[Ads-l] "Fish Without a Bicycle" Quote

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Oct 11 17:48:01 EDT 2016

Congratulations to Fred on his great discovery.

Bill mentioned an interesting 1972 variant with "religion" and "fish
without a bicycle".

The phrase "fish without a bicycle" was also used in a simile about
"faith" in 1958 in a student newspaper called "The Swarthmore
Phoenix". Nigel Rees discussed this in "Cassell's Humorous Quotations"
(2001). (Fred also mentioned this variant in the YBQ.) Rees stated
that a psychologist named Charles S. Harris asserted that he wrote the
saying in the student newspaper in 1958.

Scans of "The Swarthmore Phoenix" are now available online and the
variant is visible in the April 7, 1958 issue. Here are the citation

[ref] 1958 April 7, The Swarthmore Phoenix, Student Newspaper of
Swarthmore College, "Quote" by ROCCATORSO, Quote Page 2, Column 3,
Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. (Digital Archive at


[Begin excerpt]
"A man without faith is like
a fish without a bicycle."
[End excerpt]

The 1974 match in "Dental Economics" in HathiTrust located by SG might
be a variant.  The phrase "like a fish needs a bicycle" is present on
page 92 and so is "God". So it might be one of the religious theme
variants, but I have not been able to obtain an illuminating match.

In 1898 a figurative comparison also depicted an unlikely pairing of
an animal and a bicycle. The phrase "any more that a cow needs a
bicycle" appeared in a Connecticut newspaper. This citation was
mentioned by researcher Gary Martin.

[ref] 1898 December 31, The Hartford Courant Besieged by W. L. Alden,
Quote Page 15, Column 1, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Along in 1886 I was the American consul at Aragua, a town in the south
of Spain about a hundred miles from the coast. The place didn't need
an American consul any more than a cow needs a bicycle; for it had no
trade with America, and no American tourist ever dreamed of stopping
[End excerpt]

The 1898 text is difficult to read, and the location "Aragua" might be
"Aragon"; however, a reprint of the article in a Wilmington, Delaware
newspaper on March 28, 1899 definitely contains "Aragua".


On Tue, Oct 11, 2016 at 4:11 PM, MULLINS, WILLIAM D (Bill) CIV USARMY
RDECOM AMRDEC (US) <william.d.mullins18.civ at mail.mil> wrote:
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Shapiro, Fred
>> Sent: Saturday, October 08, 2016 2:46 PM
>> Subject: "Fish Without a Bicycle" Quote
>> I took a break from wondering whether I have to make a quotation about grabbing women "by the pussy" as my Quotation of the Year to
>> revisit one of my favorite quotes of the past half-century.
> Let us know when you figure it out.
>> Bill Mullins has pushed the earliest documented example of "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" back to June 5, 1976.
>> Garson O'Toole pushed the earliest attestation of the similar "[A] woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" back to May 5, 1976.
> The following predecessor is mentioned in the archives, but I don't see it accurately dated anywhere:
> _Madison [WI] Capital Times_ 25 July 1972 p 32 col 4 [newspaperarchive.com]
> "While I have felt for years that a man without religion is like a fish without a bicycle, I long ago gave up fighting people's superstitious beliefs."
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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