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Humorist and lecturer Josh Billings

Josh Billings was the pen name of humorist born Henry Wheeler Shaw (20 April 1818 – 14 October 1885). He was perhaps the second most famous humor writer and lecturer in the United States in the second half of the 19th century after Mark Twain, although his reputation has not fared so well with later generations.

Shaw was born in Lanesborough, Massachusetts, and worked as a farmer, coal miner, explorer, and auctioneer before he began making a living as a journalist and writer in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1858. Under the pseudonym "Josh Billings" he wrote in an informal voice full of the slang of the day, with often eccentric phonetic spelling, dispensing wit and folksy common-sense wisdom. His books include Farmers' Allminax, Josh Billings' Sayings, Everybody's Friend, Choice Bits of American Wit and Josh Billings' Trump Kards.

His saying, "In the whole history of the world there is but one thing that money can not buy... to wit the wag of a dog's tail" appears at the beginning of the Disney film Lady and the Tramp.[1]

He toured, giving lectures of his writings, which were very popular with the audiences of the day.

Billings died in Monterey, California.

Billings' death is described in Chapter 12 of John Steinbeck's fictional Cannery Row. According to Steinbeck's homage, Billings died in the the Hotel del Monte in Monterey after which his body was delivered for burial preparation by the local constable to the town's only doctor, who also doubled as an amateur mortician. The doctor, per his usual embalming protocol, dispensed of Billings' entrails by tossing them into the gulch behind his house before packing the torso with sawdust. The stomach, liver and intestines were found in the gulch the following morning by a dog whose master, a small boy, intended on using them for fish bait. Some local men, realizing the disgrace this could bring to Monterey -- a town proud of its literary heritage -- were able to stop the boy as he was preparing to row out to sea, retrieved the "tripas" and forced the doctor to give Billings' organs a proper burial befitting a great author.

Attributed quotations

While the Squeaky Wheel analysis was used in different forms before Billings, his poem, "The Kicker" brought the idiom into common usage of American language. The term "kicker" at the time in the 1800s was another term for a complainer. The poem is:

I hate to be a kicker,
I always long for peace,
But the wheel that does the squeaking,
Is the one that gets the grease.
  • A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.
  • About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment.
  • As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.
  • Don't take the bull by the horns, take him by the tail; then you can let go when you want to.
  • Flattery is like cologne water, to be smelt of, not swallowed.
  • Health is like money, we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it.
  • It is much easier to repent of sins that we have committed than to repent of those we intend to commit.
  • It's not ignorance does so much damage; it's knowing so darned much that ain't so.
  • Laughing is the sensation of feeling good all over and showing it principally in one spot.
  • Genius ain’t nothing more than elegant common sense
  • One of the greatest victories you can gain over someone is to beat him at politeness.
  • Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute.
  • The best way to convince a fool that he is wrong is to let him have his own way.
  • The time to pray is not when we are in a tight spot but just as soon as we get out of it.
  • There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.
  • Man is my brother, and I am nearer related to him through his vices than I am through his virtue.
  • Friendship is liken earthenware, once broken it can be mended. Love is like a mirror, once broken that ends it.
  • Occasions are rare; and those who know how to seize upon them are rarer.
  • It strains a man's philosophy the worst kind to laugh when he gets beat.
  • Don't have any more secrets than you can keep yourself.
  • That, men of genius are like eagles, they live on what they kill, while men of talents are like crows, they live on what has been killed for them.
  • Life consists not in holding good cards but in playing those you hold well.
  • One legged chickens, I know, are the least apt to scratch a garden.
  • I have finally come to the conclusion that a good set of bowels is worth more to a man than any quantity of brains.
  • Man was created a little lower than the angels and has been getting a little lower ever since.
  • Marrying a woman for her money is very much like setting a rat-trap, and baiting it with your own finger.
  • I wud as soon take a ten dollar kounterfit bill on the Kodfish Bank ov Nufoundland, as tu marry a woman with false hare, false teeth or a false buzzum.
  • There may come a time when the lion and the lamb will lie down together, but I am still betting on the lion.
  • Never work before breakfast; if you have to work before breakfast, eat your breakfast first.


