"Murphy's Law" at Edwards AFB, Muroc, Calif.

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Fri Jun 4 00:27:26 UTC 1999

If "Too many chiefs and not enough indians" was first attested in the US in
the 1970's, it was at least twenty years behind my use of it in the 1950's,
but us real speakers have always got the jump on print. Lucky somebody got
it from a 1950 print source to show that we are right (still proabably
decades behind).

dInIs (a sociolinguist always surprised at the love some have for print)

>>      I came across another term.  From 15 December 1950, pg. 2:
>> T/Sgt Kavonen sez, "Too many chiefs and not enough Indians."
>> Indians._  Too many bosses and too few workers to get the job done.
>> Originated in Australia c. 1940 and now used in many English-speaking
>> countries.  First attested in the United States in the 1970s.)
>> (Nigel Rees, DICTIONARY OF CATCHPHRASES:  _too many chiefs and not enough
>> Indians_  phrase suggesting that to some confused situation there are too
>> many leaders and not enough led, or that there are too many people giving
>> orders and instructions but not enough people to carry them out.  American in
>> origin?)
>The term has been heard of, and is widely used in Brazil in its Portuguese
>version. The "too many bosses and too few workers" version of it is more
>I am a general clerk, and I know it! :) I'm not sure, but other (Latin)
>countries may have borrowed it and, at least, regale themselves with using it.
>Probably picked it up in conversation with Americans. Well, correct me if I'm
>wrong! :)

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at pilot.msu.edu
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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