Quote: A gentleman is a man who can play a cornet but won't. (1917)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Feb 2 15:50:44 UTC 2014

Back in April 2011 Fred was answering questions about quotations at
the Freakonomics web location. The comments section contained an
inquiry about the following saying:

[Begin excerpt]
A gentleman is one who knows how to play the bagpipe, but refrains.
[End excerpt]

The questioner noted that variants of the phrase referenced other
instruments such as the banjo and accordion. At the time, I posted
some examples with the cornet, saxophone, and bagpipes.


Barry performed a valuable search for this family of sayings in January 2013:


Prompted by an inquiry from Bill about an analogous comment in the
domain of magic card tricks I've performed some additional searches.
Here are the earliest instances I've verified for the cornet,
saxophone, bagpipes, and accordion. Any cites of this type before 1917
would be interesting, I think. Cites for individual instruments that
antedate these benchmarks would be interesting. Early cites for other
instruments or activities would be intriguing especially in the domain
of magic. Thanks!

[ref] 1917 February 3, Portsmouth Daily Times Doc Koko's Kolumn, Quote
Page 14, Column 6, Portsmouth, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]
[Begin excerpt]
Definition of the True Gentleman

Lord Chesterfield had his own crude ideas about what a gentleman
should be, but Frank Fiest of Atchison, says a gentleman is a man who
can play a cornet but won't.--Kansas City Star.
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1922 June 20, The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne News Sentinel),
Private Opinions Publicly Expressed, (Letters to the Editor),
Politeness: Letter from S.A.W., Quote Page 4, Column 3, Fort Wayne,
Indiana. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]
[Begin excerpt]
Then he appeared in person and was asked if he knew the definition of
gentleman. He said no so his friends told him. "A gentleman is a man
who plays a saxophone but won't"
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1965 September 2, Oregonian, Today's Chuckle (Upper-left corner
of front page), Quote Page 1, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]
[Begin excerpt]
Today's Chuckle
A true gentleman is one who can play the bagpipes--and doesn't.
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1972, After the Ball by Ian Whitcomb, Quote Page 176, Published
by Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, London. (Verified on paper)[/ref]
[End excerpt]
One pro wit defined a gentleman as one who 'knows how to play an
accordion but doesn't'.
[End excerpt]


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

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