the moose's problem (UNCLASSIFIED)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Jul 19 06:41:33 UTC 2011

On 7/19/2011 2:26 AM, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Douglas G. Wilson"<douglas at NB.NET>
> Subject:      Re: the moose's problem (UNCLASSIFIED)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On 7/19/2011 2:04 AM, Garson O'Toole 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: the moose's problem (UNCLASSIFIED)
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> 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!"
>> Garson
>> 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.
> --
> I see another instance, supposedly 1957, of this story: Google-books
> <<"that was the deer's problem">>.

And here's another "deer's problem", recalled from some time before 1936.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list