"I could carve a better man out of a banana"

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 1 17:47:03 UTC 2013

Thanks Jon for posting an interesting saying. The YBQ quotation
mentioned the metaphorical backbone of a banana:

[Being excerpt]
I could carve out of a banana a Justice with more backbone than that.
Quoted in Silas Bent, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1932)
[End excerpt]

There are multiple examples in books and newspapers of passages
referencing the backbone of a banana before 1932. The Roosevelt
attributed quotation above added the extra element of carving the

Here is an example in 1900:
Date: May 26, 1900
Newspaper: Boston Evening Transcript
Article: The Modern Athenian: The Outskirters
Unnumbered Page (Page 21 according to GNA)
(Google News Archive)

[Begin excerpt]
...from the latter came the sloven, the sentimentalist, and the tramp,
that forceless contingent of humanity with no more backbone, than a
banana, which shuffles and bewails its way through this delightful
valley of tears.
[End excerpt]

Google Books has the same sentence in 1904 book "The Friendship of
Art" by Bliss Carman


On Tue, Oct 1, 2013 at 10:08 AM, Jonathan Lighter
<wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      "I could carve a better man out of a banana"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Quoted by a CNN analyst today as "the old phrase."
> 1968 Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. _Slaughterhouse-Five_  (N.Y.:  Dell, 1970) 184: His
> most popular book was about sex and strenuous athletics for men over
> sixty-five.
> Now he quoted Theodore Roosevelt, whom he resembled a lot: "'I could carve
> a better man out of a banana.'"
> Vonnegut's novel undoubtedly popularized the phrase. YBQ cites it from 1932
> in Silas Bent's biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes (Roosevelt's alleged
> banana man) in less succinct form and in indirect speech. It appears on p.
> 251 of Bent's book.
> JL
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list