"Eat the rich!"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Feb 2 15:50:15 UTC 2014

In 1982 or '83 I began to see examples this unusually radical call to arms
chalked in various places around campus. Being neither rich nor especially
hungry, I ignored them.

Then P. J. O'Rourke published a book titled _Eat the Rich_ in 1998.

Today a CNN commentator observed that the President's State of the Union
address was "not an 'eat-the-rich' speech."

A look at GB and Barry Popik's "Big Apple" blog reveals that the phrase has
been attributed to "the Chinese," "Victor Hugo," and "Rousseau."  It does
not appear in YBQ or DMP.

Sir Archibald Alison (_History of Europe_, II , ed. 2 [Edinburgh:
Blackwood, 1835], 424) quotes the radical Pierre Chaumette as having thus
cited or paraphrased Rousseau on Oct. 14, 1793:

"Rousseau has said, when the people have nothing to eat, they will eat the

So did Rousseau (1712-1778) really say it?  Or does credit go to Chaumette?
And if so, what (if anything) did Rousseau say on the subject?


"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

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

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