[Ads-l] Outside a horse, a book is man's best friend--inside it's too dark to read

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Aug 14 04:48:59 UTC 2021

Way back in April 2010 Laurence Horn initiated a thread about a quip
attributed to Groucho Marx: Outside of a dog, a book is man's best
friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.


There was also a pertinent thread in March 2017. Bill Mullins posted
several intriguing variant statements.


Ten days ago correspondent Andrew Steinberg sent me a 1947 citation
containing the earliest variant I have encountered. Evidence now
indicates that this joke evolved during several years beginning in
1947. Groucho only received credit by 1973; hence, it is unlikely that
he originated this quip.

In May 1947 the "Nashville Banner" of Tennessee printed a column
containing a variant of the jest based on a horse instead of a dog:

[ref] 1947 May 31, Nashville Banner, Sideline Sidelights by Fred
Russell, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Nashville, Tennessee.
(Newspapers_com) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Probably because he is well-read and articulate, Jockey Ted Atkinson
has been credited with the following “observation”: “Outside a horse,
a book is man's best friend—inside it's too dark to read.”
[End excerpt]

I've updated the QI article, but the changes are not visible yet. The
updated article should be visible in a few days.


[Begin acknowledgement]
This question was inspired by a discussion on the ADS mailing list.
Thanks to the participants especially Laurence Horn for initiating the
discussion. Many thanks to Andrew Steinberg who located the crucial
May 31, 1947 citation. Special thanks to Bill Mullins who located
valuable evidence, e.g., citations dated December 2, 1948; September
6, 1950; November 23, 1952; and April 5, 1973. Additional thanks to
John Baker who located the February 1954 citation.
[End acknowledgement]

Here is a citation located by Bill.

In December 1948 columnist Phil Willon of the "Binghamton Press" in
New York published a variant with a different punchline and the word
"policeman" instead of "book":

[ref] 1948 December 2, Binghamton Press, All in Fun by Phil Willon,
Quote Page 21, Column 6, Binghamton, New York. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Outside of a dog, a policeman is a boy's best friend. Inside of a dog,
a boy isn't likely to meet one anyhow.
[End excerpt]

Here is another citation I found.

In January 1950 columnist Phil Willon published a version from the
point of view of a dog. The text contained a typo with the word "man"
appearing instead of the correct "man's":

[ref] 1950 January 11, The Sunday Press (Binghamton Press), The
Lurking Lensman by Phil Willon, Quote Page 3C, Column 1, Binghamton,
New York. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Outside of me, a book's a man best friend. Inside of me, he probably
couldn't read it anyhow.
[End excerpt]


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

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