Request solved: Saying: Puns and pickpockets - Also Contemporary Legend: Man in the Middle

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon May 6 06:04:27 UTC 2013

Bonnie Taylor-Blake very kindly and quickly helped me with the request
involving puns and pickpockets.  Thanks!

If you are interested in contemporary legends then please watch for
the research note "The 19th-Century 'Man in the Middle'" by Bonnie
Taylor-Blake and Garson O’Toole which will appear in  the next issue
of FOAFTale News (FTN) the newsletter of the International Society for
Contemporary Legend Research. As an attentive list member you saw the
breakthrough advance on the recalcitrant "whole-nine yards" problem.
Bonnie is the best, and I was lucky to work with her.


On Sun, May 5, 2013 at 8:58 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Saying: A man who will pun, will pick a pocket. Request for 1722
>               citation.
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> There is an expression about puns and pickpockets that I have been
> asked to explore, The saying has been attributed to Alexander Pope,
> Samuel Johnson, Jonathan Swift, John Dennis and others. Here are
> several versions. The final two sayings do not condemn all puns.
> A Man who will Pun, will pick a pocket.
> He that would pun, would pick a pocket.
> No Man would make a Pun that would not pick a Pocket.
> Any man who would make such an execrable pun would not scruple to pick
> my pocket.
> Sir, the man that will make such an execrable pun as that in my
> company, will pick my pocket.
> Fred, has the best citation, I think, in the YBQ, but the YBQ can only
> present a compressed excerpt.
> Perhaps some kind reader has access to a database which contains scans
> of the 1722 document described below. Some catalogs indicate that the
> document is available online but access is restricted. The document is
> called:
> An Epistle to Sir Richard Steele, on his play called The Conscious Lovers
> Below is an excerpt from a periodical in 1816 which reprints an
> anecdote about the origin of the expression above from the 1722
> document. Perhaps you will be able to compare the text below and the
> text in the scan of the 1722 epistle. If you are willing to perform
> this task please send me an email (on or off list). Thank you very
> much!
> The pun in the passage below is based on the word "drawer". In 1722
> "drawer" could be used to reference a "waiter" in a tavern.
> [ref] 1816 July, The Theatrical Inquisitor and Monthly Mirror, Volume
> 9, The Collector No XXXI: 11.—Punning, Start Page 30, Quote Page 33,
> Published for the Proprietors by C. Chapple, Pall-Mall, London.
> (Google Books full view) link [/ref]
> [Begin excerpt]
> The remark that a man who will make a pun will pick a pocket, though
> frequently attributed to Swift, originated with Dennis. The
> circumstance which gave rise to the remark is thus related in a
> pamphlet written by Victor, entitled "an Epistle to Sir Richard
> Steele, on his play called The Conscious Lovers." 1722:—
> "Mr. Purcell and Mr. Congreve going into a tavern, by chance met
> Dennis, who went in with 'em. After a glass or two had passed, Mr.
> Purcell, having some private business with Mr. Congreve, wanted Dennis
> out of the room, and not knowing a more certain way than punning, (for
> you are to understand, Sir, Mr. Dennis is as much surprised at a pun
> as at a bailiff,) he proceeded after the following manner. He pulled
> the bell, and called two or three times, but no one answering, he put
> his hand under the table, and looking full at Dennis, he said, 'I
> think this table is like the tavern;'—says Dennis, with his usual
> prophane phrase, —'God's death, Sir, how is this table like the
> tavern?'—'Why,' says Mr. Purcell, 'because here's ne'er a drawer in
> it.'
> "Says Dennis starting up, 'God's death, Sir, the man that will make
> such an execrable pun as that in my company, will pick my pocket;' and
> so left the room."
> [End excerpt]
> Thanks for any help you can provide,
> Garson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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