An Expression of Civic Pride

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Tue Dec 8 02:36:42 UTC 2009

or otherwise. . . .

Something recently put into my head the expression "I'd rather be a lamp-post in [my town] than the mayor of [your town].

Somehow, I supposed that this was a hip expression to be attributed to some jazz musician.  But it turns out that it is a good deal older than I thought:

I recently heard one full-fledged mountaineer say emphatically that he "would rather be a lamp-post in San Francisco than be Governor of the Territory."
IDAHO. From Our Own Correspondent; ALGEBRA. Chicago Tribune,  June 8, 1872, p. 3
"I would rather be a lamp-post in New-York than a king on the road," said poor Edwin Adams, and the best paid star in a smoky Western town or in a deserted city in the South has often echoed the dead actor's words.
THE STROLLING PLAYERS.  New York Times, January 1, 1882, p. 8

Thus Proquest.
In both these passages the sense is actually "I'd rather be a lamp-post [where I used to live] than mayor [where I live now].
I think I have read a variant "I would rather be in jail in [one place] than mayor in [some other place].

Naturally, I wouldn't be surprised if the original form was "I'd rather be a lamp-post in Nineveh than king of Assur".  Scholars of Babylonian and Sumerian please look into this.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

The American Dialect Society -

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