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

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Oct 11 19:47:57 UTC 2013

Fred Shapiro wrote:
> T. Roosevelt was quoted earlier: "McKinley has no more backbone
> than a chocolate eclair!" (Harry T. Peck, Twenty Years of the Republic (1906)).

Thanks to Fred for the Theodore Roosevelt citation with figurative
language. Here is an attribution to Roosevelt a few years earlier.

[ref] 1900 June 28, Idaho Falls Times, The Jelley Fish And The Ramrod,
(Dateline: Washington D.C., June 22, 1900), Quote Page 7, Column 1,
Idaho Falls, Idaho. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Worst of all Roosevelt has on sundry and divers occasions given vent
to his honest opinion regarding McKinley's character. On one of these
occasions relative to the Porto Rican scandal, Roosevelt said to a
number of people, "McKinley has no more backbone than a chocolate
eclair in a candy store."
[End excerpt]

Here are some earlier instances of the metaphorical framework. In 1875
an angleworm was referenced.

[ref] 1875 December 4, Daily Inter Ocean, By the End Men, Quote Page
7, Column 6, Chicago, Illinois. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Weak men are the hardest kind to control. They have no more backbone
than an angleworm.
[End excerpt]

In 1877 an oyster was referenced. The passage below described an
attempt to rally the stock market.

[ref] 1877 June 11, New York Herald,  Volume XLII, Issue 162,
Financial and Commercial, Quote Page 8, Column 6, New York.

[Begin excerpt]
There was really to more backbone to it than there is to an oyster,
and those who fostered the movement found themselves with a
vertebrateless skeleton on their hands, in the form of a line of long
stocks and an unsympathetic market.
[End excerpt]

By 1879 the backbone of a dish-cloth was mentioned.

[ref] 1879 March 13, Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, (Item begins "Dear
old Uncle JIMMY WILLIAMS"), Quote Page 4, Column 4 and 5, Cincinnati,
Ohio. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Dear old Uncle JIMMY WILLIAMS has no more nerve than a mud turtleā€”no
more backbone than a dish-cloth.
[End excerpt]

By 1880 the backbone of a jellyfish was mentioned. The topic was New
Year's resolutions.

[ref] 1880 January 1, Indianapolis Sentinel, Turning a Leaf: The
Customary Mode of Doing It, (Acknowledgement Philadelphia Record),
Quote Page 7, Column 2, Indianapolis, Indiana. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
In most cases it is simply a spasm of the mind; a resolve that has no
more backbone in it than a jellyfish, or more substance than charity
school soup is said to own.
[End excerpt]


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