"Stop digging."

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 11 13:07:03 UTC 2010

Thanks for the additional background Jon. YBQ contains a citation for
the phrase "Don't make waves" in the Washington Post on January 6,
1941. It also says that the scatological joke is attested as early as
1925 and the saying might be derived from the joke.

Here is a version of "don't make waves" in 1939 that might considered
intermediate between the joke and the unadorned saying, or it might be
independent of the joke.

1939 February 2, Palm Beach Daily News, Senator's Demand Showdown On
President's Secret Deals With France and England, Page 1, Column 2,
Palm Beach, Florida. (Google News Archive)

Here's a little thing we learned that the boys over there might use.
When you're in trouble up to your neck don't make waves.

Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> G. Legman traced the "Don't make waves!" joke at least back to the early
> '30s.  It was discussed here in 2004 (with a demonic hydroplane added in
> Wilson's 1957 hearing of it).
> It makes me wonder if "Don't rock the boat!" comes from a version of the
> same story, though that advice is undoubtedly more practical.  (If you're
> not in hell, anyway.)
> JL
> On Mon, Oct 11, 2010 at 8:36 AM, Garson O'Toole
> <adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com>wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Garson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: "Stop digging."
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>  Laurence Horn wrote
>> > This is all very nice, but "When you're in a hole, stop digging" has
>> > always struck me as less evocative (and no sounder) advice than
>> > "(When you're buried to your neck in shit...,) don't make waves".  I
>> > seem to recall the latter is sometimes contextualized in Hell.
>> In 1971 Isaac Asimov published a version of the tale Larry mentions
>> that is set in hell. This does predate the 1977 cite for the "stop
>> digging" adage, and I did not try to push the date further back. Below
>> is a link to the 1991 edition (instead of 1971) located in Google
>> Books because the text of the story is fully visible in the 1991
>> edition.
>> The set up: Smith arrives in hell and must decide which room of
>> punishment he wishes to enter. He hears screams and shrieks from
>> behind some room doors. He hears gentle murmuring from behind one
>> door, and he selects it:
>> Cite: 1991, Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor edited by Isaac Asimov,
>> Story: 491, Page 331, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York. [Reprint of
>> 1971 Houghton Mifflin edition]
>> Instantly, the door was flung open, and he was propelled inside. He
>> found himself up to the lower lip in a vast sea of overwhelmingly
>> putrid sewage.
>> With him were uncounted millions of others, and now the murmur he had
>> heard from outside the door resolved itself into words as everyone,
>> standing strainedly on tiptoe, kept muttering, without quite daring to
>> open his mouth, "Don't make waves! Don't make waves!"
>> http://books.google.com/books?id=nFdOG5JxWZoC&q=tiptoe#v=snippet&q=tiptoe&f=false
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
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> --
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