Fact Check-Quote comparing politicians and diapers falsely attributed to Mark Twain
American writer Mark Twain did not compare politicians to diapers, Twain experts told Reuters after a quote to that effect circulated on social media.
“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason,” is the quotation that social media users are attributing to the author (here , here , here , here). Similar posts have been circulating on social media since at least 2009 (here , here).
Reuters found no evidence of the quotation on books and sites collating Twain’s work, including ‘Mark Twain at Your Fingertips: A Book of Quotations’ here , Mark Twain Project Online here and Twain Quotes www.twainquotes.com/ .
Robert H. Hirst, General Editor of the Mark Twain Project and Curator of the Mark Twain Papers (here , here) told Reuters via email, “This is not Mark Twain. I know of nothing similar so it’s a misattribution, in other words, a lie.”
“There is no support for that attribution. In fact, it seems to be purely an invention of the Twittersphere,” Dr Matthew Seybold, Associate Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College (here) and Editor-in-Chief of the Center For Mark Twain Studies (marktwainstudies.com/) told Reuters via email.
“Of course, Twain might’ve appreciated the sentiment, as he was a frequent critic of career politicians,” Seybold said. “But there are various ways in which this specific quote seems an unlikely fit for his brand of humor. While he enjoyed a scatological joke in private occasionally, this was not a Victorian boundary he pushed much in his publications or public lectures.”
Seybold published a post on the Center for Mark Twain Studies website that explores the misattribution of this quotation in detail, as seen here . He notes that the politician Jon Wallner used the phrase in a Southern California political campaign in 1992, as reported by the Los Angeles Times here .
A similar quotation also appeared in an article by Dick Nolan in The San Francisco Examiner in 1966, as shown here .
Since then, the quotation has been used by several individuals: A very similar quotation (White House occupants come and go. They are just like diapers. They should be changed often, and for the same reasons”) also appears in a New York Times and Fintech Zoom obituaries for radio reporter Paul Harvey ( here and here ).
Equally, in the 2006 film ‘Man of the Year’ Robin Williams’ character says “Remember this ladies and gentlemen: It’s an old phrase, basically anonymous, politicians are a lot like diapers, they should be changed frequently, and for the same reasons. Keep that in mind the next time you vote,” as seen here .
False. Twain experts told Reuters that there is no evidence he made this remark.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .