Semi-OT: Throwing babies (etc.) in the river

Alex Steer alex.steer at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 11 12:41:52 UTC 2008

Dear all,

This may be more a historical bibliography than a language question,

I'm trying to locate an earliest-possible printed source for the parable,
quite frequently retold in social science books, of the group of people
standing by a river who start seeing babies (or, in some versions,
people) floating past, and who all start rescuing them from the water
until one of them goes upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in.
(It's been seized upon as a lesson that preventative social work is
often more effective than remedial intervention.)

A bit of initial work on Google Books suggests it might go back to about
1925: two texts on GB contain the quot. 'We stand today in the situation
of a man who is pulling victims out of a river while someone above is
throwing them in.' One is Addresses and Proceedings of the National
American Association of the United States, vol. 63, 1925, p.170; the other is
School and Society, vol. 21, Jan-Jun 1925, p.250. It reappears in Julia Emily
Johnsen, Selected Articles on a Federal Department of Education, 1927.

This may be a long shot, but is anyone on this list familiar with the
origins of this? Or, alternatively, if anyone can provide some of the
surrounding text for this 1925 example I'd be very grateful.



The American Dialect Society -

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