FACT CHECK: Did Mark Twain Compare Politicians To Diapers?

Aryssa Damron | Fact Check Reporter

The “Rowdy Republican” Facebook page claimed in a meme Sunday that American novelist Mark Twain said “politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.”

The attribution to Twain can also be found on Twitter, where the likes of Dave Ramsey, an author and radio host, and Evan Falchuk, a former gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts, shared the same quote.

Verdict: False

There is no record of Twain ever writing or saying this. The origin of the quote is unknown, but began to appear more frequently long after his death.

Fact Check:

The quote has been regularly attributed to author and satirist Samuel Clemens, who went by the pseudonym Mark Twain.

A search of the entire text of Twain’s body of works, provided by Project Gutenberg, returned no results for this quote or any variation. The quote also does not appear in the book “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips: A Book of Quotations” or the “Yale Book of Quotations.”

The only use of the word diaper in all of Twain’s written works is in “The Prince and the Pauper,” where he writes, “A chaplain said grace, and Tom was about to fall to, for hunger had long been constitutional with him, but was interrupted by my lord the Earl of Berkeley, who fastened a napkin about his neck; for the great post of Diaperers to the Prince of Wales was hereditary in this nobleman’s family.”

The Center for Mark Twain Studies based out of Elmira, New York, determined that this quote was falsely attributed to Twain. “While he might have appreciated the sentiment, it is pretty easy to determine that this is not something Twain actually said,” Matt Seybold of the center wrote in a November blog post.

Twain has written disparaging comments about politicians, but did not compare politicians to diapers, as the meme claims. “Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can,” Twain wrote in an essay collection published in the early 20th century.

Etymologists like Barry Popik have attempted to track down the true origin of the quote, with some of the first known references dating back to the 1980s and ’90s.

John Wallner, a libertarian candidate for Congress in 1992, used the phrase in a debate.

In the 2006 film “Man of the Year,” the character played by Robin Williams also utilizes the quote, though he does not attribute it to Twain. He says, “Remember this, ladies and gentleman. It’s an old phrase, basically anonymous – that politicians are a lot like diapers: They should be changed frequently, and for the same reason. Keep that in mind the next time you vote.”

In an obituary for talk-radio host Paul Harvey, a similar quote was attributed to him. “White House occupants come and go. They are just like diapers. They should be changed often, and for the same reasons,” reads The New York Times obituary.

The “Rowdy Republican” Facebook page did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Aryssa Damron

Fact Check Reporter

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