[Ads-l] Modern Proverb: Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jul 21 17:23:38 EDT 2021

I received a request to explore the provenance of the expression in
the subject line. Barry Popik has a webpage on the topic with
citations beginning in March 1986. I did not see the saying in "The
Dictionary of Modern Proverbs".

The QI website now has an article:

The earliest match I located appeared in the popular syndicated column
of Earl Wilson in 1962. The well-known ballroom dancer and
entrepreneur Arthur Murray received credit:

[ref] 1962 July 18, The Lima News, Eydie Gorme Will Work, Hubby Steve
Explains by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 32, Column 3, Lima, Ohio.
(Newspapers_com) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Arthur Murray says he always eats dessert first, because life is so uncertain.
[End excerpt]

The statement above was not quite in proverbial form, but the phrasing
evolved over time.

In 1977 the "Encyclopedia of Ad-Libs, Crazy Jokes, Insults, and
Wisecracks" compiled by Leopold Fechtner contained a  match (not quite
in proverbial form):

[ref] 1977, Encyclopedia of Ad-Libs, Crazy Jokes, Insults, and
Wisecracks by Leopold Fechtner, Topic: Food, Quote Page 40, Parker
Publishing Company, West Nyack, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref

[Begin excerpt]
I always eat dessert first, because life is so uncertain.
[End excerpt]

In 1980 Leopold Fechtner reprinted the expression above in "Galaxy of
Funny Gags, Puns, Quips, and Putdowns".

In May 1982 an article in "The Seattle Times" of Washington printed a
proverbial instance:

[ref] 1982 May 19, The Seattle Times, Sweet Finish Makes a Meal by
Sheila Anne Feeney (Times staff reporter), Quote Page B1, Column 1,
Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
In fact, a sign, donated by a customer, on the cash register of
Pacific Dessert, advises: “Eat dessert first. Life is uncertain.”
[End excerpt]

Feedback welcome
Garson O'Toole

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

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