None of us washes our rental cars (antedating 1985)

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Tue Jan 19 16:21:55 UTC 2010

>From the files of the (forthcoming) Yale Book of Modern Proverbs, we also have this, perhaps antedating the 1985 instance from Peters and Nancy Austin's book:

Nobody washes (We don’t wash) a rental (rented) car.  1985  Tom [Thomas] Peters, "A Necessary Revolution in American Management:  People, People, People" (a printed version of a speech given in June 1984), _Selections from the Second National Labor-Management Conference_, edited by Peter L. Regner (Washington DC:  U. S. Department of Labor), 18:  "'The General [William Creech] . . . said, 'You used to be a specialist expert practicing your trade.  Now you're just responsible for a couple of planes:  why does it make so much difference?'  And the NCO's response, which ought to go down in history:  'General, when's the last time you washed a rental car?'  That is what ownership is all about or not about[?!]."


---- Original message ----
>Date: Mon, 18 Jan 2010 00:01:17 -0500
>From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> (on behalf of "Garson O'Toole" <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>)
>Subject: None of us washes our rental cars (antedating 1985)>-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>Below we exhibit a citation from a business book that was a bestseller in the 1980s, "A Passion for Excellence". The book reports on a variety of case studies including one that analyzes a reorganization of airplane maintenance staff within the military instigated by General Bill Creech. The new organization assigns staff to maintain specific planes on a long-term basis instead of shifting personnel between multiple planes, and this new arrangement is successful according to the authors. The core of the maxim is pronounced by "one of Bill Creech's noncommissioned officers (NCOs)."
>Citation: 1985, A Passion for Excellence by Thomas J. Peters and Nancy
>Austin, Page 239, Random House. (Google Books snippet view only.
>Metadata is sometimes inaccurate. The excerpt below is based on Google
>snippets and Amazon Look Inside.)
>The general asked him what the difference was between the old,
>specialist organization and the new organization, in which the plane
>and the sortie are the "customer," where the supervisor ("designated
>crew chief," remember) "owns" the plane. The NCO's to-the-point reply:
>"General, when's the last time you washed a rental car?" We think that
>may say it all. None of us washes our rental cars. There's no
>ownership. And there's no ownership if you're a specialist, no matter
>how well trained, if you're responsible only for two square feet of
>the right wing of a hundred planes. Only whole planes fly.
>I think that this cite points to the starting point of the process of
>conversion of the phrase into a modern proverb. However, it is also
>possible that the NCO heard the phrase beforehand as a proverb, and he
>was transmitting it to the General. If that is the case then this
>citation marks an important locus of popularization.
>Of course, rental cars may not gleam, but they are not usually caked
>with inches of dirt, and I found another cite that caused a chuckle at
>the time.
>Citation: 1966 November 17, Wisconsin State Journal, Page 60, Column
>3, Madison, Wisconsin. (Newspaperarchive)
>[Classified Advertisement] CAR RENTAL AGENCY ATTENDANT - part time,
>Excellent opportunity for college student. Wash rental cars and wait
>on customers.
>Garson O'Toole
>The American Dialect Society -

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