nail that Jell-O

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon May 23 18:25:47 UTC 2011

On Mon, May 23, 2011 at 1:18 PM, victor steinbok wrote:
> On Mon, May 23, 2011 at 11:19 AM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>> The earliest use, at least until an earlier one is found, was
>> submitted by Prof. Joe E. Decker of the University of Tampa: ''You
>> could no more make an agreement with them,'' wrote Theodore Roosevelt
>> in 1915, describing his troubles with the Colombian Government leaders
>> during negotiations for rights in the Panama Canal Zone, ''than you
>> could nail currant jelly to a wall - and the failure to nail currant
>> jelly to a wall is not due to the nail; it is due to the currant
>> jelly.''
> But here's the definitive one. It supplies the date (July 2, 1915) and the
> source--"private letter to me" (written by William Roscoe Thayer), as well
> as the complete relevant text:
> To make things more interesting, it's in the biography of Hay published in
> 1915 (so it's not likely to have appeared in the earlier edition ;-) ).

That's likely the source that Decker used. In a letter to the editor
responding to Safire's original query about the phrase, he had
explained that the quote appeared in a letter to Thayer.


Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list