WHAT IS THE MEANING OF “DO BE DO BE DO”?

Kurt Vonnegut? Frank Sinatra? Jean-Paul Sartre? Dale Carnegie? Bud Crew? Socrates? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The 1982 novel “Deadeye Dick” by the popular tác giả Kurt Vonnegut mentioned the following piece of graffiti:

“To be is to do”—Socrates.“To do is lớn be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.“Do be vì be do”—Frank Sinatra.

I think this tripartite danh mục first appeared in bathroom stalls in the 1960s or 1970s, but sometimes different authors were specified. Could you explore the history of this humorous scrawled message?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published mô tả tìm kiếm located by QI of a graffito that conformed lớn this template appeared in the “Dallas Morning News” of Dallas, Texas in January 1968. According to the columnist Paul Crume the graffito was created in an incremental process by three different people. The initiator was a local businessman in Richardson, Texas:<1>1968 January 29, Dallas Morning News, Paul Crume’s Big D, Quote Page A1, Column 6, Dallas, Texas. (The spelling “Leo-Tzu” is used in the original text instead of the more common… Continue reading

Bud Crew says that a month ago he wrote this on the warehouse wall at Bud’s Tool Cribs in Richardson: “‘The way to bởi vì is lớn be.’—Leo-tzu, Chinese philosopher.”

A few days later, a salesman wrote under that: “‘The way khổng lồ be is to do.’—Dale Carnegie,”

Recently, says Crew, an anonymous sage has added still another axiom: “‘Do be, bởi vì be, do.’ — Frank Sinatra.”

The phrase ascribed lớn the famous vocalist Sinatra was derived from his version of the tuy nhiên “Strangers in the Night” which was a number-one hit in 1966. Near the end of the track Sinatra quý phái a sequence of nonsense syllables that could be transcribed as “do de vì chưng be do” or “do be vày be do”. This distinctive and memorable stylization has sometimes been parodied.<2>YouTube video, Title: Strangers in The Night – Frank Sinatra, Artist: Frank Sinatra, Uploaded on July 6, 2007, Uploaded by: kumpulanvideo, (Quotation starts at 2 minute 23 seconds of 5 minutes… Continue reading

In July 1968 this graffito tale was included in a syndicated series called “Weekend Chuckles” from General Features Corporation; hence, it achieved wide dissemination. Some details were omitted, e.g., Bud Crew’s name was not given, but the graffito was nearly identical. The spelling of “Leo-tzu” was changed lớn “Lao-tse”:<3> 1968 July 28, Times-Picayune, Section 2, Weekend Chuckles, (Syndicated by General Features Corp.), Quote Page 3, Column 1, New Orleans, Louisiana, (GenealogyBank)

One fellow was inspired lớn write on a warehouse wall: “The way to do is khổng lồ be.—Lao-tse, Chinese philosopher.”

A few days later, a salesman wrote under that: “The way khổng lồ be is khổng lồ do.—Dale Carnegie.”

Recently an anonymous sage has added still another message: “Do be, vì chưng be, do.—Frank Sinatra.”

In January 1969 a real-estate agent named Joe Griffith ran an advertisement in a South Carolina newspaper that included the tripartite message. The first two statements in this instance were shortened and simplified. In addition, one of the attributions was switched to lớn Socrates:<4> 1969 January 31, The News và Courier (Charleston News and Courier), (Advertisement for Joe Griffith Inc., Realtor), Quote Page 15B, Column 2, Charleston, South Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

Joe Griffith Sez:“TO BE IS to DO” Dale Carnegie“TO bởi IS lớn BE” Socrates“DO BE vày BE DO” Frank Sinatra

The message continued lớn evolve over the decades & many philosophers & authors have been substituted into the template including: Dale Carnegie, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, John Stuart Mill, William James, William Shakespeare, and Bertrand Russell. The punchline ascribed khổng lồ Frank Sinatra, in some form, is usually preserved though a variety of other lines have been added lớn the joke as shown in the 1990 citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In November 1971 a sports columnist in the “Dallas Morning News” published the following instance of the message which included two French philosophers:<5>1971 November 10, Dallas Morning News, “Wishbone for Pros?” by John Anders, Quote Page 4B, Column 3, Dallas, Texas. (The original text contained “Sarte” instead of… Continue reading

