Quote: everybody talks about the weather (1897) (antedating attrib Charles Dudley Warner 1901, attrib Mark Twain 1915)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jan 25 08:00:11 UTC 2010

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

Quotes falsely attributed to Mark Twain are commonplace. This famous
quote about the weather is surprising because it is possible that
Twain did say it. Ralph Keyes writing in "The Quote Verifier" credits
Twain. Uncertainty arises from the ambiguous nature of the first
version of the saying that is currently known.

Citation: 1897 August 27, Hartford Courant, Page 8, Connecticut.
(Cited in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations by Suzy

A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked
about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it.


Who was this American writer of renown? Fred Shapiro in "The Yale Book
of Quotations" says "The 'well-known American writer' is usually taken
to be Twain, but the writer could also have been Charles Dudley
Warner, who was the editor of the Hartford Courant in 1897." Keyes
says "Henry McNutty, a retired Courant editor, believes this was a
little in joke, Warner's tip of the hat to Twain, who continually made
quips in conversation that later showed up in print." Keyes also
points to a 1923 memoir of a journalist named Robert Underwood Johnson
who knew Twain and who attributes a version of the quote to Twain.

Below we present some early attributions. I could not find this
information in the ADS list archive, WikiQuote, or at Barry Popik's
website. These attributions do not resolve the open question, but
perhaps the confusion can now be moved to a higher level.

The January 1901 issue of Harper's magazine contains a profile of
Charles Dudley Warner who had died the previous year on October 20,
1900. A variant of the quip about the weather is attributed to Warner
in the profile. This variant differs enough from the canonical version
that some readers may not consider it to be a valid variant. However,
I suspect that it is based on the saying as altered by the profile
writer's imperfect memory. In the excerpt below "he" refers to Warner.

Citation: 1901 January, Harper's Magazine, Vol. CII, No. DCVIII,
Editor's Easy Chair, Page 320, Harper's Magazine Co.

When people were once tried almost beyond endurance by the most
exasperating of winters he said, "Everybody is talking about the
weather; why doesn't somebody do something?" and this, with its subtle
irony of human futility, is perhaps one of the most representative
examples of his wit; but his humor was an aroma which interfused all
his thought, and filled his page with the constant surprise of its


An identical passage to the one above appears in a 1904 book about
Charles Dudley Warner in the Contemporary Men of Letters Series
published by McClure, Phillips & Co. A version closer to the modern
saying is credited to Warner in 1912.

Citation: 1904, Charles Dudley Warner by Annie Fields, Page 206,
McClure, Phillips & Co., New York.


Citation: 1912 July 20, Hartford Courant, About the Weather, Page 8,
Hartford, Connecticut. (Google News Archive snippet view only. Not
verified in ProQuest database)

Mr. Warner once remarked that everybody talks about the weather but
nobody seems to do anything about it.


The first attribution to Mark Twain that I could locate was in a
Mormon publication in 1915. Another example appears in 1917.

Citation: 1915 July, Young Woman's Journal, Vol. 26, No. 7, The Glint
of the American Eagle By Ruth M. Bell, Page 416, Young Women's Mutual
Improvement Association, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Yes: as Mark Twain said about the weather: "Everybody talks about it,
but nobody does anything."


Citation: 1917 October 15, American Association for Study and
Prevention of Infant Mortality, Transactions of the Eight Annual
Meeting, Committee Meeting, Propaganda, The Cincinnati Unit Plan by
Mrs. Wilbur C. Phillips, Page 268, Franklin Printing Company,

Democracy is something like the weather. As Mark Twain once said,
"Everybody is always talking about the weather but no one ever does
anything about it!"


Garson O'Toole

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

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