A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

Recent entries:
“A politician would attend the opening of an envelope” (9/19)
“Driver carries no cash—he’s married” (bumper sticker) (9/19)
“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars—let go to move forward” (9/19)
Post-Partisan (9/19)
“An active mind cannot exist in an inactive body” (9/18)
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Entry from June 10, 2010
“A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground”

"A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground” has been credited to writer H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) and comedian Groucho Marx (1890-1977). To be “on the fence” means to listen to both sides of an issue; to have “ears on the ground” means to be able to hear the latest information.

The political saying appears to date from 1935.


Wikiquote: H. L. Mencken
Henry Louis Mencken (12 September 1880 – 29 January 1956), better known as H. L. Mencken, was a twentieth-century journalist, satirist, social critic, cynic, and freethinker, known as the “Sage of Baltimore” and the “American Nietzsche”. He is often regarded as one of the most influential American writers of the early 20th century.
(...)
Unsourced
A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.

Google Books
A Connotary;
Definitions not found in dictionaries, collected from the sayings of the wise and otherwise

Third Edition
By John Garland Pollard
New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell
1935
Pg. 87:
Politician
(...)
(b) The only animal who can sit on the fence and keep both ears to the ground.

24 May 1936, Trenton (NJ) Evening Times, “Washington ‘Off the Record’” by Sigrid Arne, pg. 4, col. 1:
Snorts and chortles alike meet the most recent definition of a politician which is going the rounds at the Capitol. It says, “A politician is a man who can sit on a fence and keep both ears to the ground.”

28 February 1939, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Thorpe Points to Socialism: Chamber’s Editor Says Nation Already Far Along on Way,” pg. A1:
Of course the boys back in Washington are a peculiar biological species. They can sit on a fence and keep both ears on different sides,

1 December 1940, Los Angeles (CA) Times, pg. J15:
POLITICIAN The only animal who can sit on the fence and keep both ears to the ground.

Google News Archive
25 July 1946, Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette, “Hollywood” by Hugh Dixon, pg. 9, col. 5:
Credit Groucho Marx with the observation it’s very difficult for a politician to sit on the fence and also keep his ear to the ground.

22 December 1946, New York (NY) Times, ‘The Week in Review,” pg. 76:
Someone once observed that “a politician is an animal that can sit on the fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.” The remark points up a political tradition usually followed by aspirants to the Presidential nomination.

Google News Archive
25 July 1948, Palm Beach (FL) Post-Times, “Olin Miller,” pg. 4, col. 2:
We never cease to marvel at the ability of the average politician to sit on the fence with his ear to the ground and dodge issues.

Google Books
Basic training in speech
By Lester Thonssen and Howard Gilkinson
Boston, MA: Heath
1953
Pg. 271:
“A politician is an animal who can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.”

Google Books
The American treasury, 1455-1955
By Clifton Fadiman
New York, NY: Harper
1955
Pg. 339:
Politician: — An animal who can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground. ANON

Google Books
Laughter and the sense of humor
By Edmund Bergler
New York, NY: Intercontinental Medical Book Corp.
1956
Pg. 97:
On politicians:
Politician: an animal who can sit on the fence and yet keep both ears on the ground. (Anon.)

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Thursday, June 10, 2010 • Permalink