Nothing was wrong until now
November 17, 2005 11:26 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a comprehensive source for quotes or anecdotes. Specifically, the mute girl/ketchup story.

A little girl of 6 or 7 had never said a word and was thought mute.
Until one day at dinner she spoke up in clear voice and said "Please pass the ketchup".
Her parents, astounded, made a big deal of this event and talked amongst themselves trying to discover what had cured her.
Finally, after much ado and no conclusion they asked her what had cured her muteness.
She said, "I was never mute. Nothing was wrong until now"

Can anyone point me to the origin? Or a resource to search?
posted by tcy to Writing & Language (23 answers total)
and the second link
posted by bigmusic at 11:36 PM on November 17, 2005

ah but he has a disclaimer too.
posted by bigmusic at 11:38 PM on November 17, 2005

Well, I've always heard it as the "My Soup Is Too Cold" joke:

When their little boy wouldn't speak, mom and dad took him to the doctor, who was also baffled. Finally one day the boy said, "My soup is too cold." His parents were ecstatic. "Why haven't you spoken to us up to now?" "Because the soup was never too cold before."

It's been around forever. I think I first heard it almost 30 years ago from my ancient neighbor, Abe W., the Henny Youngman of Gordon Avenue*, who also told this story about the boy's brother:

A rich lady was driven to a five star hotel in her Rolls Royce. As she was met by the attentive hotel staff she told one bell boy to carry her suitcase, another to carry her son's suitcase and the third to carry her son. This last bell boy enquired, 'What's the matter lady, can't he walk ? ' The lady retorted, 'Yes, he can, but thank God he doesn't have to !'

Only my neighbor's story took place at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. I think the soup was too cold at Kutsher's.

If only my Friar's Club Bible had a subject index...

*Okay, one more in Abe's memory: One fine August day Mrs. Edelman and Mrs. Horowitz run into each other at Grossinger's just as they have every year for decades. Mrs. Edelman says, "Mrs. Horowitz! -- we missed you at the Eden Roc. Didn't you go to Miami this winter?" Mrs. Horowitz replies, "No, no of course we went! We stayed at the Fontainebleau this year; we aren't allowed back at the Eden Roc since they caught my Sidney urinating in the swimming pool."

Mrs. Edelman: "Urinating in the swimming pool? That doesn't seem like such a big thing -- everybody's done it at least once in their life."

Mrs. Horowitz: "Yes, but off the diving board?"

Thank you. I'll be here all week. Tip your waitress.

posted by Opposite George at 12:26 AM on November 18, 2005

And I've always heard it about Albert Einstein but it is supposedly apocryphal.
posted by grouse at 2:50 AM on November 18, 2005

My impression--supported by the details of Opposite George's version--has always been that this joke is part of Jewish American oral heritage. I don't have my copy of The Big Book of Jewish Humor with me, but I'm pretty sure this joke is included therein.

Of course, that doesn't prove that the joke originated within Jewish culture, but it does suggest you might find some hints in a good scholarly work on Jewish humor. (The Big Book of Jewish Humor is a fantastic book--and is, in fact, the best humor anthology I've ever seen--but it's not particularly scholarly, and I'm guessing that it doesn't say much about the origins of this joke. It's been a while since I've read it, though, so I can't say for sure.)
posted by yankeefog at 4:44 AM on November 18, 2005

The grandparent of all sites on the net for this sort of info is the newsgroup alt.folklore.urban.

The newsgroup faq, a long listing of "urban legends" such as the one in your question, resides on at the archive formerly known as the cathouse.

A more informative source is snopes, started by a pair of afu regulars. These cow-orkers (and co-habitants) research each anecdote and try to ascertain it's voracity. I know I've seen your story on their site, but I cannot seem to find it right now. Arg.

Yet another source for discussion of these sorts of stories is "Uncle Cecil" at The Straight Dope. Their discussion boards are very active and they have great research staff. The Straight Dope started as a newspaper column and has also has produced number of books of collections.

Finally, Jan Harold Brunvand has collected and investigated many of these stories in his books over the years: The Mexican Pet, The Choking Doberman and Other Stories, The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends, to name a few, as well as a number of more scholarly works on modern Folklore.
posted by bonehead at 6:28 AM on November 18, 2005

Also see here.

Thanks, bonehead!
posted by Opposite George at 6:54 AM on November 18, 2005

Great answer, bonehead.