“To be is to lớn do.”—Sartre“To vì chưng is to be.”—Camus“Do be vị be do.”—Sinatra

In 1972 “Aequanimitas”, the Yearbook of the Medical và Nursing Schools at the University of Michigan, printed a version with four parts instead of three. Also, Sinatra’s line was distinct:<6>1972, Aequanimitas 1972: Yearbook of the Medical and Nursing Schools, “Medical Education — A Review”, Quote Page 120, Published by the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor,… Continue reading

To be or not to lớn be—William ShakespeareTo be is to do—Jean Paul SartreTo vì chưng is to be—Bertrand RussellScoo be doo be doo—Frank Sinatra

In August 1972 “The Boston Globe” published a report by a journalist who visited women’s restrooms in the Boston area and examined the graffiti. She found the following instance:<7> 1972 August 31, Boston Globe, Graffiti by the girls by Diane White, Start Page 37, Quote Page 42, Column 5, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)

“To be is to vì chưng . . . John Stuart Mill”“To vì chưng is khổng lồ be . . . William James”“Do be vì be bởi . . . Frank Sinatra”

In January 1973 “The Times Diary” column of “The Times” newspaper of London described a graffito “in the gentlemen’s lavatory at Cambridge University Library” that was spotted by a reader. Three different hands wrote the three parts:<8> 1973 January 2, The Times (UK), The Times Diary by PHS, Quote Page 10, London, England. (The Times Digital Archive)

To vì is lớn be—J. S. Mill.To be is to lớn do—Jean-Paul Sartre.Do be do be do—Frank Sinatra.

A few days later “The Times” printed a follow-up that described a graffito in a prominent museum in New York:<9> 1973 January 5, The Times (UK), The Times Diary by PHS, Quote Page 12, London, England. (The Times Digital Archive)

In the Guggenheim Museum, New York, “to vì chưng is lớn be” is attributed to lớn Plato, not J. S. Mill and “to be is to lớn do” khổng lồ Aristotle, not J. Phường Sartre. “Do be vì chưng be do” remains the work of Frank Sinatra.

The newspaper also received reports of precedence from Oxford University which were relayed to lớn readers:

And Oxford, predictably, claims lớn have been there first. A man from St Catherine’s says the text first appeared at the Bodleian several years ago and has since spread through many colleges.

A week later on January 12, 1973 “The Times” described a six-part graffito found on the library wall at the University of Guelph:<10> 1973 January 12, The Times (UK), The Times Diary by PHS, Quote Page 12, London, England. (The Times Digital Archive)

To be is to lớn do—AristotleTo bởi vì is to be—J. Phường SartreDo be vày be do—F. SinatraWhat is khổng lồ be done?—LeninDo It!—J. RubinO.K.! O.K.!—T. Mann.

In January 1982 the Personals section of “Reason” magazine printed the following instance:<12> 1982 January, Reason, Personals, Quote Page 58, Column 2, Published by Reason Foundation, Santa Barbara, California. (Unz)

TO vày IS to BE-KantTo be is to do-HegelDo be vì chưng be do-Sinatra

In 1982 Kurt Vonnegut published “Deadeye Dick” which featured a fictional metropolis called Midland City and an imaginary airfield called the Will Fairchild Memorial Airport. The protagonist of the novel visited the bathroom at the airport:<13> 1982, Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut, Quote Page 224, Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, New York. (Verified with scans)

For a few moments there, I was happier than happy, healthier than healthy, and I saw these words scrawled on the tiles over a wash basin:

“To be is to lớn do”—Socrates.“To bởi vì is lớn be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.“Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.

Longer and more elaborate lists have been constructed over time. Here is a subset of the lines that were posted in a message khổng lồ the rec.humor newsgroup of the Usenet discussion system in 1990.<14> 1990 March 21, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: rec.humor, From: (Scott Yelich)

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