tent-pissing antedate?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Sep 3 15:12:33 UTC 2013

On the discussion board for "Broadchurch", a rather good British murder mystery serial airing currently on BBCA, there's been discussion about the line used by one character:  "Better to have you inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in".  After some back and forth, it was agreed that the earliest anyone had heard the line was from LBJ re J. Edgar Hoover, and this matches YBOQ's verdict:

"It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in"

It certainly has the right fragrance for Lyndon, judging from another comment of his to John Kenneth Galbraith, "Making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg. It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else." At the same time, it has the feeling of an old Texas saw.  As far as we can tell, was the…um, salty expression in fact spontaneously coined by LBJ (as reported by David Halberstam on Halloween of 1971), or was he recycling earlier wisdom?  (It's sometimes given as "I'd rather have X inside the tent…")


P.S. For the record, it appears that Laurence Olivier used the same line as an explanation of why he offered critic Kenneth Tynan a job at the National Theatre: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2005/mar/14/art.  But the standard view is that Olivier was cribbing from LBJ:

>From [John] Lahr we learned that Olivier had never forgiven Tynan for giving his wife Vivien Leigh a bad review, and had only employed him at the National in order to have him (as President Johnson might have said) "on the inside, pissing out".

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

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