But can I just say, in a friendly way, that the "cow-orkers" thing ceased to be funny years ago?
posted by languagehat at 7:21 AM on November 18, 2005

As another (former) afu-er, I was reading this trying to decide if they are, strictly speaking, ULs or not. These straddle the line between folklore and obvious jokes. But if it's got an FOAF component, it's an UL.

I didn't know that Barbara and snopes worked together. Is that what you meant? All I remember is she worked at Harvard (still does?), and they were married after both of them had been on afu.

I'm trying to decide if your "it's" is chum for the nearby bait or not.

On preview: "But can I just say, in a friendly way, that the 'cow-orkers' thing ceased to be funny years ago?" Our injokes are precious to us.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:32 AM on November 18, 2005

C'mon languagehat, if anyone could recognize a shiboleth, I would have thought it would be you. And, as Ms. Mikkelson and "Snopes" do work together now, so... Hey at least I spelled veracity right.

ObContent: I forgot to mention The Big Book of Urban Legends, by Jan Harold Brunvand, Robert Loren Fleming, Robert F. Boyd. A great bathroom/coffee table book.
posted by bonehead at 8:12 AM on November 18, 2005

Our injokes are precious to us.

Oh, is it an in-joke? (AKA shibboleth?) If so, I guess I sort of withdraw my objection, because then it falls into the overused-Simpsons-reference bin of stuff I wish people would get over but there's no use complaining about. I thought it was just a silly joke that belongs to no particular community: somebody back in the Stone Age (1980s?) came up with what was at the time a clever misdivision and started using it with friends, who thought it was so clever they started using it too, and eventually everybody and his brother was using it. Is there some more specific history I'm unaware of? If so, I'd like to be enlightened, so when I see "cow-orker" I can think "Ah yes, an allusion to That Wacky Episode!" instead of "......".
posted by languagehat at 10:10 AM on November 18, 2005

I will explain the joke: cow-orker as an in-joke started on afu in 1994. I think this is the original message (at least google thinks it is, and it rings a bell). The veracity/voracity and other intentional mipsellings are marks of the group too. I included a couple as shoutouts if you will. Sorry for the derail.
posted by bonehead at 10:35 AM on November 18, 2005

I'm not sure the cow-orker started in AFU. AFU is/was one a select club of very influential newsgroups with regard to USENET culture. Some of the AFU in-jokes are native to one of those other newsgroups. But wherever it comes from, "co-worker" is used quite often in AFU because it's one of the most common varieties of FOAF.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:32 AM on November 18, 2005

"voracity" is certainly native to AFU.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:32 AM on November 18, 2005

Cow-orker definitely started in AFU. I used to read it a lot and I remember when it was coined.

Another unique coinage of that group is "furrfu," which is "sheesh" rot13'd.
posted by kindall at 11:45 AM on November 18, 2005

I associate "cow-orker" with Dilbert. One more data point.
posted by cortex at 12:05 PM on November 18, 2005

and i totally fell into the "voracity" trap at AFU my first time there
posted by cortex at 12:05 PM on November 18, 2005

shriekingly embarrassing documentation
posted by cortex at 12:08 PM on November 18, 2005

Ah, thanks very much!
*joins in-group, smirks knowingly*
posted by languagehat at 12:17 PM on November 18, 2005

Madeleine is the coolest hat, ever. You're lucky it was she who got you on that. She's very nice—I also corresponded privately with her quite a bit. Just seeing her name makes me sentimental for the best things about afu. A lot of the afu regulars would be right at home here on MeFi. I think it's almost exactly the same demographic.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:34 PM on November 18, 2005

Since I can't find any UL documentation, I'll be your FOAF data point: my great aunt told a version of this story (involving yogurt, how 70's) about her oldest daughter more than 20 years ago. It looks like the basic idea predates Einstein, going back as far as Robert Louis Stevenson. And I just know there are tales with similar themes that could've been the inspiration for this, they're right on the tip of my tongue...
posted by ellanea at 12:59 PM on November 18, 2005

EB: yeah, once I got over my bumbling newbieness, I found I really liked the group. It was, as you say, a lot like MeFi in atmosphere. ARK, too, although perhaps the closer analogy to kibologists is the IRC crowd.
posted by cortex at 1:13 PM on November 18, 2005

I recall Dogbert using cow-orker in a newsletter sent to the members of his New Ruling Class, but wiki indicates that Scott Adams merely popularized it, it was in existence possibly as early as 1989.

And my dad used to tell the originally posted story, his version had a little boy and cold oatmeal.
posted by attercoppe at 6:21 PM on November 18, 2005

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