Strokin' (Was: Re: WOTY)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Mar 7 20:21:02 UTC 2008

On Fri, Mar 7, 2008 at 1:28 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
> IIRC, someone here dated the saying to Mohammed Ali in 1965. He could
> be asked what he meant by "strokes," I reckon.

Barry Popik found it used by Ali (then Cassius Clay) in a 1966 UPI report:

Great Bend Daily Tribune   Friday, November 11, 1966 Great Bend, Kansas
Pg. 6, col. 8:
   HOUSTON (UPI)-- (...)
   But back to a la Bob Hope.  Clay, the comedian, said:
   --"I don't have any punch.  I just hit a man so many times he wished I had
a punch."
   --On knockout punches in the Liston, Floyd Patterson and Karl Mildenberger
fights:  "I bot (got?--ed.) different strokes for different folks."

Interestingly, the AP account gives a rather different context:

_Oakland Tribune_, Nov. 11, 1966, p. 55, col. 7
Clay didn't look good in final sparring sessions.
He pursued his lip battle with [Cleveland] Williams' manager, Hugh
Benbow, and the Houston oilman-rancher was included in the champion's
latest verse:
"You'll never know what I'm going to do,
"It could be over in two.
"Until Hugh Benbow came alive,
"I was thinking about five."
The champion had another one:
"I believe in hitting,
"And running away,
"And living to fight
"Another day."
Clay was almost knocked down by sparmate Jimmy Ellis Thursday. He
scolded a heckler "for breaking my concentration."
As an afterthought, he added another couplet:
"You know, different strokes for different folks."

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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