[Ads-l] Quote: Can't somebody bring me a one-handed economist? (attributed to Harry Truman)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Thu Apr 11 16:44:08 UTC 2019

Back in 2017 the late Joel Berson asked me (on this mailing list)
about a Harry Truman anecdote that envisioned a "one-handed

Other researchers have explored this topic: the Truman Library in
1986, Ralph Keyes in 1995, Paul F. Boller in 1996, and Barry Popik in
2010. I found some new information that I considered worthy of
sharing, so I created a QI entry.


[Begin excerpt]
Dear Quote Investigator: Economists, lawyers, scientists, and other
experts often provide tentative and inconclusive advice to clients.
These wily advisers avoid definitive statements and employ locutions
such as: on the one hand, but on the other hand. Here are four comical
phrases describing the decisive advisers desired by clients:

One-handed economist
One-armed lawyer
One-armed tax man
An expert with only one hand

U.S. President Harry Truman apparently wished for a one-handed
economist. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence of this family of
quips located by QI appeared in the “Pittsburgh Post-Gazette” of
Pennsylvania in 1951. The joke was told by a tax expert who was
relaying the words of an anonymous businessman. Emphasis added to
excerpts by QI:

[Begin nested quotation]
David Boyd Chase, the New York tax consultant, told the Pittsburgh
Advertising Club about an executive who was interviewing a number of
tax experts for a job with his company. He informed Mr. Chase: “We
want a one-armed tax man. Every time we ask one of these experts if an
item is deductible, he says, ‘Oh, sure, but on the other hand—’ We
want one who has no other hand.”
[End nested quotation]

Harry Truman was the President between 1945 and 1953; hence, this type
of quip was circulating while he was in office; however, QI and other
researchers have not yet found solidly-dated contemporary evidence
indicating that Truman employed the joke. On the other hand, a 1974
citation and later testimony did attribute the two phrases “one-handed
economist” and “one-armed economist” to Truman.
[End excerpt]

Feedback welcome

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

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