Four years ago I labeled Mark Twain’s alleged pearl of wisdom, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over,” as the No. 1 cliche in water.
It may also be the No. 1 lie.
Barbara Schmidt, publisher of www.twainquotes.com, told me today that the whiskey and water quote “has never been verified as coming from any of Mark Twain’s known writings, letters, speeches, interviews.”
She believes, based on a Google Books search, that the quote probably was first attributed to Twain in the 1960s.
Of course, just because there’s no documentation doesn’t mean Twain wasn’t the first to say it. I guess we’ll never know for sure.
Doubtless the phrase will continue to be used as an icebreaker by bureaucrats who are hoping to get a chuckle out of a crowd before launching into some boring speech about water management or mismanagement in California.
The whiskey quote is also the theme of this fundraiser for Stockton-based advocacy group Restore the Delta. But let’s give them a pass, since their event — unlike most water meetings — includes ”boot-scootin’ dancing.”
I suppose, if nothing else, we now have proof that even the most original, the most clever expression becomes tired and twisted if asked to work too often.