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Our Daily Bleg: Did Clint Eastwood Really Say “Read My Lips”?

Last week we asked you for bleg requests — i.e., questions that the Freakonomics readership could collectively answer well.

You responded with vigor, and we’ll turn “Our Daily Bleg” into a regular (if not exactly daily) feature. So look for your blegs to appear here in the future. (You can also send more suggestions to:

To inaugurate Our Daily Bleg, we’ve invited Fred R. Shapiro, editor of the wonderful Yale Book of Quotations, to bleg today and every Thursday. (Here’s an earlier blog post about Fred’s book.)

Fred’s mission is a kind of detective work — tracking down the true source of famous quotations — that I think will prove mutually beneficial for our readership and for Fred. (And maybe you all will get a nice hat tip in future editions of his book!) So keep reading for Fred’s explanation of his work or, if you want to skip ahead to today’s bleg, go to the last paragraph.

Our Daily Bleg
by Fred R. Shapiro

“Quotations research” is probably a new concept to most readers, but I have become one of the few people in the world who conducts extensive research about famous quotations. Even standard quotation books like Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations are based on surprisingly minimal research, but I set out eight years ago to create a new quotation book that would use state-of-the-art research methods — as well as extensive networking — to track down the accurate origins of well-known quotes.

The result of my work was The Yale Book of Quotations, published recently by Yale University Press. In compiling the YBQ, I attempted to collect all of the most famous quotations, and also employed extremely powerful electronic tools to push quotation origins as far back as I could. In addition, I used Internet discussion lists like Stumpers (now Project Wombat) and the American Dialect Society’s Listserv to broadcast appeals for information.

I hope to continue this kind of networking by posting quotation questions on a forthcoming Yale Alumni Magazine blog and here on the Freakonomics blog. So here’s my first request, for which I would welcome any and all comments:

Some sources say that the phrase “read my lips” appeared in the 1973 Clint Eastwood movie Magnum Force, but Internet Movie Database does not list it among the quotes from that film. Can anyone confirm or dis-confirm its usage in Magnum Force? Furthermore: the absolute earliest known usage of the phrase “read my lips” is as the title of a 1957 song by Joe Greene; I would also be interested in finding out about any evidence of pre-1957 usage.