Quotes Uncovered: Who Said "No Cigar"?

A while back, 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 researches by me. Hundreds of people have responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, a few per week.

Quotes Uncovered

75 ThumbnailHere are more quote authors and origins Shapiro’s tracked down recently.

Marc Anthony asked:

“You can’t make your cake and eat it too,” refers to having everything work your way. Please research. This is a ridiculously clichéd quote. I made the cake. I will eat the cake.

In last week’s posting I completely screwed this one up, responding about an entirely different “cake” quotation (“Let them eat cake”). The Yale Book of Quotations, which attempts to trace all famous quotations to their accurate origins, has the following for the other “cake” quote:

“A man cannot eat his cake and haue it stil.” John Davies, Scourge of Folly (1611). The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs quotes an earlier version: “Wolde ye bothe eate your cake, and haue your cake?” (John Heywood, Dialogue of Proverbs [1546]).

tschlossberg asked:

Can you find the origin of the phrase “Close, but no cigar”? Not only do I not know where it comes from, but I have never really been able to figure out what it means.

I actually wrote about this in Cigar Aficionado Magazine:

“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.

K said:

The Google project to digitize all books may produce a revolution in tracing quotes.

Yes, Google Books, along with other databases such as ProQuest Historical Newspapers and Newspaperarchive, has already produced such a revolution — it’s called The Yale Book of Quotations! The YBQ uses a wide range of online historical text collections to push quotation origins much further back than other reference works, such as Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, do. For example, the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs traces “Justice delayed is justice denied” back to 1999, but The Yale Book of Quotations demonstrates by using historical databases that it was introduced by William E. Gladstone in a Parliamentary speech in 1868.

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


My mom always uses the "you can't have your cake" line. My friends once guessed it meant you cant enjoy your cake, which you just made, aesthetically, and eat it too. Makes sense, no?


I don't have the exact quotation, but it goes kinda like this: "the intelligence of a group is limited by the intelligence of the its dumbest member".

H Rubinstein

I have used all the internet resources I know to try to trace the origin of "it's a jungle out there" without success. Any help would be appreciated.


'I swear by Zeus that an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wreslter'

Commonly attributed to Socrates, though this seems unlikely for a whole slew of reasons, not the least of which is that I have yet to see an actual source text for it!


The cake one seems very logical...cakes are part decoration, part food. Once it's done, you 'have' your cake. If you start eating it, you no longer 'have' it. You can't have it both ways. I've always wondered where the term, 'getting off the schneid' came from (example - used in sports reporting to denote someone recovering from a winless streak)


When and why did peole start "taking things with a grain of salt?" Why just a grain???


My high school English teacher repeatedly said the following, which she claimed to be a quote by Jonathan Edwards, the revivalist preacher, but I cannot trace it anywhere:

"Man has the power to do anything that he wills. He has no power to will it."


As Matt said, once you've eaten the cake, you don't have it any more. Perhaps an economics example might be more apt: you can't have a pile of money and all the toys you can buy with that pile of money, too.

If possible, please give me the origin of the quotation, "I will not live in fear."


What about "the whole nine yards?" The article on wikipedia regarding it was inconclusive.


4: I think Plato was a wrestler. Maybe he came up with that quote.


Wait, I'm confused. The quote in the readers question is "You can't make your cake and eat it too." Did I misread something? That doesn't make sense. It misses the whole point of the cliche. It's the having that's important, not the making; in fact you CAN make your cake and eat it too!

Am I missing something?

Gord Wait

How about "Quit Smoking Cold Turkey" ?

A very strange one..


The big confusion with the cake one was that it's not "make" but "have", and indeed once you've eaten the cake it's gone, so you can't have it anymore.

I'd like to know where the terms "off/on the wagon" came from. This to me is just bizarre, and I'm never even sure which one is the good one, off or on? Saying the wagon is alcoholism and I want to be off it makes as much sense as saying falling off means slipping up and having a drink.


My Canadian girlfriend is mystified by my use of the phrase, "Them's the breaks." At first she thought I was just strange until noticing that it often appears in US television shows and movies as well. Having no idea that a Canadian would find such a common expression so odd, I've now started to wonder where it came from and why so many people say this grammatically troubled expression.

Another one that gets her is when in need of a favor, I ask her to, "Do me a solid."


In honor of the protests over the election in Iran, I was wondering about the expression, "Its not the vote that counts, its who counts the votes."

I've often heard it attributed to Stalin, but I'm not sure if I believe that.


The cake thing makes so much sense now! It's commonly recited as, "You can't have your cake and eat it, too," which sounds like, you can't possess a piece of cake and then eat it, which, of course, makes zero sense. Once you possess it, you're in the perfect position to eat it.

Reversing the quote back to the original, "You can't eat your cake and have it still," meaning you can't eat up your slice of cake and then, afterwards, still have a slice of cake sitting around, makes perfect sense!


Walt French

"'Close' only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades" has a charming appeal but not being a horseshoes fan, have no idea as to its veracity, even.


I thought it meant you can't "have" your cake and "eat" it too, as in the fact that you've rationalistically (as in rationalize, not rational) made two seperate verbs doesn't change the physical fact that you only have one cake to eat. i.e. it means "you can't have it both ways."


You can't eat your cake and have it still means pretty much the same thing though, but better.


“‘Close' only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades” has a charming appeal but not being a horseshoes fan, have no idea as to its veracity, even.— Walt French

I had a prototypical, crew cut wearing, crusty shop teacher who added his own bent to that quote:

“‘Close' only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and small thermonuclear bombs.”

I think he was a child of the "duck and cover" nuclear 1950s.