Benjamin Disraeli's exemplary use of negation in the Parliament

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 21 17:52:56 UTC 2014

Back in November 2011 I posted about an entertaining Benjamin Disraeli
anecdote set in the House of Commons. The evidence was weak because
the earliest occurrence was a match with an unconfirmed GB date of

I obtained the 1958 book and verified the cite but was unable to push
back the date of the Disraeli version of the joke. Eventually I found
a variant set in Sweden in 1927, Here is a link to the QI entry
followed by information about the 1927 cite.

Earlier evidence would be welcome. Thanks.

Half of the Town Councilors Are Not Fools

[Begin excerpt]
The first instance of the jape found by QI was printed in a newspaper
story in July 1927 set in an unnamed town near Uppsala, Sweden. A
government official reportedly lost his temper and rebuked his
fellows. Boldface has been added [1]:

[Begin nested excerpt]
A municipal councilor … remarked that certainly half of his colleagues
were fools. An apology was demanded. He promised to make reparation
and caused bills with the following correction to be posted on
boardings in the town: “I said that half of the town councilors are
fools. I now declare that half of the town councilors are not fools.”
[End nested excerpt]

Over the years the jest has evolved and has been aimed at a variety of
people, including town councilors, aldermen, cabinet members, and
members of the House of Commons.

[1] 1927 July 20, Altoona Mirror, The Better Half, Quote Page 12,
Column 1, Altoona, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
[End excerpt]


On Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 4:42 PM, Garson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at> wrote:
> The following quotation attributed to Benjamin Disraeli might provide
> a fun example during a lecture about the use of negation:
> [Begin excerpt]
> Many an anecdote can be related involving the use of an
> unparliamentary expression. One of the most famous concerns the
> occasion when Disraeli was called to order for declaring that half the
> Cabinet were asses. 'Mr. Speaker, I withdraw,' he apologized, 'half
> the Cabinet are not asses!'
> [End excerpt]
> This text above is extracted from a 1972 book and it has not been
> verified on paper. I also think a version of this anecdote was told in
> a 1958 book. But I have not been able to push this entertaining story
> further back in time. Disraeli died in 1881.
> The wording varies, e.g., the terms "members of the Cabinet", "cabinet
> members", "Cabinet", and "members" are all used.  Maybe older variants
> of the tale suppressed the word "asses" or a maybe an entirely
> different word was used. If a list member can find an earlier version
> I would love to hear about it. I do not have access to UK content such
> as The Times or The Manchester Guardian historical databases.
> Here are two unverified cites:
> Cite: 1972, An Encyclopaedia of Parliament by Norman Wilding and
> Philip Laundy, GB Page 760, Cassell, London. (Google Books snippet;
> Not verified on paper; Snippet shows text; Data may be inaccurate)
> There is a substantial partial match of anecdote text above in the 1958 edition.
> Cite: 1958, An Encyclopaedia of Parliament by Norman Wilding and
> Philip Laundy, Hathitrust Match Page 581, Cassell, London.
> (HathiTrust; Not verified on paper; Snippets not visible; Data may be
> inaccurate)
> Garson

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