[Ads-l] Anecdote: Knowing where to tap

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 3 12:13:16 EST 2017

A popular tale extols the value of expert knowledge, and I was asked
to explore its provenance.

Summary: An expert is able to perform a simple action to solve a
recalcitrant problem. The large bill sent by the expert is challenged.
A subsequent itemized bill displays a small fee for the simple action
and a large fee for knowing which simple action to perform.

Below is an instance of the anecdote in 1908. An earlier citation or
other pertinent information would be welcome.

Date: February 1, 1908
Periodical: The Journal of the Society of Estate Clerks of Works
Volume 21
Article: A Moral with an Ending
Quote Page 30
Publisher: Printed and Published for the Society of Estate Clerks of
Works at the "Hampshire Observer" Printing Works, Winchester, England
Database: Google Books Full View


[Begin excerpt]

He was the best machinist in the district, and it was for that reason
that the manager had overlooked his private delinquencies. But at last
even his patience was exhausted, and he was told to go, and another
man reigned in his stead at the end of the room.

And then the machine, as though in protest, refused to budge an inch,
and all the factory hands were idle. Everyone who knew the difference
between a machine and a turnip tried his hand at the inert mass of
iron. But the machine, metaphorically speaking, laughed at them, and
the manager sent for the discharged employee. And he left the comfort
of the "Bull" parlour and came.

He looked at the machine for some moments, and talked to it as a man
talks to a horse, and then climbed into its vitals and called for a
hammer. There was the sound of a "tap-tap-tap," and in a moment the
wheels were spinning, and the man was returning to the "Bull" parlour.

And in the course of time the mill-owner had a bill:--"To mending
machine, £10. 10s." And the owner of the works, being as owners go, a
poor man, sent a polite note to the man, in which he asked him if he
thought tapping a machine with a hammer worth ten guineas. And then he
had another bill:--"To tapping machine with hammer, 10s.; to knowing
where to tap it, £10; total, £10. 10s."

And the man was reinstated in his position, and was so grateful that
he turned teetotaller and lived a great and virtuous old age. And the
moral is that a little knowledge is worth a deal of labour.
[End excerpt]

Below is a version from 1922:

Date: March 24, 1922
Newspaper: Minnesota Daily Star (The Minneapolis Star)
Newspaper Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Short Article: Knowledge Is Power
Quote Page 17, Column 7
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
Knowledge Is Power

In a factory one of the huge machines stopped suddenly. In spite of
exhortation, language, oil and general tinkering it refused to budge.
Production slowed down and the management tore its hair.

At last an expert was called in. He examined the machine for a few
minutes and then asked for a hammer. After tapping here and there for
about 10 minutes, he announced that the machine was ready to move. It

Two days later the management received a bill for $250—the expert's
fee. The management demanded a detailed statement of the account.

He received this:
To tapping machine with hammer. $25
Knowing where to tap .......... 225
[End excerpt]


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

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