A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry forthcoming—B.P. (3/28)
Entry forthcoming—B.P. (3/28)
“Sorry, I can’t go to work tomorrow. I fractured my motivation” (3/28)
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Entry from December 30, 2006
“You can always tell a Texan—but you can’t tell him much”

"You can always tell a Texan (but you can’t tell him very much)” was the title of a 1955 book by Boyce House. The classic saying had been recorded in a Texan version since at least 1941. In 1944, it was twisted into a statement about a Texan’s boastfulness: “You can always tell a Texan—if he doesn’t tell you first.”

Versions of “You can always tell an [X] man, but you can’t tell him much” have existed since at least the 1880s. In 1906 and for many years thereafter, it was: “You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much.”


Library of Congress
LC Control Number: 55013719
Type of Material: Book (Print, Microform, Electronic, etc.)
Personal Name: House, Boyce, 1896-1961. 
Main Title: You can always tell a Texan (but you can’t tell him very much)
Published/Created: San Antonio, Naylor Co. [1955]
Description: 123 p. illus. 20 cm.

Library of Congress
LC Control Number: 62020726
Type of Material: Book (Print, Microform, Electronic, etc.)
Personal Name: Bissell, Richard Pike.
Main Title: You can always tell a Harvard man.
Edition Information: [1st ed.]
Published/Created: New York, McGraw-Hill [1962]
Description: 282 p. illus. 22 cm. 

Texan Sayings
“You can always tell a Texan, but you can’t tell him much.”

1 January 1887, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. 4:
“You can always tell a man who has once been a clerk in a hotel,” says an exchange. Our experience has always been that you can’t tell him much. He thinks he knows it all.—Somerville Journal.

1 September 1903, Boston Daily Globe, pg. 12:
You Can’t Tell Him Much.
“You can always tell an Englishman,” said the Briton, proudly.
“Of course you can,” replied the Yankee, “but it doesn’t do any good, because he thinks he knows it all.”—Philadelphia Ledger.

27 March 1906, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. 4:
Prof. L. B. R. Briggs, who was introduced as “the dean” of Harvard university, reminded his audience of the friendly quip of President Hadley of Yale that “you always can tell a Harvard man when you see him, but you can’t tell him much.”

1 August 1906, Zion’s Herald, pg. 978:
There is a saying current in the city of New York to this effect: “You can always tell a Boston man, but you can’t tell him much.”

25 March 1941, Austin (TX) Statesman, pg. 13 ad:
By the gleam of action in his eye...by the will do get things done...you can always tell a Texan. But you can’t tell him much! He knows his way around...especially when it comes to action’s best companion, a good cigar. Lovera’s the leader throughout the state.
Lovera Cigars
A Texas favorite for over 30 years.

8 June 1944, Washington Post, “Proud Texan’s Monologue Enlighten’s British Group As Fact an Fancy Mingle” by Hope Ridings Miller, pg. B5:
“You can always tell a Texan—if he doesn’t tell you first,” is the saying often heard around Washington.

23 June 1955, Los Angeles Times, pg. A5:
You know the old saying—you can always tell a Texan, but you can’t tell him much.

22 June 1970, New York Times, “Merle Travis Adds Easygoing Style To Music Festival” by John S. Wilson, pg. 44”
And the most ubiquitous “joke” from that capital of country music when musicians from Texas were introduced: “You can always tell a Texan. But, of course, you can’t tell him much.”

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Saturday, December 30, 2006 • Permalink