"Only dead fish go with the flow"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sat Jul 4 03:21:55 UTC 2009

On Fri, Jul 3, 2009 at 11:31 PM, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
> Sarah Palin's line "Only dead fish go with the flow" should be in the
> running for Quote of the Year (along with half a dozen Sanfordisms),
> though as a "modern proverb" it's not original to her. Google Books
> suggests it appears in _My Own Alphabet_ by Bobbie Louise Hawkins
> (1989). Any earlier attestations/variations?

Answering my own question:  "dead fish go with the stream" precedes "with the
flow". Proquest and Google Books have several sermonic examples from the 19th
century, going back to 1830:

"Dead fish go _with_ the stream, _live_ ones go _against_ it."
Thomas Whittemore, "Reply to Dr. Ely," _Trumpet and Universalist Magazine_, May
22, 1830, p. 186, col. 3

Looks like an old preacher's saying got updated in the mid/late 20th century
under the influence of the colloquialism "go with the flow" (dated by OED2 to

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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