Lakeland Ledger (Florida)
By Lonnie Brown
The Coffee Guzzlers Club members had kindly asked our waitress for refills. “Show me the money,” she mumbled on her way by.
Nevermore, the club’s pet raven and mascot, provided some insight into the remark.
Quoth the Raven: “Cuba Gooding Jr. made the line famous in the 1996 Jerry Maguire movie. But actually, it has been around for a long time — for more than 100 years.”
As it turns out, the raven has been reading a new book by Ralph Keyes, “The Quote Verifier — Who Said What, Where and When” (St. Martin’s Griffin; $15.95).
In an interview last month with National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation,” Keyes said even the 17th edition of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” book attributes the quote to screenwriter Cameron Crowe.
That’s probably because Crowe told ABC’s Chris Wallace in an interview: “You’re looking at the man who invented the phrase ‘show me the money.’ I deserve all the credit for it.”
Not exactly, said Keyes. “There are a lot of databases now where you can enter key words and they’ll take you back to early newspapers and early magazines. I did that and I found ‘show me the money’ was early boxer parlance.”
Specifically, Jim Jefferies was asked in 1901 if he would fight Gus Ruhlin for the heavyweight championship. Said Jefferies: “Why, certainly, but I don’t propose to fight him for 50 cents. They must show me the money.”
Keyes said five years later, Battling Nelson, a lightweight champ, told a reporter he would “fight anybody if you show me the money.” In 1907, heavyweight Tommy Burns was asked about fighting Jack Johnson. “Show me the money!” said Burns. “Show me the money and I’ll fight if it’s enough.”
Keyes said his research often found good-sounding quotes that couldn’t immediately be assigned to a speaker would drift about as “orphan quotes.” Finally, they were given a personality.
If I said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” you might remember that the quote has been associated with the late Green Bay Packers’ coach Vince Lombardi.
“It must have been Vince Lombardi,” said Keyes. “Everybody’s heard of him. It was actually Red Sanders, a coach in the early ’50s at UCLA who originated that one. But who’s heard of Red Sanders?”
Keyes found that many of Sanders’ colleagues from the 1930s recall him using the phrase when he was was coaching highschool football in Georgia. In 1950, Sanders, then at UCLA, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times: “Speaking about football victories, Sanders told his group, ‘Men, I’ll be honest. Winning isn’t everything. [Long pause.] It’s the only thing! [Laughter].’ ”
P.T. Barnum is often cited as saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Keyes’ book notes that Barry Popik, called “the restless genius of American etymology” by The Wall Street Journal, found three 1883 newspaper articles referring to “There’s a sucker born every minute” as a saying popular among New York City gamblers.
Keyes said that one person did actually say a quote oft attributed to him — but he said the nowfamous quote in the course of denying quotes that had been attributed to him.
“I really didn’t say everything I said,” said former New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra.
Lonnie Brown, The Ledger’s associate editor, is interlocutor of the Coffee Guzzlers Club. The club motto this week is: “I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” (Keyes said Robert McCloskey, a State Department spokesman during the Vietnam War, actually made this statement to reporters.)