“Don’t drink to drown your sorrows—sorrows know how to swim” is a humorous saying that has been printed on many gift items, such as posters and bumper stickers. The “Ask Ann Landers” syndicated newspaper column is often given credit for the old saying. “Ann Landers” wrote in 1958, “You’re trying to drown your sorrows in alcohol and it won’t work. Sorrows know how to swim.” “Ann Landers” wrote in a 1978 book, “a word to those of you who are trying to drown your sorrow. Please be aware that sorrow knows how to swim.”
However, the saying is much old than the Ann Landers newspaper column. “I drink simply to drown my cares, but it’s no use, for every care can swim like a duck” was cited in print in 1889. “Don’t attempt to drown your sorrow in drink; you will find that sorrow can swim” was cited in print in 1890.
15 March 1889, Hornsey and Middlesex Messenger (UK), pg. 3, col. 4:
“You see,” said a maudlin toper, “I drink simply to drown my cares, but it’s no use, for every care can swim like a duck.”
22 March 1890, Pick-Me-Up, “Sharps &Flats,” pg. 408, col. 1:
Don’t attempt to drown your sorrow in drink; you will find that sorrow can swim.
Hathi Trust Digital Library
September 1897, Medical Era, “They Say,” pg. 220, col. 1:
That men who drink to drown their sorrows will find that sorrows can swim.
January 1900, The Cosmopolitan, “The Delights of Trying to Be Somebody Else” by Edgar Saltus, pg. 262, col. 1:
He may go in for liquor and try to drown his sorrows only to find that the latter know how to swim.
The Pomps of Satan
By Edgar Saltus
London: Greening & Company Limited
It is a great place, though, for men who want to drown their sorrows, and always will be until they learn that sorrows know how to swim.
25 September 1912, The Daily Picayune (New Orleans, LA), “Picayunes,” pg. 8, col. 6:
The man who drinks to drown his sorrows will soon discover that his sorrows learn how to swim.
Google News Archive
23 April 1958, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, “Ann Landers’ Advice,” 4B, col. 4:
You’re trying to drown your sorrows in alcohol and it won’t work. Sorrows know how to swim.
The Ann Landers Encyclopedia A to Z:
Improve Your Life Emotionally, Medically, Sexually, Socially, Spiritually
By Ann Landers
New York, NY: Ballantine Books
And now an added P.S. In these days of political unrest, financial crisis and emotional upheaval, a word to those of you who are trying to drown your sorrow. Please be aware that sorrow knows how to swim.
And I Quote:
The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker
By Ashton Applewhite, William R. Evans III and Andrew Frothingham
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
People who drink to drown their sorrow should be told that sorrow knows how to swim. — Ann Landers
The Wisdom of the Great:
A biographical collection of over 2600 quotations from 450 writers
By Sam Majdi
Bloomington, IN: iUniverse
People who drink to drown their sorrow should be told that sorrow knows how to swim.
(Credited to Ann Landers, 1918-2002—ed.)