Quotes Uncovered: Making Omelettes

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.

Alan Thiesen asked:

Hundreds of web sites claim that either Lenin or Stalin said “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” I can’t find any evidence that either dictator ever said this. It appears that pro-Stalin journalist Walter Duranty originated this saying. See here and here.

Is my conclusion correct, or did Lenin or Stalin actually say this?

Neither Lenin nor Stalin nor Duranty originated this saying. The Yale Book of Quotations documents “You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs” from Robert Louis Stevenson in 1897. Still earlier, T. P. Thompson wrote in 1859: “We are walking upon eggs and … the omelet will not be made without the breaking of some.”

St. Kitt asked:

“I love taxes. With them I buy civilization.” ~ Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes?

The YBQ has the following:

“Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas v. Collector of Internal Revenue (dissenting opinion) (1927)

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

M-A Lajoie

The French version of "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" or "On ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des oeufs" can be found earlier than that in "Adieu (Farewell)" by Honoré de Balzac, published in 1830 : http://books.google.com/books?id=ZbkGAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA181

N Gautam

I thought it was Prince Otto Von Bismarck who originated this saying. But then that is just the impression I had....

Eric M. Jones

Italy as it is; or, Narrative of an English family's residence for ... - Page 196

Henry Digby Beste - 1828 -
*Paur faire Vomelette, il Jaut casser les ceufs ;

*To make an omlette, it is necessary to break some eggs.

God, you gotta love Google Books.

Eric M. Jones

Travels from Hamburg, through Westphalia, Holland, and the ...: Volume 2 - Page 92

Thomas Holcroft - 1804 -

When a lady complained of the murders committed, a Gascon answered-" 'Sdeath, madam, how can you make an omelet and not break the eggs ?"

Eric M. Jones

Willis the pilot, a sequel to The Swiss family Robinson: or, ... - Page 137

Adrien Paul, Johann David Wyss - 1804 -
Once, when a great commander was asked the same question, he replied, that you cannot make omelets without breaking eggs." " Yes," remarked Becker, " but if you had read the anecdote entire, you would have seen that he was asked in ...


Where does the idea of a "gravy train" come from?

Alan J. Barnes

Can you trace the origins of "It's not over until the Fat Lady sings."?

Eric M. Jones

The Bricklayer, mason and plasterer: Volumes 13-14 - Page 181 Bricklayers, Masons, and Plasterers International Union of America - 1910
I have often heard the expression, ' ' What a gravy train those IU officials ride on!"

The Colorado School of Mines magazine: Volume 3

Colorado School of Mines. Alumni Association - 1913 - Snippet view
Whenever the gravy train started, the men would have to get under it to stop it. Under the circumstance it was impossible for them to get the man with the ball. No excuses are offered. We were outweighed and outplayed.

Earlier than this some work is required.

Alan Thiesen

Thank you! And thanks to M-A LaJoie and Eric M. Jones. Now I know how easy it is to search Google books..

I'm still wondering if either Lenin or Stalin repeated the saying. I have found no actual evidence, only unsubstantiated claims.

Eric M. Jones

Correction: Willis the Pilot was published in 1864, not 1804. I think Google misread the date in the optical scan.

Google Books is tremendous, but backing it up with the original text or its scanned image is necessary.


Gravy Train refers to B&O Railroad Dining Cars that served diner on fine china (with gravy serving dishes) . In other words, first class all the way.

Eric M. Jones

@11- buck

And your evidence is?


Something like: "Yesterday's heresy is today's orthodoxy". No idea where it comes from, thanks!

Garson O'Toole

Sam: There is a valuable discussion of the phrase "gravy train" at Michael Quinion's website World Wide Words. He presents a citation in November 1895. However, the etymology is not fully understood:



What about " Ain't no thang but a chicken wang" (or "Ain't no thing but a chicken wing")? I wonder who was the first person to say that...


"You can't get there from here."


"There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven't yet met."

I've seen it attributed to Yates--but I can't find where.


I think "omelet" is too bourgeois for Lenin or Stalin to have used in a quotable reference.


I always wondered the origin of the phrase "To the T" or is it "To the tee"?

And while we're at it, how about "dressed to the nines"?


Alan Thiesen

I'm back. At http://prospect.org/article/eggs-sausages-bernie-sanders-and-jewish-question I read:

"Although the old saw about omelets is sometimes attributed to Lenin, in reality it was first uttered in French—on ne saurait faire une omelette sans casser des oeufs—by François de Charette, who was not a revolutionary at all but a counterrevolutionary justifying the devastation he left in his wake."