the moose's problem (UNCLASSIFIED)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jul 19 06:04:39 UTC 2011

Here is an instance of the same basic joke in 1872. Given this
longevity the idea that Heinlein was referring to it is more
plausible. The phrasing of the punchline is different. Here are the
final sentences of the joke:

Cite: 1872, A Noble Lord by Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth,
Pages 81-82, T.B. Peterson & Brothers, Philadelphia. (Google Books
full view)

"Oh well, if you must know," coolly returned the Captain, "I was but
wondering how the deuce those majestic deer, with antlers branching
ten feet wide, managed to bound through those magnificent forests
where the titanic oak trees stand but three feet apart."

For a moment the Colonel was dumbfounded, and then he exclaimed:

"By Jupiter, sir, that was their business - not mine, or yours!"


On Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 1:28 AM, Garson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at> wrote:
> Bill Mullins wrote:
>>> Twice in his novels, SF author Robert Heinlein has a character say
>>> "that's the moose's problem" (Stranger in a Strange Land and Glory
>>> Road).  Both times, it appears from context that the meaning is, "let
>>> someone else deal with the details" or "It's not my job" -- something
>>> like that.
> Bill: Below is the text of a joke that I extracted from a book that GB
> dates to 1933. The punchline of the joke is "That's the moose's
> problem." If a joke is popular enough then sometimes its punchline can
> become a catch phrase. I do not have any evidence that this was a
> popular joke, but conceivably Heinlein heard the joke and enjoyed it
> enough to refer to it in his books. Or maybe there are other variant
> jokes with the same punchline.
> Cite: Circa 1933, Principles of Effective Letter Writing by Lawrence
> Campbell Lockley, GB Page 228-229, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New
> York. (Google Books snippet; Not verified on paper; Data may be
> inaccurate)
> Sunk in the spacious comfort of a deep arm chair at his luxurious
> Fifth Avenue club, a successful broker was boasting of his hunting
> experiences. Inclined to exaggerate, he was telling of an almost
> impenetrable forest in the Northwest.
> "The trees," he said, "were growing so close to each other that they
> were actually less than a foot apart. For hours we had fought our way
> inward in search of game. I was in the lead, when - roaring, tearing,
> and crashing directly at me - charged a huge bull moose with antlers
> measuring fully ten feet from tip to tip. Death sped toward me while I
> stood rooted to the spot. Then-"
> "Hold on, hold on," interrupted a somewhat unfriendly skeptic. "Only a
> minute ago you told us that the trees in this forest were less than a
> foot apart. Then in the next breath you tell us that in the same
> forest a bull moose with antlers fully ten feet wide came charging at
> you. How could a moose with that size antlers charge through such a
> forest?"
> This stopped the big game hunter for a moment. He didn't change his
> expression or move even enough to disturb the smoke from his cigar
> spiraling into the haze above his head - he was, however, plainly
> perturbed. It was a bad stump - and from that low-brow Kennedy, too.
> But this lasted for only a second. He leaned forward slightly and
> addressed his audience, ignoring Kennedy.
> "That's the moose's problem," he said.
> (End excerpt)
> I think that when the character Jubal uses the phrase in "Stranger in
> a Strange Land" he is saying that the problem of serving meals to him
> may be difficult but it is Anne's problem not his.
> Garson

The American Dialect Society -

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