Who Said It First and How Did He Really Say It?

Recently I attributed the imperishable line “I should of stood in bed” to Joe Jacobs, who, I said, was also the author of “We wuz robbed.”

A day or two later sports columnist Jim Murray, writing from San Francisco about the third game of the World Series, said of the hapless San Francisco Giants: “In the immortal words of Joe Gould, they should of stood in bed.”

I assumed that I had made a false attribution, and that Murray had caught me at it, his bag of sports lore being much deeper than mine.


To tell the truth, I wasn’t even sure who Joe Gould was, and our library’s database didn’t turn him up. (I’m sure I will receive 12 dozen letters telling me who the immortal Joe Gould was.)

My source for the quote was Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, which stated: “ ‘I should of stood in bed.’ Joe Jacobs left a sick-bed to go to Detroit in October, 1935, to attend the World’s Series. He bet on Chicago, which lost to Detroit. When he returned to New York he made this comment to the sports writers who came to interview him.”

I have since found the same attribution in Bergen Evans’ Dictionary of Quotations. Evans explains: “Mr. Jacobs had risen from a sickbed to attend the World Series in Detroit where, to his chagrin, the team he bet on was defeated.”

(I must note here that Bartlett’s errs in referring to this historic sports event as the “World’s Series.” Evans is right. Evans is also right in making sickbed an unhyphenated word.)

Perhaps it doesn’t matter who said it, but as Murray says, the phrase is immortal, and we ought to nail it down right now.

Meanwhile, one reader (whose signature I can’t read) writes: “About 1931 or ’32, I read a column by a sportswriter for a New York City tabloid of that time who credited ‘I should of stood in bed’ to Joe E. Wall, manager of a baseball team in a section of Brooklyn known as Greenpoint. That historical day Joe’s team was losing, Joe had a bad cold, attendance was poor, a light drizzle had started, and so, the immortal words. . . .”

“You attributed ‘I should of stood in bed’ to the fight manager, Joe Jacobs,” writes Joseph A. Cammalleri of Granada Hills. “For some reason, I have always credited this priceless sentiment to another celebrated language-buster, the late Brooklyn Dodger manager, Charlie Dressen. . . .”

Other readers attacked the phrase on other grounds. “I say you are both wrong,” writes a reader named Teegarden, in Ojai. “One will get you 10 if he, whoever said it, didn’t say ‘I shoulda stood in bed.’ ”

William Hendricks of Redlands argues that “I should of stood in bed” makes it appear that the speaker has made a double mistake in grammar by the misuse of both stood and of . “However, in colloquial spoken English, the auxiliary have is pronounced in the same way as of . A correct transcription would be ‘I should’ve stood in bed.’ ”

Both Hendricks and Irving Elman of Pacific Palisades argue that Joe Jacobs’ immortal remark (“We wuz robbed!”), when his fighter, Max Schmeling, lost the world championship to Jack Sharkey, may also be a misquotation.

“How do you know,” asks Elman, “that Joe Jacobs didn’t say ‘We was robbed,’ and not ‘we wuz robbed,’ as you put it. Why impute a spelling error to him which he didn’t make, as well as the grammatical one he did?”

Hendricks notes that the singular wuz instead of the plural were is a grammatical error. “However,” he points out, “even educated speakers would pronounce was to sound something like wuz .”

On the last point I agree. (By the way, it’s wuz in Bartlett’s.) I can’t tell the difference in pronunciation between was and wuz , and I suspect that the sportswriter who first transcribed that phrase made it wuz to emphasize its illiteracy.

As for “should of,” I have heard many people say “should of"--not “should’ve.” I think this is a deliberate attempt to speak elegantly (as in saying “between he and I”), since the speaker knows that “shoulda” is wrong.

By the way, if my memory of that Schmeling-Sharkey fight hasn’t failed me, I think Jacobs and his man wuz robbed.