"Don't just do something...."

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon May 2 18:12:33 UTC 2011

Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> It occurred to me that the original cliche' might have been launched in a
> New Yorker cartoon of ca.1938-39.
> But as happens frequently (and I'm not kidding), it has proved impossible
> for me to log in to the New Yorker online archive.
> Maybe someone else would like to try

JL: I suspect that the cliché that is being transmuted to create the
quip has a long history. Here is a variant in 1877:

A perennial courtship; and other tales - Page 4
Ephron (pseud.) - 1877 - Free Google eBook - Read

Come, don't stand there looking like a statue of helplessness: do
something or other, will you." Mrs. Waveney fomented the ankle, and
Hiram felt better. " But it 'sad — d bore," he muttered. " Suppose I
shall be laid up for a fortnight ...


The New Yorker Cartoon bank has a partial match for the cliché in 1936.

1936 August 1, New Yorker Cartoon,
"Don't just stand there—get witnesses!"
(Lady who has fallen down stairs to man on landing.)
by Sydney Hoff

I cannot find the joke itself in the Cartoon Bank of the New Yorker
magazine archive in the 1930s or 1940s. Here are some matches and weak
partial matches in the New Yorker Cartoon Bank and the New Yorker
magazine archive.

2001 January 22, New Yorker Cartoon,
"Doing something never solves anything."
(A mans speaks on the phone.)
by Bruce Eric Kaplan

New Yorker archive raw matches:
May 01, 1978, page 104
something,' while Vance reacts 'Don't just do something, sit
there-until you understand

May 19, 1997, page 18
and May 18 at 4 and 7.) "DON'T JUST Do SOMETHING, STAND THERE"-David Neumann,

Jan 24, 2000, page 45
in situations like this: Don't just do something-stand there. I chafed at the

Apr 08, 2002, page 71
sharp edges of isolation. Don't just do something, sit there. And so I have, so


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

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