[Ads-l] Quote: A gentleman is a man who can play a cornet but won't. (1917)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Apr 21 11:58:44 UTC 2019

The quotation in the subject line is a member of a family of quips
that was mentioned at the Freakonomics website back in 2011. I began
to explore the topic back in that year. Barry created an entry in
2013, and I posted some new results on this mailing list in 2014. Now
there is a QI entry.

My Idea of a Gentleman Is He Who Can Play a Cornet and Won’t

[Begin excerpt]
Great thanks to Kate Styrsky, Bill Mullins, and Marian T. Wirth whose
inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this
exploration. Styrsky discussed the topic back in April 2011 on the
Freakonomics website. Mullins was inspired to ask QI when he
encountered a variant joke about card tricks that was mentioned in a
forum discussing magic. Wirth tweeted about the topic and mentioned
the ukulele variant. Special thanks to Barry Popik who also explored
this topic and found valuable citations.
[End excerpt]

Feedback welcome,

On Sun, Feb 2, 2014 at 10:50 AM ADSGarson O'Toole
<adsgarsonotoole at gmail.com> wrote:
> Back in April 2011 Fred was answering questions about quotations at
> the Freakonomics web location. The comments section contained an
> inquiry about the following saying:
> [Begin excerpt]
> A gentleman is one who knows how to play the bagpipe, but refrains.
> [End excerpt]
> The questioner noted that variants of the phrase referenced other
> instruments such as the banjo and accordion. At the time, I posted
> some examples with the cornet, saxophone, and bagpipes.
> http://freakonomics.com/2011/04/25/quotes-uncovered-twain-or-not-twain/
> Barry performed a valuable search for this family of sayings in January 2013:
> http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/a_gentleman_is_a_man_who_can_play_the_saxophone_but_doesnt/
> Prompted by an inquiry from Bill about an analogous comment in the
> domain of magic card tricks I've performed some additional searches.
> Here are the earliest instances I've verified for the cornet,
> saxophone, bagpipes, and accordion. Any cites of this type before 1917
> would be interesting, I think. Cites for individual instruments that
> antedate these benchmarks would be interesting. Early cites for other
> instruments or activities would be intriguing especially in the domain
> of magic. Thanks!
> [ref] 1917 February 3, Portsmouth Daily Times Doc Koko's Kolumn, Quote
> Page 14, Column 6, Portsmouth, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive)[/ref]
> [Begin excerpt]
> Definition of the True Gentleman
> Lord Chesterfield had his own crude ideas about what a gentleman
> should be, but Frank Fiest of Atchison, says a gentleman is a man who
> can play a cornet but won't.--Kansas City Star.
> [End excerpt]
> [ref] 1922 June 20, The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne News Sentinel),
> Private Opinions Publicly Expressed, (Letters to the Editor),
> Politeness: Letter from S.A.W., Quote Page 4, Column 3, Fort Wayne,
> Indiana. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]
> [Begin excerpt]
> Then he appeared in person and was asked if he knew the definition of
> gentleman. He said no so his friends told him. "A gentleman is a man
> who plays a saxophone but won't"
> [End excerpt]
> [ref] 1965 September 2, Oregonian, Today's Chuckle (Upper-left corner
> of front page), Quote Page 1, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]
> [Begin excerpt]
> Today's Chuckle
> A true gentleman is one who can play the bagpipes--and doesn't.
> [End excerpt]
> [ref] 1972, After the Ball by Ian Whitcomb, Quote Page 176, Published
> by Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, London. (Verified on paper)[/ref]
> [End excerpt]
> One pro wit defined a gentleman as one who 'knows how to play an
> accordion but doesn't'.
> [End excerpt]
> Garson

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

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