Quote: fool born every minute (antedating earliest variant) (1806) (attrib P. T. Barnum 1890)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Apr 11 16:20:52 UTC 2014

Back in March 2010 I posted about the famous slogan attributed to P. T. Barnum

There's a sucker born every minute.
There's a fool born every minute.

Now there is an entry on the QI website. Special thanks to Bill
Mullins who located the January 7, 1882 citation for the "sucker"
variant back in 2008. Also, thanks to Barry for his great work and to
others who have examined this topic.

Scans of the valuable 1885 bio of Hungry Joe Lewis were placed online
by Harvard as part of a pamphlet digitization program. Compliments to

The July 21, 1892 cite attributing "there was a sucker born every
minute" to P.T. Barnum was the earliest linkage of Barnum to the
"sucker" variant that I was able to find. Back in 2010 I found an
earlier October 19, 1890 linkage of Barnum to the "fool" variant.

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute

[Begin excerpt]
There exists a family of closely related expressions with a long
history. Here is a sampling together with years of occurrence. The
first item listed employed dialectical spelling. The word "flat" was a
synonym for "fool". The abbreviation "attrib" means that the words
were attributed to an individual, but the evidence was indirect:

    1806: there vash von fool born every minute
    1826: a new fool is born every day
    1839: there is a flat born every minute
    1877: there is a fool born every hour
    1882: there was a sucker born every minute (attrib anon con man)
    1885: there was a sucker born every minute (attrib Hungry Joe)
    1888: there is a sucker born every minute (attrib Artemus Ward)
    1889: a sucker is born every minute (attrib Mike McDonald)
    1890: a fool was born every minute (attrib P.T. Barnum)
    1892: there was a sucker born every minute (attrib P.T. Barnum)

The above listing is a snapshot of current research results, and it
will certainly change over time as more data is gathered. The earliest
instances of these expressions were anonymous, and QI believes that
later attributions had inadequate support.
[End excerpt]


On Sat, Mar 6, 2010 at 1:30 PM, Garson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> There's a sucker born every minute.
> This saying has long been attributed to P. T. Barnum (Phineas Taylor
> Barnum). It is discussed in the Yale Book of Quotations, the Oxford
> Dictionary of American Quotations (and other Oxford Quotation books),
> Barry Popik's website, WikiQuote, and Wikipedia. Many messages about
> the saying are found in the ADS-L archive.
> Variants of the maxim substitute words such as fool, flat, and toot
> for the word sucker. Other variants substitute time-period terms such
> as week, day, and hour for minute. I attempted to find the earliest
> citation while allowing any of the variants.
> 1806 is the date of the earliest cite that I found. The text uses the
> term fool instead of sucker, and it contains an anti-Semitic
> stereotype.
> Citation: 1806 January, The European Magazine And London Review, Essay
> on False Genius, Page 26, Vol. XLIX, James Asperne, London. (Google
> Books full view, also NewspaperArchive)
> ... "That there vash von fool born every minute." And perhaps the
> calculation might be brought to the proof, that not more than fifty
> men of genius are born in half a century.
> http://books.google.com/books?id=dccPAAAAQAAJ&q=fool+born#v=snippet&
> The earliest attribution to P. T. Barnum I could locate is in an
> advertisement dated 1890 in the Chicago Tribune for a company that
> sells tailor-made clothes called Willoughby & Hill. The saying uses
> the term fool instead of sucker.
> Citation: 1890 October 19, Chicago Daily Tribune, Display Ad 67 by
> Willoughby & Hill, Page 39. (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
> Any of these so-called Dry Goods stores go into the Clothing business
> by hiring a salesman from some clothing house, send him down to New
> York, and when he returns they "ADVERTISE" his purchases 40 per cent
> LESS than Clothing Store Prices. However, they don't care a "---" what
> they say in the papers, anything to get the crowd. Barnum said many
> years ago that a fool was born every minute.
> http://bit.ly/aZrSQk
> The second earliest attribution to P. T. Barnum that I found is also
> in an advertisement by "Willoughby & Hill, American Clothiers" in the
> Chicago Tribune.
> Citation: 1891 November 6, Chicago Daily Tribune, Display Ad 3 by
> Willoughby & Hill, Page 5. (ProQuest Historical Newspapers)
> The "Immortal" Barnum said every minute a new fool is born, and he
> catered that way and was successful. He could have kept successfully a
> "Department" Store.
> http://bit.ly/9wuBoZ
> Garson

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

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