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. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from March 08, 2007
“No more free lunch!” (Fiorello La Guardia)

Mayor Fiorello La Guardia allegedly said “No more free lunch!”—in Italian, no less (“E finita la cuccagna!”)—at his 1934 inauguration. It was a declaration against government graft.

This phrase is different from “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch” (TANSTAAFL) that was popularized by economists since at least 1938.

New York’s tradition of a “free lunch” goes back to the 1840s.

Wikipedia: TANSTAAFL
TANSTAAFL is an acronym for the adage “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch,” popularized by science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein in his 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, which discusses the problems caused by not considering the eventual outcome of an unbalanced economy. This phrase and book are popular with libertarians and economics textbooks. In order to avoid a double negative or usage of the the word “ain’t”, the acronym “TINSTAAFL” is sometimes used instead, meaning “There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”.

The phrase refers to the once-common tradition of saloons in the United States providing a “free” lunch to patrons, who were required to buy at least one drink.
In 1950, a New York Times columnist ascribed the phrase to economist Leonard P. Ayres of the Cleveland Trust Company. “It seems that shortly before the General’s death [in 1946]... a group of reporters approached the general with the request that perhaps he might give them one of several immutable economic truisms which he had gathered from his long years of economic study… ‘It is an immutable economic fact,’ said the general, ‘that there is no such thing as a free lunch.’”

“Oh, ‘tanstaafl’. Means ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.’ And isn’t,” I added, pointing to a FREE LUNCH sign across room, “or these drinks would cost half as much. Was reminding her that anything free costs twice as much in the long run or turns out worthless.”
Manuel in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966), chapter 11, p. 162, by Robert A. Heinlein

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
popularized by economist Milton Friedman];

Contrary to rumor, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia did not say it in Latin in 1934; what he really said, in Italian, was “No more free lunch” (current references: linguistlist and a speech by George H. W. Bush; more references needed).

(Historical Dictionary of American Slang, A-G)
free lunch n. something for nothing [Proverb illus. in 1949, 1996 quots. was popularized by economist Milton Friedman. The 1949 quot. was claimed to be a reprint of “an editorial we published 11 years ago,” and the phrase may thus date from 1938.]
1949 W. Morrow in S.F. News (June 1), cited by W. Safire in N.Y. Times Mag. (Jan. 23, 1994: There ain’t no such thing as free lunch.
1966 R.A. Heinlein Moon Is Harsh Mistress ch. 11: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
[1974 R.A. Caro, in N.Y. Times Mag. (Feb. 14, 1993) 14 [ref. to 1934]: [Mayor Fiorello La Guardia shook] his little fist at its [sc. City Hall’s] white Georgian elegance and shouted, “E finita la cuccagna!” ("No more free lunch!"), a phrase which...the Mayor was using to promise “The party’s over! No more graft!"]

Yale Book of Quotations
edited by Fred R. Shapiro
New Haven: Yale University Press
Pg. 349:
Robert A. Heinlein
U.S. science fiction writer, 1907-1988
Oh, “tanstaafl.” Means “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress ch. 11 (1966). There is also a 1949 book by Pierre Dos Utt titled Tanstaafl: A Plan for a New Economic World Order.
Pg. 478:
Harley L. Lutz
U.S. economist, 1882-1973
There is no free lunch.
Quoted in Oelwein (Iowa) Daily Register, 25 Nov. 1942. The specific formulation “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” appears in Columbia Law Review, Sept. 1945. The earliest authenticated version found is in the Reno Evening Gazette, 22 Jan. 1942: “Mr Wallace neglects the fact that such a thing as a ‘free’ lunch never existed. Until man acquires the power of creation, someone will always have to pay for a free lunch.” It should also be noted that an editorial by Walter Morrow in the San Francisco News, 1 June 1949, used “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” as the punch line of an economics joke. The editorial says that it is a reprint of an editorial from eleven years before, but a search through that paper from June 1937 to May 1939 found no such article.
Pg. 540:
Walter Morrow
U.S. journalist, ca. 1895-1949
There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
San Francisco News, 1 June 1949. Possibly the earliest known usage of this expression, it appears in an editorial titled “The Fable of the King of All the Wise Men—or Economics in Eight Words.” In Morrow’s fable, a king asks his advisers to summarize economics in a “short and simple text.” After they initially respond with eighty-seven volumes of six hundred pages each, the king’s wrath and resulting executions force the economists to restate their science in ever-briefer summations. Finally, the last economist produces an eight-word distillation: “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” The editorial says that it is a reprint of an editorial from eleven years before, but research for this book in the San Francisco News from June 1937 to May 1939 revealed no such editorial.

