce others to race against him for money.

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  4. Fred Shapiro says:

    I realize that it was not accurate for me to say that no one has found “close but no cigar” earlier than 1935. A book of which I am a coauthor, the forthcoming Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, found a 1934 citation. Great work by Garson finding it in 1930. I am sure the expression was around in the 1920s or even earlier.

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    • Garson O'Toole says:

      Thanks Fred. I’ve seen a few of the entries from the forthcoming Dictionary of Modern Proverbs and they were fantastic. DMP is going to be a magnificent advance in the field, and I greatly look forward to obtaining it when it is released. Congratulations to you, Charles Doyle, and Wolfgang Mieder.

      I also hope that it will be available in a searchable e-book format or as a widely licensed database available through libraries. And YBQ too. Admittedly, this issue may be beyond your control.

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    • How about 1880? says:

      The March 10, 1880 issue of Puck (Vol. 7, No. 157, page 21) under the heading “Definitive Snaps” has the following witticism: “Gambetta’s Motto—Vox et praeterea no cigar.”

      This is a play on the Latin expression “vox et praeterea nihil” which literally means “a voice and then follows nothing [else].” The phrase was used to imply that words were spoken, or a speech given, but they were to no effect and just empty verbiage. The Gambetta referred to was the rather eloquent Léon Gambetta, who at the time was in a controlling position in the French government as President of the French Chamber of Deputies.

      As written in Puck, the expression would appear to be a crack at Gambetta, implying that though he was having a good try at giving speeches, he wasn’t getting anywhere in moving along governmental affairs. This would appear to be a precursor to “close, but no cigar.”

      [Some sniveler out there will say that you must also take into consideration the fact cited by the reviewer of Gabriel Hanotaux’s Histoire de la France contemporaine, in the Athenaeum of December 5, 1908 (No. 4232, page 719), who points out that during 1880, Gambetta “continued to complain of a cough,” and therefore might have been refraining from smoking, especially after a long oration. But, come now, really?]

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      • What's Economics Got To Do With It? says:

        Someone may ask what “close, but no cigar” has to do with economics. Lest they think that this dogged search for obscure quotations is irrelevant to economic discussion, we should pause and provide the socio-economic history behind this phrase. Why does it appear in common usage in the early to mid-1930’s? To understand that you have to go back to the end of the First World War, and Vice President Thomas Marshall’s challenge for the tobacco industry to come up with a good five-cent cigar. During the twenties, firms started mechanizing the production of cigars, but it wasn’t until the coming of the Great Depression that small time handmade cigar manufacturers really got pushed out. Yet, even despite big firms campaigns against “spit” cigars, many consumers felt the newer machine made cigars were not really of the same quality as those made by hand—the really fine cigars. Even today, handmade Havana cigars retain a high prestige. Little wonder that when handed one of the newer machine made products, one would say, “Hmmm—close, but no cigar!”

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  5. Zoha says:

    I heard this dialogue in Indepedence Day
    “It’s not over until the fat lady sings” i think is’s origns relate to maybe Opera singing, but if it is isn’t this stereotyping?

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  6. Jen Song says:

    “…till the last dog is shot/hung.” What’s up with these poor canines dying?

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  7. Bob Dahl says:

    Hi Fred,

    I recently saw this quote attributed to Benito Mussolini. “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

    When I did a search for it on the Internet one link that came up is for Political Research Associates and they are unable to verify the quote.

    Can you “shed any light” on this?



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  8. Andreas Moser says:

    Another cigar quote from Thomas Mann (“The Magic Mountain”): “I never can understand how anyone can not smoke—it deprives a man of the best part of life … with a good cigar in his mouth a man is perfectly safe, nothing can touch him—literally.”
    I love cigars:

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