  1. ^ Lady and the Tramp, Disney, 1955.

Billings, Josh. Choice Bits of American Wit. Diprose, Bateman & Co.. 

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.

Josh Billings was the pen name of the American humorist born Henry Wheeler Shaw (12 April 1818 - 14 October 1885). He was perhaps the second most famous humor writer and lecturer in the United States in the 2nd half of the 19th century, after Mark Twain, although his reputation has not fared so well with later generations.



  • The wheel that squeaks the loudest
    Is the one that gets the grease.
    • The Kicker
  • It is better to know nothing than to know what ain't so.
    • Proverb (1874)

Affurisms. From Josh Billings: His Sayings (1865)

  • A secret ceases to be a secret if it is once confided—it is like a dollar bill, once broken, it is never a dollar again.
  • Love is like the measles; we can't have it bad but once, and the later in life we have it the tougher it goes with us.
  • Put an Englishman into the garden of Eden, and he would find fault with the whole blasted concern; put a Yankee in, and he would see where he could alter it to advantage; put an Irishman in, and he would want to boss the thing; put a Dutchman in, and he would proceed to plant it.
  • Better make a weak man your enemy than your friend.
  • Nature never makes blunders; when she makes a fool she means it.
  • I don't care how much a man talks, if he only says it in a few words.
  • As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.
  • Poverty is the stepmother of genius.

Josh Billings: His Works, Complete (1873)

