It's a case for Fred Shapiro!

Wed Jan 24 17:49:55 UTC 2001

        In a new book I find the following allusion to a very familiar
expression, referring to the fact that Anne Perry, the mystery
writer, had been identified as having been involved in a murder when
a teen-ager in Australia: "Perry was terrified that the revelation of
her past . . . would destroy her career, but as it turned out, the
ensuing wave of interest actually increased her sales, confirming the
old wisdom that there is no such thing as bad publicity."  Martha
Hailey DuBose, Women of Mystery. . . , NY, 2000/2001, p. 426.

        This is one of those popular expressions which are very hard to
document because they are very variable in their formulation.  It
exists in both a negative form, as above, and a positive one: all
publicity is good publicity.

        I find in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 5th ed., 1999 and the
Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying and Quotation, 1997, the same
citation, attributed to Brendan Behan: all publicity is good
publicity, except your own obituary.  I think that this is obviously
Behan's elaboration of a previously familiar expression.  The ODQ
further dates the idea to the early 20th century.  The 1986 edition
of Partridge's Dictionary of Catchphrases gives it with the
concluding qualification "so long as they spell your name right" and
dates it to the mid 1930s.  This is the form familiar to me.
Hamilton's Dictionary of Canadian Quotations cites a minor-league
Canadian politician as expressing the idea without using either
canonical formulation.  He says, in effect, that since people only
read the headlines in the newspaper, the trick is to get your name
mentioned, and whether the reference in favorable or otherwise in
immaterial.  I well remember that a prizefight promoter from Boston,
who staged well club fights in Portland, Maine in the late 1960s
expressed the thought in another formulation: every knock is a boost.
 (I was living in Portland at the time, attended most of the fight
shows, and read this in the Portland Press-Herald.)

        How early can this be dated?


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