Anecdote with punchline: Now we're just haggling over the price

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Dec 9 17:56:02 UTC 2011

We've already established what you are, ma'am. Now we're just haggling
over the price.

Above is a modern punchline of an anecdote that has featured George
Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx, Mark Twain, W.C.
Fields, Bertrand Russell, H.G. Wells, Woodrow Wilson and others.

The earliest evidence I have located so far for this type of story did
not spotlight any of the persons listed above. Also, the punchline was
phrased differently.

In January 1937 the syndicated newspaper columnist O. O. McIntyre
printed a version of the anecdote that he says was sent to him as a
newspaper clipping. This tale featured the powerful Canadian-British
media magnate and politician Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook [MJLB]:

[MJLB] 1937 January 2, Muscatine Journal and News-Tribune As O. O.
McIntyre Sees It (Syndicated), Page 3, Column 3, Muscatine, Iowa.

[Begin excerpt]
Someone sends me a clipping from Columnist Lyons with this honey:

"They are telling this of Lord Beaverbrook and a visiting Yankee
actress. In a game of hypothetical questions, Beaverbrook asked the
lady: 'Would you live with a stranger if he paid you one million
pounds?' She said she would. 'And if be paid you five pounds?' The
irate lady fumed: 'Five pounds. What do you think I am?' Beaverbrook
replied: 'We've already established that. Now we are trying to
determine the degree."
[End excerpt]

According to Google Books there is a version of this anecdote
featuring Beaverbrook in The Gargoyle with a GB date 1936 or 1937. The
Gargoyle was (and is) a humor magazine published by students at the
University of Michigan. I have not verified this citation on paper
yet, but I have a request pending, and might know something in two

Here are additional selected citations.

According to GB Coronet magazine published a version with Beaverbrook
in 1944. GB data points to the August 1944 issue, and I'll try to
verify this soon.

By 1945 a version of the tale in the legal domain was being propagated
that centered on an anonymous lawyer and a "pretty defendant" [EEPD]:

[EEPD] 1945 August, Excavating Engineer [later Excavating Contractor],
Not in the Contract, Page 468, Column 2, Volume 39, Number 8,
Excavating Engineer Pub. Co. (Verified with images from Texas A&M
University; Great thanks to the librarian at Texas A&M)

[Begin excerpt]
"Would you live with a stranger if he paid you $100,000?" the lawyer
asked the pretty defendant.
"Would you live with him if he paid you only $25?"
"Certainly not! What do you think I am?"
"We've already established what you are," came back the lawyer. "Now
we are trying to establish to what extent."
[End excerpt]

In October 1945 the anecdote was reprinted in the Reader's Digest. The
text was similar to the 1937 version above, but the entire piece was
credited to the "University of California Pelican", a college humor
magazine [RDLB]:

[RDLB] 1945 October, Reader's Digest, [No title], Page 24, Volume 47,
The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)

[Begin excerpt]
Lord Beaverbrook and a famous actress were involved in a game of
hypothetical questions. When Beaverbrook asked, "Would you live with a
stranger if he paid you a million pounds?" the lady answered yes
without hesitation.
"And if he paid you five pounds?"
"What do you think I am!" the actress fumed.
"We've already established that," returned Beaverbrook. "Now we are
trying to determine the degree." - University of California Pelican
[End excerpt]

By 1965 a version with the word "haggling" is being described as an
"old joke". In the instance below the actors are anonymous [WPAH]:

[WPAH] 1965 copyright, The War-Peace Establishment by Arthur Herzog,
Page 79, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)

[Begin excerpt]
I tell them the old joke about the man who asks a girl if she will
sleep with him for a million dollars. Of course, she says yes. He then
offers her two dollars and she slaps his face, saying, 'What do you
think I am?' He answers, 'I know what you are. We are just haggling
over the price.'
[End excerpt]

In 1968 the volume "Rationale of the Dirty Joke" examined the tale.
The setting of the variant presented by folklorist Gershon Legman was
a charity event [RDGL]:

[RDGL] 2006, "Rationale of the Dirty Joke: An Analysis of Sexual
Humor" by Gershon Legman, Page 249, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New
York. [Reprint of 1968 Grove Press edition] (Google Books preview)

[Begin excerpt]
A story that has been told of almost every modern celebrity beginning
with President Wilson and H. G. Wells: A famous man at a charity
banquet asks the beautiful young woman next to him, "Assuming that we
gave the money to charity, would you sleep with me for ten thousand
dollars?" After some thought she says, "Yes." "And would you for two
dollars?" "Why, what do you think I am!" "We've already decided that.
Now we're just haggling about price."
[End excerpt]

The following would interest me and perhaps others: evidence of this
anecdote before 1937; evidence before 1968 of a variant set at a
charity event; evidence of variants before 1968 with Woodrow Wilson or
H. G. Wells.

The American Dialect Society -

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