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:
“When I said ‘nuke the Chinese,’ I meant put the takeout in the microwave” (4/22)
Entry forthcoming—B.P. (4/22)
“A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people…” (4/22)
Entry forthcoming—B.P. (4/22)
Entry forthcoming—B.P. (4/22)
More new entries...

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z


Entry from November 05, 2016
“An ill wind that nobody blows good” (musical instrument joke)

“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good” is a proverb from the 16th century. In the 1920s, the proverb was expanded to jokingly describe musical instruments. “It’s an ill wood-wind that doesn’t blow some orchestra good” was published in the Pittsburgh (PA) Sunday Post on April 11, 1920. “A saxophone player has an ill-wind that blows no good” was published in a syndicated “Tom Sims Says” newspaper column in December 1921.

The piccolo and the oboe are other instruments that have been included in jocular takes on the proverb. “What you probably meant to say the other day is that a piccolo is an ill wood-wind that blows nobody good” was published in the New York (NY) Evening Post on November 11, 1929. “H. T. C. comes through with a definition that is new to us. ‘An oboe,’ he says, ‘is an ill wood that nobody blows good’” was published in the Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer on November 16, 1929.

Walter Winchell wrote in his “On Broadway” newspaper column on January 7, 1930:

“The Broadway definition of an oboe is ‘An ill wind that nobody blows good.’”


Wiktionary: it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good
Proverb
It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

1. An action or occurrence must be very bad (ill) indeed if it brings nothing good to anyone.
Usage notes
Often misunderstood. The saying is based on the premise that when something is bad, someone else will usually benefit. However, it must be very bad, when nobody at all benefits.

11 April 1920, Pittsburgh (PA) Sunday Post, “Music Comment and Current Events” by Harvey B. Gaul, sec. 6, pg. 1, col. 3:
It’s an ill wood-wind that doesn’t blow some orchestra good.

24 December 1921, Illinois State Journal (Springfield, IL), “Tom Sims Says,” pg. 6, col. 5:
A saxophone player has an ill-wind that blows no good.

16 April 1925, Life (New York, NY), “Life Lines,” pg. 6, col. 1:
The saxophone, says a dispatch from Glasgow, is driving the bagpipe out of business. Proving that it’s an ill wind instrument that blows nobody any good.

22 August 1926, The Enquirer and Evening News (Battle Creek, MI), “Trumpet Toots Homesick Tune,” pg. 5, col. 6:
Someone, in a philosophical mood, rose to remark once that “It’s an ill wind instrument that blows no good notes.”

November 1926, The Melody Maker and British Metronome, “Military and Brass Band News,” pg. 35, col. 3:
For what it’s worth, here it is: “It’s an ill wind which knows its way out of a saxophone!”

28 April 1928, Freeport (IL) Journal-Standard, “Flapper Fanny Says,” pg. 7, col. 6:
It’s an ill wind that blows a saxophone.

July 1928, The Melody Maker (Syncopation and Dance Band News), “July Jest,” pg. 733, col. 1:
Modern Proverb.
“It’s an ill wood-wind that blows nobody any good,” as the Sax player said when he popped his Clarinet for a quid.
G. C.

7 June 1929, Life (New York, NY), pg. 20, col. 3:
Sounds Like It, Anyway
It’s an ill wind that blows most saxophones.

7 June 1929, East Liverpool (OH) Review, “Maybe I’m Wrong” by John P. Medbury, pg. 4, col. 3:
You’re Right.
It’s an ill wind that blows a saxophone.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
11 November 1929, New York (NY) Evening Post, “Left at the Post,” pg. 12, col. 7:
We’ll Settle for That
Sir—What you probably meant to say the other day is that a piccolo is an ill wood-wind that blows nobody good.
JOE STENOKOWITZ.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
16 November 1929, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, “Editorial Comment,” pg. 10, col. 3:
H. T. C. comes through with a definition that is new to us. “An oboe,” he says, “is an ill wood that nobody blows good.”
MORGAN COOK

27 November 1929, New York (NY) Herald Tribune, “The Lantern” by Edward Hope, pg. 16:
It was Joe Alger, the musical advertising agent, who was asked not long ago to define a piccolo. He pondered for only a fraction of an instant. Then: “It’s an ill woodwind,” he said, “that nobody blows good.”

29 December 1929, Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, “Answer, Echo” by Suetonius Jr., pg. E7, col. 3:
Which reminds us: What is an oboe? Question by Edward Ziegler (of the Metropolitan). An oboe is an ill woodwind that nobody blows any good. (Answer by same.)

7 January 1930, Scranton (PA) Republican, “Walter Winchell On Broadway,” pg. 5, col. 4:
The Broadway definition of an oboe is “An ill wind that nobody blows good.”

17 April 1930, Pittsburgh (PA) Press, “Microphone Musings” by Arthur Gorman, pg. 24, col. 1:
Victor Saudek, KDKA music director, was asked for a definition of a piccolo. he replied: “It’s an ill woodwind that nobody blows good.”

12 October 1930, Sunday American-Statesman (Austin, TX), “College Humor,” pg. 8, col. 3:
Prof: Give me a definition of oboe.
Stude: It’s the ill woodwind that nobody blows good.
-- Drexerd.

OCLC WorldCat record
Ill wind : (You’re blowin’ me no good) : from “Cotton Club parade”
Author: Harold Arlen; Ted Koehler; Freddy Martin
Publisher: New York : American Record Corp., [1934?]
Edition/Format: Music : 78 rpm : No Linguistic Content

The Chronicle of Higher Education
November 3, 2016 by Geoffrey Pullum
Witticisms, Plagiarism, and Language History
(...)
The language columnist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer was the only one to push things back to before 1930: Jack Hulbert (1892–1978) apparently used the line in a show called “The House that Jack Built” at the Adelphi Theatre in London some time in the fall of 1929; it’s mentioned in The Tatler and Bystander, November 27, 1929, Page 422. Could the origin have been in Britain after all (despite that American-sounding nonstandard use of good as an adverb)?

If so, the remark crossed the Atlantic swiftly, because Edward Ziegler, an administrator for the Metropolitan Opera, told the joke to a reporter who printed it only a month later (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 29, 1929, Page 53). That’s just eight days before Walter Winchell apparently kickstarted its full-scale popularization. And it was already in New York before that: Dave Lull (in an email) tells me that The New York Evening Post had a misstated reference to the quip (with “blows nobody good” instead of “nobody blows good”), applied to the piccolo, in its November 11 edition in 1929.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityTime/Weather • Saturday, November 05, 2016 • Permalink