Churchill quote: spurious?

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat May 14 22:11:37 UTC 2011

Jonathan Lighte wrote:
> A conservative contributor to CNN has just uttered the following: "As
> Winston Churchill said, 'You can count on the American people to do the
> right thing - once they've exhausted every other option.'"

JL: Thanks for pointing to this interesting quotation. Here are the
results of a quick search: A version of this quote was attributed to
Churchill by January 1986. A quip of this same type was used by Abba
Eban in March 1967.

After finding this cite I looked in YBQ and found that Fred had
already placed the Eban quote in his magnificent reference. The YBQ
cite is dated August 1967, so this is a slight improvement:

Cite: 1967 March 19, New York Times, Japan Welcomes Eban Warmly; Her
Industry Impresses Israeli by Robert Trumbull, Page 14, New York.

Commenting that the passage of time offered the best hope of an end to
the problems of Israel and her neighbors, he said: "Men and nations
behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources."

Eban's quip was actively repeated for decades by him and others. The
amorphous unreliable online quote repositories contain versions of it.
Here is an instance in 1979.

Cite: 1979 January, Cincinnati Magazine, Page 15, Emmis
Communications, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Google Books full view)

But Mr. Eban finished with hope in his thoughts, however slim he may
believe it to be. "My experience teaches me this," he said, "Men and
nations do act wisely when they have exhausted all the other

In the articles I looked at Eban was not accused of lifting a joke
from Churchill, so he or one of his speech writers may have crafted
it. The joke may have been modified and reassigned to Churchill. The
mutability of the phraseology impedes traceability. It is a natural
schema for a joke I think, and it may have predecessors and precursors
before 1967


JL comment continued:
> My vote is that it's Memorex, not real, but I'm only guessing. I haven't
> found anything like it in YBQ.
> I can remember when it was Lincoln and Mark Twain who used to say
> everything. This Churchill and Orwell business seems ominous somehow.
> JL
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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