  • "Familiarity breeds kontempt." This only applies tew men, not tew hot bukwheat slapkakes, well buttered and sugared.
  • Dangers are sum like a kold bath, very dangerous while you stand stripped on the bank, but often not only harmless, but invigorating, if you pitch into them.
  • I don't beleave in fighting; i am solemly aginst it; but if a man gits teu fighting, i am also solemly aginst hiz gitting licked. After a fight iz once opened, all the virtew thare iz in it iz tew lick the other party.
  • I don't beleaf in bad luck being sot for a man, like a trap, but i hav known lots ov folks, who if thare waz enny fust rate bad luck lieing around loose, would be sure tew git one foot in it enny how.
  • I don't kno az i want tew bet enny money, and giv odds, on the man, who iz alwus anxious tew pray out loud, every chance he kan git.
  • It iz a darned sight eazier tew find six men who kan tell exactly how a thing ought tew be did than tew find one who will do it.
  • If we giv up our minds tew little things we never shall be fit for big ones. I knew a man once who could ketch more flies with one swoop ov his hand than enny boddy else could, and he want good at ennything else.
  • The man who pitys everyboddy, wants watching, for the chances are that he iz gitting phatt slily on other peoples misfortunes.
  • Thare iz but phew people in this world underrated.
  • There iz no more real satisfackshun, in laying up in yure buzzum an injury than thare iz in stuffing a dead hornet, who haz stung you, and keeping him tew look at.
  • If we would all ov us take kare ov our own souls, and let our nabors alone, thare would be less time lost, and more souls saved.
  • If thare iz enny human being that i thoroughly loath, it iz the one who haz nothing tew boast ov but hiz money--a mere pimp tew hiz welth.
  • Pedantry iz the science ov investing what little yu know in one kind ov perfumery, and insisting upon sticking that under every man's knose whom you meet.
  • This setting down and folding our arms, and waiting for sumthing tew turn up, iz just about az rich a speckulashun az going out into a four hundred acre lot, setting down on a sharp stone, with a pail between our knees, and waiting for a cow tew back up and be milked.
  • Love haz a most vorashus appetight, but a poor digestion, what it feeds on most alwus distresses it. Prudes, are coquets, gone to seed. It iz our duty tew pray for them who revile and persekute us, but i dont kno az we are obliged tew let them kno it.
  • Thare are people who dont do ennything but watch their simptoms. I have seen dogs ackt just az sensible, i hav seen a rat terrier watch the simptoms ov a knot hole, in a board fence, all day, for sum rat tew cum out, but no rat didn't cum out.
  • When a doktor looks me square in the face and kant see no money in me, then i am happy.
  • The hardest thing that enny man kan do iz tew fall down on the ice when it iz wet, and get up and praze the Lord.
  • Yung man, don't grind yure scythe all on one side!
  • Politeness iz often wasted, but it iz a good and cheap mistake tew make.
  • Cunning iz very apt tew outwit itself. The man who turned the boat over and got under it tew keep out ov the rain, waz one ov this kind.
  • I don't suppoze thare haz ever lived a man without a single virtew. Even Judas Iskariot "went and hanged himself."
  • About one haff the pitty in this world iz not the result ov sorrow, but satisfackshun that it aint our hoss that haz had hiz leg broke.
  • I dont kno az it iz a very difficult thing tew be a good injun up in heaven, but tew cum down here and be a good injun, iz just whare the tite spot cums in.
  • Genuine grief iz like penitence, not klamorous but subdued; sorrow from the hous tops and penitence in a market place shows more ambishun than piety.
  • The grate desire ov mi life iz tew amuze sumboddy. I had rather be able to set the multiplikashun table tew sum lively tune than tew hav ein the author ov it.
  • I rather admire the insolent civility ov a bull-tarrier, who only growls when i pass by him, but i never did like it in a man.
  • Thare are but dredful phew people who kan talk ten minnits tew yu without lugging into the conversashun their bak or stummuk akes.
  • I kno plenty ov folks who are so kondem kontrary, that if they should fall into the river, they would insist uopon floating up stream.
  • I wouldn't undertake tew korrekt a mans sektarian views enny quicker than i would tell him which road tew take at a 4 corners, when i didn't know miself which waz the right one.
  • Every man should kno sumthing ov law--if he knows enuff tew keep out ov it, he iz a prety good lawyer.
  • Men are often praized for their sagassity, but all the fore sight in the world kant tell a dubble yelked egg untill it itz broken.
  • Natur duz awl her big and little jobs without making enny furse; the earth goes around the sun, the moon changes, the eklipses, and the pollywog, silently and taillessly, bekums a frog, but man kant even deliver a small-sized 4th ov July orashun without knocking down a mountain or two, and tareing up three or four primeval forests by the bleeding rutes.
  • Mankind loves misterys--a hole in the ground, excites mor wonder than a star in the heavens.
  • Them folks who are sudden, aint apt tew be solid; lively streams are alwus shallow.
  • Truth dont require the aid ov elegant and high stepping words, tew express its force, or buty, it iz like water, tastes better out ov a wooden bucket, than it duz out ov a golden goblet.
