tent-pissing follow-up

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Oct 11 20:37:25 UTC 2013

Thanks to Joel who back on September 3rd presented an interesting
pointer to an edition of Dan Simmons, Phases of Gravity that included
an instance of the saying about urination and tents that was labeled
an "Old Arab proverb".

Title: Phases of Gravity
Author: Dan Simmons
Quote Page 198
Date information: Copyright 1989 by Dan Simmons / First e-reads publication 1999
(Google Books Preview)

[Begin excerpt]
"A camel pissing out, eh?" said Baedecker, following carefully.
"What's that?" said Tucker as he crouched in front of the low, round hatch.
"Old Arab proverb," said Baedecker. "It's better to have the camel
inside your tent pissing out than outside pissing in."
[End excerpt]

The page images in Google Books are from a 1999 edition or later. But
the first publication for "Phases of Gravity" was in 1989, and I think
there is a high probability that the text was in the first edition
though I have not verified this claim on paper.

Google Books seems to have a citation from a Dartmouth conference
dialog held in 1988 between U.S. and U.S.S.R. participants. This data
is from a document in GB restricted snippet view.

Year: 1988
Title: Discussion papers
Source: Dartmouth Conference XVI; Charles F. Kettering Foundation.;
Johnson Foundation (Racine, Wis.)
Publisher Location: Dayton, Ohio [etc.]
Summary description: The Conferences constitute "off-the-record
dialogue on major issues between leading citizens of the Soviet Union
and the United States."
Quote Page 310
(GB data may be inaccurate)

[Begin extracted text]
... I was going to say that I agree with both of you that it is really
important to try to settle whatever can be settled in this
Administration. I do not think what you say is wrong. I think it is
going to be much harder to settle those issues afterwards. I would put
it very crudely: it is much better to have the camel in the tent than
to have the camel on the outside pissing in. And therefore, in answer
to my Soviet colleague's question whether they should just give up and
relax--the answer is absolutely not.
[End extracted text]

Is this a genuine or ersatz "Arab proverb" from the past? One way to
explore this question involves evaluating the physical plausibility of
the saying. Can a camel inside a tent urinate outside the tent?

The link below shows a horse urinating. I used a horse as a proxy for
a camel. The horse urine seems to land directly below the horse. So a
horse in a tent will probably urinate inside the tent. If this is true
for a camel then I think the probability that the saying is a genuine
Arab proverb is reduced.


I hypothesize that the saying with a camel was derived from LBJ's
saying. The quotations ascribed to LBJ do not mention a camel. He
referred to a male human urinating which makes sense physically. LBJ
also mentioned a tent. I conjecture that the word tent was a trigger
that caused someone else to add the embellishment/modification of a
camel instead of a human male.


On Tue, Sep 3, 2013 at 10:19 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: tent-pissing follow-up
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 9/3/2013 09:42 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
>>Indeed, it is possible that this is not an "Arab proverb". It might
>>simply be a modern saying that mentions a camel.
> I am skeptical that LBJ invented a proverb that involved a camel
> (although someone else might have).  Wouldn't LBJ have picked an
> animal more common in Texas, such as a sheep or goat?
> OTOH, I wrote in a previous message that my memory of the allegedly
> Arab proverb must go back earlier than 1989.  It may actually go back
> to LBJ's use.  Proving nothing, of course, except that my memory is poor.
> Joel
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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