tent-pissing follow-up

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Sep 4 01:42:59 UTC 2013

Thanks to Joel and LH for an intriguing citation. Here is a somewhat
shorter link:


The book "Eisenhower and Churchill: the partnership that saved the
world" by James C Humes was published first in 2001 according to
WorldCat. Note that the author does not state that Lloyd George used
the expression. Instead the author says George's "argument was a
variation of the Arab proverb".

Indeed, it is possible that this is not an "Arab proverb". It might
simply be a modern saying that mentions a camel.

The version of the saying with a urinating camel in a tent may have
been constructed after LBJ's saying was already in circulation. The
citation below suggests that the camel-version of the saying was based
on the LBJ saying.

Periodical: Time
Article: Prelude to a putsch (cover story)
Author: S. Talbott
Date September 2, 1991
Volume: 138
Issue: 9
Page: 50
Database: Academic Search Premier EBSCO

[Begin excerpt]
One of Gorbachev's aides, fluent in the earthy idiom of American
politics, paraphrases a favorite line of Lyndon Johnson's: "Mikhail
Sergeyevich felt it was better to have the camels inside the tent
pissing out than outside the tent pissing in. He wanted to keep them
where he could see them and where they would have to take his orders.
{end excerpt]


On Tue, Sep 3, 2013 at 8:23 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: tent-pissing follow-up
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Prompted by a suggestion (off-line) from Joel Berson, I tried googling "tent pissing out" + "Arab", and was led to a google book excerpt at
> http://books.google.com/books?id=_ERhV58kkFIC&pg=PT107&lpg=PT107&dq=%22inside+the+tent+pissing+out%22+%22Arab%22&source=bl&ots=aCo17YLwBT&sig=j_zId_Z2bNlIat3E0j3qMlDx41c&hl=en&sa=X&ei=DHsmUoPIGY6lsASruIHADQ&ved=0CE4Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=%22inside%20the%20tent%20pissing%20out%22%20%22Arab%22&f=false
> (sorry for not knowing how to figure out a more elegant tiny URL the way some of you can)--
> This book, _Eisenhower and Churchill: The Partnership that Saved the World_ by James C. Humes, notes that Lloyd George's argument for putting Churchill in the Cabinet (he was made "secretary of state for munitions" just before the American entry into WWI) was based on "a variation of the Arab proverb--better the camel inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."  Humes mentions neither LBJ nor Olivier.  Nor the well-known difficulty of camel's piss fitting through the eye of a needle, to change proverbs midstream.
> LH
> On Sep 3, 2013, at 11:12 AM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>> 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…")
>> LH
>> 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:
>> http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0436481/reviews
>> 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".
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