27 June 1938, El Paso (TX) Herald-Post, “Econcmics in Eight Words,” pg. 4, col. 1:
“Speak on” cried the king, and the palace guards leveled their crossbows. But the old economist rose fearlessly to his feet stood face to face with the king, and said:

“Sire, in eight words I will reveal to you all the wisdom that I have distilled through all these years from all the writings of all the economists who once practiced their sciences in your kingdom. Here is my text:

“There ain’t no such thing as free lunch.”

3 October 1949, The Bradford Era (Bradford, PA), column by George Sokolosky, pg. 6, col. 4:
These Days
“Tanstaafl" Contains Masterly Plan of Author

Pierre Dos Utt is a learned man whose name appears in no “Who’s Who” and whose scholarly works are listed in no bbibliographies. In fact, Pierre Dos Utt is a planner who has devoted himself in the remaking of society and he is not the first who tried it. The blessing is that most planners only talk or write about it and get lost in a maze of words, although Karl Marx has become the ikon of myriads of the breed whp quarrel so violently that the hope of society is that they may devour each other.

At any rate, Pierre Dos Utt has at long last produced a book which contains his masterly plan. He calls it “Yanstaffl.” The author says that it is from the Babylonian, but philologists will insist that it is sanskrit, corrupted by Low German. It might even be a jargon fouled up by Lower Slobbovian, than which nothing is lower as everybody knows.  However, it has meaning which I shall secretly give you at the end of this monograph on Tanstaafl which I write with the approval of ASGS, which is whatever you think it is and I hope you keep it clean.
* * * *
THE ORIGINAL “Tanstaafl” is p[ublished by Cairo Publications which may or may not exist for any other purpose and which gives its address as 302 5th Street, S. E., Canton, Ohio.  The S. E. is undoubtedly imitation of Washington, D. C., Dos Utt thereby paying his respects to the fountain of all knowledge, the seat of perfection, the apogee of conglomeration, even as Brahms did in his
First to Beethoven’s Ninth.

Now, to get to the heart of the matter. Dos Utt finds the human race in a very sad state and has a solution for the problem, he following in a long line of solvers which includes Hammurabi, Wang Anshih, Akbar, Karl Marx and Henry Wallace, to say nothing of Aristotle, Plato, Henry George, and Leon (Col. 6—ed.) Keyserling. He states the problem succinctly:

“And correlated with this inherent urge to gain at the expense of others is the deep-seated desire to show off our superioirity. For this reason, we buy flashy automobiles, elaborate houses, extravagant clothes and sparkling jewels.

“As money is the medium through which we are able to reflect our affluence, it at once becomes the final goal of our objective. Hence money is the ultimate symbol of our inherent disposition to kill.”

Now, if you understand that, you can understand anything and ought to reach the preoper conclusion which is to drop dead, as Milton Berle would say in lingua Bronx, but Dos Utt puts it more cogently in the following forensic:
“THE BASIC human urge to kill for self-aggrandisement is very strong and it is also very dangerous if it is not controlled. Our recommendation is to stimulate personal ambition, but to have it strictly regulated by a Supreme State authority. Then the pattern of human advancement can be evenly regulated for the benefit of all the deserving.”
(Col. 7—ed.)
The volume is amply supplied with charts and graphs but omits photographs as beneath scientific contempt. Also photographic exactitude defies the artistic skill of the chart drawer who divines what figures mean by making them obscure. It is thus ruled by the Society of Statistical Arts. It also is adequately statistical and footnoted and proves its point by algebra but omits astrophysics.

However, I should fail my readers were I not to point to one essential lapse in this otherwise colossal labor. On page 18, Dos Utt provides a chart to prove that horses, cattle, fowl and hogs have made great progress but that man has stood still. He has not, most surprisingly, noted that a wingless fowl has been produced thus increasing the breast of this biped. This omission is serious because of its implications, for were we, by our higher intelligence, to produce an armless man, we should forever save the human race from kleptomania which is a short term for such creatures as pick-pockets, tac-collectors and subsidy hunters.

Now, our secret:
Tanstaaffl (sic) is mnemonic for “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityNames/Phrases • Thursday, March 08, 2007 • Permalink