"English Was Good Enough for Jesus"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Sun Nov 28 05:36:18 UTC 2004

On Sat, 27 Nov 2004 11:04:00 -0500, Fred Shapiro <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>

>One more:  Can I impose upon anyone to search ProQuest Historical
>Newspapers to see what is the earliest appearance there of "If English
>was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for us" or variants
>thereof?  Sam Clements searched this on Newspaperarchive, but I don't
>think anyone posted any ProQuest results for it.

Barry Popik has already turned up a 1905 cite with the "St. Paul" version,
predating the two 1912 cites attributing the saying to David Mackenzie.
As for the "Jesus" version, here's a Newspaperarchive cite from 1927:

    Chronicle Telegram (Elyria,  Ohio), April 27, 1927
    An official of the Rockefeller Institute states that, among
    hundreds of letters of denunciation received by the institution
    during the past year, one was from a man in Arkansas who took
    the view that all this modern education is dangerous, and that
    the new-fangled practice of grounding preachers in Latin and
    Greek is especially pernicious.  They ought to be taught English,
    he said, adding in conclusion: "If English was good enough for
    Jesus, it's good enough for me."

I don't know when the "Jesus" version began to be attributed to Texas
Governor Miriam "Ma" Ferguson.  I see the Ferguson attribution showed up
in Safire's May 30, 1982 "On Language" column, but surely it predates
that.  (In a Sept. 15, 1979 Syracuse Herald Journal article,
then-Congressman Paul Simon gave H.L. Mencken as the source.)

--Ben Zimmer

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