Famous Sayings: #61 — ‘But You Can’t Fool Your Mother’

May 14, 2017

You can fool everybody some of the time and you can fool somebody all of the time, but you can’t fool your mother.

but you can't fool your mother, Mother's Day 2017, Mother's Day, mother

Since today is Mother’s Day where I am I decided to wait and share this post 2 days late.

For the day, I wanted to pull a quote that was somewhat well known. It was hard finding a good quote for Mother’s Day that had a clear origin, and so I finally settled on this one. (Now that I think about it, I could have used “Mama knows best.”)

Anyway, I first found a version of this quote on Quote Garden. From the page dedicated to famous quotes about mothers, I pulled the following:

You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool mom. ~Author Unknown

I don’t know if many people have heard this version of the phrase or anything close to it, but it evolved from a quote often attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Denis Diderot. However, I remember my mother telling me something like what I quoted above.


What is the Original Saying and Who Really Said It First?

The Quote Investigator was asked about the following quote:

You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

The person who posed the question originally thought Abraham Lincoln but found that there was “no solid evidence” Lincoln even uttered those words. So QI was asked to track down the origin of the idiom. A few sources were named, but I will only focus on four

Jacques Abbadie

In the end, Quote Investigator attributed the earliest source as French Protestant Jacques Abbadie. In 1684, Abbadie’s “work of apologetics” entitled, Traité de la Vérité de la Religion Chrétienne was published. In Chapter Two, the following lines could be found:

… ont pû tromper quelques hommes, ou les tromper tous dans certains lieux & en certains tems, mais non pas tous les hommes, dans tous les lieux & dans tous les siécles.

QI held that one possible translation in English was as follows:

One can fool some men, or fool all men in some places and times, but one cannot fool all men in all places and ages.

I was able to find the words via Google books. The words matched, and I was able to get a translation (via Google Translate):

… have been able to deceive some men, or deceive them all in certain places and at certain times, but not all men, in all places and in all ages.

BTW: The name of the book translates to: “Treatise on the Truth of the Christian Religion.”

Diderot and d’Alembert

QI also cited the Encyclopédie: ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, edited by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert. The work, which QI was published in 1754, had a passage that was very close to Abbadie’s quote, yet “peut” was used instead of “pû” (and the sentence began with “On” instead of “ont”).

I searched only to see if I could found that passage myself.

I found two sources via Google Books. It seems like one book was mislabeled, but I found the following quote from Page 963:

On peut tromper quelques homes, ou les tromper tous dans certains lieux & en certain stems, mais non pas tous les homesdans tous les lieux & dans tous les fiecles …

QI linked to a better version of the work from Google Books.

At the Internet Archive, I was able to found Volume 4 of the encyclopedia, which was published in 1754. (The first volume was published in 1751.) From page 978 of the fourth volume, I found this quote:

On peut tromper quelques homes, ou les tromper tous dans certains lieux & en certain stems, mais non pas tous les homesdans tous les lieux & dans tous les fiecles …

Although the page is recognized as page 989 via the link, it’s really page 978 in the book.

American Sources

QI was able to find some early American sources for the quote, but they came from 1885 and 1886, two full decades after Lincoln was assassinated.

One source from the 19th century was William J. Groo. In September 1885, Groo said the following at a convention of Prohibitionists, while complaining about state politicians of his day:

You can fool all the people part of the time, or you can fool some people all the time, but you cannot fool all people all the time.

The words were recorded by the Syracuse Daily Standard of Syracuse, New York in a September 9, 1885 article.

Fred F. Wheeler, the chairman of the state committee for New York Prohibitionists, may have first credited the saying to Abraham Lincoln. Wheeler gave an interview for The Albany Times (in Albany, NY). On March 8, 1886, Wheeler was quoted as saying the following:

They should remember Abraham Lincoln’s famous saying: “You can fool part of the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time,” and take their stand boldly and fearlessly on this question and abide the result at the ballot box.


Now, How Did the Phrase Evolve to Include ‘But You Can’t Fool Your Mother’?

From my own findings, that may have come in the early part of the 20th Century. There is a scene in the very last part of an episode of The Little Rascals. It appears as if Spanky’s father had his son spank him in the kitchen in order to pretend that Spanky was receiving the punishment.

However, Spanky’s mother was in the kitchen for awhile and she saw what was going on. She moves her son out of the way and spanks her husband, after which she begins to utter this line: “You can fool some of the people some of the time—”

Spanky then picks off where his mother left off and says, “But you can’t fool mom.”


And Is It True?

Well, to all the mothers out there: You tell me.

At times, it kinda was true from my experience as a child. There were times when my mother could see through my BS and others’ BS as well. At times, when I was able to trick her, she laughed it off because she it was me being me.

Sometimes it’s pretty funny to catch a kid in a lie. You see them tense up and try to stop themselves from laughing when you give them a certain look …

With that said, I wish you a Happy Mother Day!


Works Cited

Abbadie, Jacques. Traité de la Vérité de la Religion Chrétienne. 1684. Print. Page 11. Retrieved 12 May 2017.

Diderot, Denis and d’ Alembert, Jean Le Rond. Encyclopédie: ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (via Google Books). Tome Quartrieme (Volume Four). Published in Paris; 1751. Print. Page 978.

Diderot, Denis and d’ Alembert, Jean Le Rond. Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire Raisonné Des des sciences, des arts et des métiers (via Google Books). Volume 10, Part 2. Print. Page 963.

Diderot, Denis and d’ Alembert, Jean Le Rond. Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (via Internet Archive). Tome Quartrieme (Volume Four). Published in Paris; 1751. Print. Page 978. Retrieved 12 May 2017.

“Quotes about Mothers (Sayings about Mom, Moms, Mother, Mums, Mamas, Mommies, etc).” Quote Garden. Last Modified 19 Aug 2016. Web. Retrieved 12 May 2017. Web. <http://www.quotegarden.com/mothers.html>.

Various. “You Cannot Fool All the People All the Time.” Quote Investigator. 11 Dec 2013. Web. Retrieved 12 May 2017. <http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/12/11/cannot-fool/>.

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