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 September 22, 2009
“You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit”

The expressive flip side to “chicken salad” is “chicken feathers” (a euphemism for “chicken shit"). A difference “between chicken salad and chicken feathers” is cited in print in 1924; “like chicken salad compares with chicken feathers” is cited from 1930.

San Antonio (TX) Express sports editor Dick Peebles wrote in 1948: “Not even the best chef in the world can make chicken salad out of chicken feathers.” Baseball’s Washington Senators fired manager Joe Kuhel in October 1949, who is often given credit for the expression when he said: “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers.” (That is, a baseball manager can’t do much without good players.)

Then-senator Lyndon Johnson used “chicken salad” and “chicken feathers” to describe then-vice president Richard Nixon in the 1950s. Johnson is recorded to have said about a Nixon speech: “"Boys, I may not know much, but I know the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad.” Johnson once publicly praised Nixon, however, and a news reporter asked why. “Son, in politics you’ve got to learn that overnight chicken shit can turn to chicken salad,” Johnson reportedly said.

Another phrase using the same terms is: “One man’s chicken shit is another man’s chicken salad.”


Urban Dictionary
you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit
You can’t make something from anything.
You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.
by Majkl2 Mar 2, 2008

21 February 1924, Danville (VA) Bee, pg. 1, col. 7:
“There is as much difference between the Barren bill land and the Lasner measure as there is between chicken salad and chicken feathers.”

29 April 1930, Evening Huronite (Huron, SD), pg. 4, col. 3:
It compares with a picture such as “Show of Shows” about like chicken salad compares with chicken feathers.

3 March 1948, San Antonio (TX) Express, “The Voice of the Peebles” by Dick Peebles (Sports Editor), pg. 1B, col. 2:
However, regardless of how good the manager, he has to have the players to win. Not even the best chef in the world can make chicken salad out of chicken feathers.

8 October 1949, Cleveland (OH) Plain Dealer, pg. 8:
The manager’s role is important. So is spirit, upon which Bill Veeck is currently placing so much emphasis. But baseball fans who have observed the difference between winners and losers in the past agree with Joe Kuhel, deposed manager of the Washington Nationals, when he says “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers.”

11 May 1967, Trenton (NJ) Evening Times, “Weltner Parodies Wallace” by Woodruff Halsey, pg. 20, col. 2:
Asked whether (Lester—ed.) Maddox could possibly be effective, (Charles L.—ed.) Weltner said, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken fat.”

Google Books
I Am Third
By Gale Sayers with Al Silverman
New York, NY: Viking Press
1970
Pg. 150:
Another was “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken — .”

12 January 1976, Gastonia (NC) Gazette, ‘Article defends politicians’ by D. R. Segal, pg. 4, cols. 4-5:
Lawyers don’t get themselves personally or deeply involved in controversies; they simply get paid to represent a particular viewpoint, affect the best deal for their client and wind up friends with the lawyer on the other side. He tells the story of Lyndon Johnson who once called Vice President Richard Nixon a “chicken crud.” Not long after, Mr. Nixon returned from South America, a national hero because of some abuse he suffered down there, and Mr. Johnson greeted him warmly. “I thought you said he was a chicken crud,” a reporter said to Lyndon. “Son,” Johnson replied, “in politics you’ve got to learn that overnight chicken crud can turn into chicken salad.”

19 June 1985, Logansport (IN) Pharos-Tribune, “Babe Ruth Campers Perform For Scout” by Greg McClure, pg. 16, col. 1:
In other words, they got the opportunity to demonstrate their baseball skills in front of Jim Martz of the Major League Scouting Bureau. “There’s an old scout’s saying, ‘you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken manure,’” Martz said. “A lot of it (whether a player has major league talent) is God-given talent.”

Google Books
The Prince of Tides
By Pat Conroy
New York, NY: Bantam Books
1986
Pg. 90:
“You can’t make chicken salad out of chickenshit.”
“I do not understand.”
“Just a saying.”

Google Books
Uncensored Thoughts:
Pot shots from a public librarian

By Will Manley
Jefferson, NC: McFarland
1994
Pg. ?:
A sportswriter once asked Casey (Stengel—ed.) why he was such a good manager with the Yanks and such a poor one with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. Reportedly Casey replied, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.”

Google Books
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
By Elizabeth M. Knowles
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
1999
Pg. 408:
Lyndon Baines Johnson 1908-73
36th President of the US
“Son, in politics you’ve got to learn that overnight chicken shit can turn to chicken salad.”
Fawn Brodie Richard Nixon (1983) ch. 25

Google Books
One-night stands with American history:
Odd, amusing, and little-known incidents

By Richard Shenkman and Kurt Reiger
New York, NY: Perennial
2003
Pg. 283:
Lyndon Johnson was the earthiest president in recent American history. In the 1950s, when Richard Nixon was vice president and LBJ was the majority leader of the Senate, reporters sensed that the Texan had not taken a particular speech of Nixon’s very seriously. When asked why, LBJ smiled and said, “Boys, I may not know much, but I know the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad.”

OCLC WorldCat record
How to make chicken salad out of chicken shit
Author: Morgan Ross Herrin
Publisher: 2005.
Edition/Format: Thesis/dissertation : Manuscript : English

Google Books
The Washington baseball fan’s little book of wisdom
By Frederic J. Frommer
Lanham; Taylor Trade Pub.
2005
Pg. 67:
‘You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken feathers.” — Quote attributed to Washington Senators manager Joe Kuhel after his team finished last in 1949. Turns out he probably used a more colorful word than “feathers.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Tuesday, September 22, 2009 • Permalink