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.

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Entry from December 28, 2012
“It’s all right to drink like a fish — if you drink what a fish drinks”

"It’s all right to drink like a fish — if you drink what a fish drinks” is a jocular one-line saying that was credited by H. L. Mencken’s 1942 quotation dictionary to Mary Pettibone Poole, author of A Glass Eye at a Keyhole (1938).  Google Books does not allow a preview of this book.

“It’s all right to drink like a fish if you drink what a fish drinks” has been cited in print in 1932, when it was credited to Kelly Poole. Kelly Poole—not Mary Pettibone Poole—should be credited for the saying, based on this earliest known evidence.


27 November 1932, Daily Capital News and The Jefferson City Post-Tribune (Jefferson City, MO), and “Ott’s Kitty Cat” by Louis L. Ott, pg. 5-A, col. 2:
Kelly Poole says: “It’s all right to drink like a fish if you drink what a fish drinks.” Surely Kelly don’t include these cold mornings.

12 September 1942, Santa Fe (NM) New Mexican, “Dictionary of Quotations” (H. L. Mencken), pg. 3, col. 3:
There is a smart remark about “drinking like a fish” from Mary Pettibone Poole, who says:

“It’s all right to drink like a fish—if you drink what a fish drinks.”

3 May 1943, Trenton (NJ) Evening Times, “In Hollywood” by Erskine Johnson, pg. 14, col. 7:
Sign in the House of Murphy: “It’s all right to drink like a fish if you drink what a fish drinks.”

Google News Archive
19 January 1946, St. Joseph (MO) Gazette, “Walter Winchell in New York,” pg. 10, col. 1:
Art Weems’ advice to stay-up-lates: “It’s all right to drink like a fish if you drink what a fish drinks.”

Google News Archive
11 September 1948, Calgary (Alberta) Herald, pg. 23, col. 3:
Today’s Quotation: “It’s all right lo drink like a fish—if you drink what a fish drinks.”—Mary Pettibone Poole.

Google News Archive
20 December 1950, Lodi (CA) News-Sentinel, pg. 9, col. 4:
BARKEEP OK’S WATER
Salt Lake City (UP)—One Salt Lake bartender urges his customers to temperance. Says the large-lettered sign over the backbar: “It’s not so bad to drink like a fish— if you drink what a fish drinks!”

Google Books
Encyclopedia of Humor
By Joey Adams
New York, NY: Bonanza Books
1968
Pg. 64:
“It’s all right to drink like a fish — if you drink what a fish drinks.”

Google Books
A Dictionary of American Proverbs
Edited by Wolfgang Mieder, Stewart A. Kingsbury and Kelsie B. Harder
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
1991
Pg. 240:
It is all right to drink like a fish if you drink what a fish drinks. Rec. dist.: Fla.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Friday, December 28, 2012 • Permalink