'I'm from the government and I'm here to help (you)'

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Tue Mar 8 16:40:26 UTC 2005

On Mon, 7 Mar 2005 21:12:21 -0800, Geoffrey Nunberg
<nunberg at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU> wrote:

>This line is widely associated with Ronald Reagan. A 8/13/86 NYT
>report of a Reagan news conference reports him saying:  "I think you
>all know that I've always felt the nine most terrifying words in the
>English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"
>The earliest cite I've found for the line is from an April, 1978 NYT
>article in which someone says, "you know the three great lies,,, ;the
>check is in the mail; I'm going to love you as much in the morning as
>I do tonight, and I'm from the Government and here to help you." A
>June, 1978 book review from the WSJ quotes a recent book by George
>Will as listing these statements as "the three least credible
>sentences in the English language."
>But on the Web, some people report that the "I'm from the government"
>line goes back to the 60's. Can anybody locate (or does anybody know
>of) an earlier source for this?

I can push it back to 1976 on Newspaperarchive, but the earliest cite is
still attributed to George Will.  And considering how close Will was to
Reagan, I'd guess that's where Reagan got the line too...

(Frederick, Md.) News, July 19, 1976, p. 4
"Why Do Fewer Voters Care" by William Burleigh
The American condition, columnist George Will told a group not long ago,
can be summed up in three sentences we're hearing these days:
"Your check is in the mail."
"I will respect you as much in the morning."
"I am from the government and I am here to help you."
Lincoln (Neb.) Star, Feb. 16, 1977, p. 18
"It's Your Money" by Jane Bryant Quinn
The old gag says there are three statements you should never believe:
"The check is in the mail," "I'll love you just as much in the morning,"
and "I'm from the federal government and I'm here to help you."

--Ben Zimmer

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