"If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog"—but don’t attribute the quote to Truman if Googled info is right
June 25, 2008 | 4:06 pm
Hey, thanks, Cat. Thackeray II, unlike many canines, is a big feline fan.
The “Get a dog” lowdown
Now some more news, especially for writers of media-related novels.
In Thackeray II’s Truman act, my favorite line is, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” The only problem is that Truman never said those words, if a book of quotes is right, despite a bunch of references in the press.
“Even Thackeray’s omniscience has its limits. As determined by my researchers at the Institute for Previrtual Studies, the actual quote was: ‘You want a friend in life, get a dog.’ Worse, the words seem to have been put in Truman’s mouth by Samuel Gallu for his play Give ‘Em Hell, Harry! (1975). Source of this information is The Quote Verifier (Macmillan, 2006), by Ralph Keyes, who relied on archivists at the Truman Library. I have asked Thackeray to modify his act and have suggested to the New York Times that it correct old references.”
Returning to ’08
Now back to the year 2008. Just to be sure, I’m going to phone the Truman Library. People ranging from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd to former president Bill Clinton will be wrong if Keyes is right. Hey, I enjoy Dowd’s work and hope she gets a funny column out of the Truman quote, whatever he really said or didn’t. With almost any blog, vexingly bereft of copy editors, we’re in sausage factory territory, so I won’t claim infallibility at this end.
Meanwhile, if nothing else, my little discovery is a great testimonial to the power of Google Book Search and all the more reason to hope that a TeleRead-style national digital library system can exist someday to carry digitization to the max. Too bad e-books can’t reliably link to specific places within each other; it’s time for the e-book standards setters to take these matters more seriously, while clueful librarians keep plugging away. Another lesson is the need for Google, publishers and authors to make peace in the copyright wars, so it’s easier for writers and talking Afghan Hounds to get their facts right.
Usual disclosure: I’m a very small Google shareholder.