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I first heard this in "Don King's Prizefighter for Wii", where he says, if I'm transcribing correctly:

If I can do it, you can do it!

The heart would say, in America anybody can do it!

Trying to Google this first sentence I'm getting so many hits that I've no idea where to start looking.

My native language is German, and the corresponding translation of this sentence is rarely used in German. And when I find it used in German, it might well have been translated from English.

So I'm curious whether it might come from a single source?

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2 Answers

It's such a common and simple phrase in English, especially in persuasive speech, that it's hard to believe it came from a single source; more likely, it had multiple independent coinings. It simply refers to the ease of an action or process, and implies a little self-deprecation on the part of the speaker; if the speaker, implied to be a common, unextrordinary person, can accomplish this thing (usually financial success), then anyone can.

I would associate it with the egalitarian ideals of the U.S., where everyone is assumed to have the innate ability to pursue and achieve "the American dream", but that may be just personal bias.

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Thanks! That sounds logic to me, and would explain why this concept might be less common in a culture whose society traditionally was structured differently. –  Nicolas Kaiser Jul 1 '11 at 16:40
    
+1 Some things are common formulations without being actual idioms. That's just the way it goes. –  Robusto Jul 1 '11 at 17:12
    
+1 for your explanation, but meanwhile I might have found the source, at least in this specific context. –  Nicolas Kaiser Jul 2 '11 at 13:32
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Digging through the Google News archives I found some variations of this sentence, the earliest one in an article named "Babe Ruth's own book of baseball", Providence News, January 29, 1929:

(..) I was broken in health three years ago (..) and most of the critics predicted that I would never play baseball again.

But I did. (..) Certainly if I can do it, so can anyone else.

But only in the 1970s/1980s this exact sentence appears to become popular, and here is my best guess where the quotation in this specific context might come from.

An interview with Muhammad Ali, published in the Reading Eagle, Sunday, March 9, 1980:

Ali's Back

All of you have a John Tate in your life, all of you have a Larry Holmes in your life.

So whip your Larry Holmes with me, whip your John Tate with me. We can't lose! I'm fighting on heart!

If I can do it you can do it! What I'm doing is a lesson to the world! (..) Join me today!

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