  • Too mutch religion iz wuss than none at all. Yu kant sho me a kuntry that haz existed yet, whare the people, all ov them, professed one religion and persekuted all other kinds, but what the religion ruined the country.
  • Menny people spend their time trieing tew find the hole whare sin got into this world--if two men brake through the ice into a mill pond, they had better hunt for sum good hole tew git out, rather than git into a long argument about the hole they cum tew fall in.
  • Thare iz a grate deal ov charity in this world so koldly rendered that it fairly hurts, it iz like lifting a drowning man out ov the water bi the hair ov the hed, and then letting him drop on the ground.
  • I don't rekoleckt now ov ever hearing ov two dogs fiteing unless thare waz a man or two around.
  • There iz only one good substitute for the endearments ov a sister, and that iz the endearments ov sum other pheller's sister.
  • Misplaced charity iz a good blunder tew make. If yu want tew git a good general idea ov a man's karakter find out from him what hiz opinion ov his nabor iz.
  • I hav studdyed mi own karakter, and mi own impulses for 39 years clussly, and i kant tell to day (to save a bet) whether i am an honest and trew man or not--if thare iz enny boddy who knows about this matter i wish they would address me a letter, enklosing a postage blister.
  • Thare iz sich a thing az being alwus too quick--i am one ov that kind miself, i alwus miss a rale rode train bi being thare a haff an our too soon.
  • Misanthropy don't pay--thare aint no man living whoze hate the world cares one cuss for.
  • Poor human natur iz too full ov its own grievances tew have enny pitty to spare,--if yu show a man a big bile on yure arm, he will tell yu he had one twice az big az that, on the same spot, last year.
  • If I had 4 fust rate dogs i would name the best one "Doubtful" and the other 3 "Useless".
  • I beleave in the universal salvashun ov men, but I want tew pick the men.
  • Awl human happiness is conservatiff; 2 thirds ov the pleasure in sliding down hill consists in drawing the sled back. I don't serpoze thare would be enny fun in sliding down a hill 34 miles long.
  • The man who kan ware a paper collar a hole week and keap, it klean, aint fit for enny thing else.
  • When i cum akrost people who are perfeklty krazy for ventilashun, i say to miself, "that kritter was brought up in a windmill."
  • Ventilashun iz a good thing, but when a mank kant lay down and sleep in a 10 aker lot without taking down two lengths ov fence to let the wind in he iz alltogether too airish.
  • What should we do if it want for the churches? Thare iz a plenty ov people who kant worship God only in a church. If they were out in a field on the Sabbath day they would at once bekum lawless, and fall to digging out woodchucks or hunting for bumblebees' nests.
  • Giv every one you meet, my boy, the time ov day and halff the road, and if that dont make him civil dont waste enny more fragrance on the cuss.
  • I hav often heard ov men who had bekum disgusted with the world, and retired into solitude; but i hav never heard ov a kommitty ov our fust citizens waiting on them and asking them tew kum bak.
  • I think that a hen who undertakes tew lay 2 eggs a day must necessarily neglekt sum other branch ov bizzness.
  • I dont never hav enny trouble in regulating mi own kondukt, but tew keep other pholks straight iz what bothers me.
  • Rather than not hav faith in enny thing, i am willing tew be beat 9 times out ov 10.
  • I hate grate talkers; i had rather hav a swarm of bees lite onto me.
  • Prejudice iz a hous plant which iz very apt tew wither if yu take it out doors amungst pholks.
  • I never hav seen a bigot yet but what had a small and apparently braneless hed--bit i hain't seen all the bigots, yu know.
  • Thare iz this mutch kan be sed in favour ov good-breeding, it iz the only thing that kan make a phool endurable.
  • Marrying for buty iz a poor spekulashun, for enny man who sees yure wife, has got just about az mutch stock in her as yu have.
  • I had rather be a pot-bellied seed cowcumber, flung carelessly on a wood pile to ripen, than tew be an old bachelor.
  • I hope i shall never hav so much reputashun that i shan't feel obliged to be alwus civil.
  • When i see a poor, and proud aristokrat, purtiklar about punktillio, he alwus puts me in mind ov a drunken man, trieing tew walk a crack.
  • Take awl the prophecys that hav cum tew pass, and awl that hav caught on the center, and failed tew cum tew time, and make them up in an average, and yer will find, that buying stock, on the Codfish Bank ov Nufoundland, at 50 per cent, for a rise, iz, in comparison, a good spekulatiff bizziness.
  • 7 per cent haz no rest, nor no religion, it works nights, and Sundays, and even wet days.
  • We are happy in this world just in proporshun as we make others happy--i stand reddy tew bet 50 dollars on this saying.
  • A man's reputashun iz something like hiz coat, thare iz certain kemikals that will take the stains and grease spots out ov it, but it alwus haz a second-handed kind ov a look, and generally smells strong ov the kemikals.
  • The wealth ov a person should be estimated, not bi the amount he haz, but bi the use he makes ov it.
  • Their is one advantage in a plurality of wifes; tha fite each other, insted ov their husbands.
  • I am poor, and I am glad that i am, for i find that wealth makes more people mean than it duz generous.
  • I hate to be a kicker,

I always long for peace, But the wheel that does the squeaking, Is the one that gets the grease.

  • As a gineral thing, when a woman wares the britches, she has a good rite tew them.

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