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Regarding the common English form,

You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy...

(Meaning - "This boy remains a bucolic rube even though he moved from his origins.")

{Note though - in fact, the phrase can be used positively, rather than negatively.}

Does anyone have any real, solid examples of early use of this phrase?

For non-native readers, it is used widely in English in different variations. (So, if you are disparaging relaxed Californians, it would be ".. California", if you are disparaging cheating traders, it would be ".. Wall St.", etc.) I do not particularly know if "boy / country" was the first use, but it feels like it.

Please, it's easy to google on the net low-quality crap about the origin of this phrase. If you are new to this site, quoting a crap, unsourced, adhoc, website is not an answer, thanks!!

Note that the earliest actual, real, usage example anyone has so far is

1919.

It would be great to find an earlier usage example.

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    Originally North American, it has generated a large variety of humorous by-forms. "You can take a boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of a boy." [1938 ‘B. Baer’ in Baer & Major Hollywood (caption to caricature of James Stewart)] answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100809182029AAIj4mB – user66974 Mar 16 '16 at 13:57
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    From The Rotarian - Aug 1935 The hoary, bromidic saw "you can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy," is true in proportion to its age. I think that means even back then the writer considered it a stupid thing to say, only likely to be "true" of very old people with limited ability to adapt to cultural changes. And I think the search for an "origin" is utterly pointless. – FumbleFingers Mar 16 '16 at 14:21
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    thanks for the actual reference. "I think the search for an "origin" is utterly pointless" Life is utterly pointless. You found a 1935 usage, which is great. Perhaps others will find earlier usages. – Fattie Mar 16 '16 at 14:24
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    But it was a hoary old saw even then! And I'm sure the same metaphoric juxtaposition between actual "external" environment and internal reflection thereof would be common to many languages. So very likely some similar "quip" existed in Latin - but are you really hoping the earliest related reference anyone can find could be considered the "original"? The concept, and thus the "saying" would have been recoined countless times throughout history, I'm sure. – FumbleFingers Mar 16 '16 at 14:31
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    Well, you guys are doing better than the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, whose earliest example is 1938. p.s. this phrase isn't always used disparagingly, it can also be used to show pride in one's roots – user56reinstatemonica8 Mar 16 '16 at 15:14
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Twiddling the Ngram arguments we find a "preprint" of @MarkBannister 's reference, in the May 16, 1914 issue of The Country Gentleman:

Remember the phrase how it's easy to get the boy out of the country but much more difficult to get the country out of the boy.

And there's a fair possibility that this is the first in-print use, as it's quoting Theodore Vail and uses "the phrase" rather than "the old phrase".

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Here's a usage from a yearbook from 1913 (published, it seems in 1913): Second Junior Annual of the Detroit College of Medicine: Recollections and Touches from the Lives of the Various People Connect with the Detroit College of Medicine. There's nothing to indicate that this is a first , or even early, usage though:

JOHN JENNINGS WATTS. Dr. Snyder says you can take the boy out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of the boy. Watts has disproved this. Watts came from the wilds of Ontario, but now he introduces the latest fads into the class, and was the first man in school to wear collars with transverse striations.

Maybe, although I doubt it, Dr Snyder—whoever he actually was— is the originator of this phrase. It's a nice thought.

You can see a pfd of Detroit College of Medicine 1914 Yearbook here. [You need p.126 of the book, if you're interested, which is page 64 of the pdf]


Note

On a webpage from Wayne State University the date of publication is given as 1914. This book was indeed written by the class of 1914. However, as Sven Yargs points out it seem highly probable that it was published in 1913. It anticipates the leaving of the 1913 class. In other words the it was written by the students who would leave the following year. Sven writes in the comments below:

I think that the curator at Wayne State University misread the wording "By the Class of 1914" as meaning "Published in 1914." It doesn't make sense to devote 14 pages of a yearbook to a class that left the year before. From page 102 of the annual (the last page of the Senior section, which includes a lengthy account of the hijinks of the class of 1913): “On May 29th the class of 1913 will meet officially as a class for the last time. Deep in our hearts there is a feeling of regret that we are about to depart.” Clearly, the senior class of 1913 is about to graduate.

This evidence seems to be very strong.

  • I suspect that this usage may be triggered by the 1914 usage in The Country Gentleman, or arrived from Theodore Vail via another route. Note that we have no clue as to when the Annual was actually composed and published. – Hot Licks Apr 10 '16 at 20:40
  • @HotLicks Indeed. May well be on all counts. I posted this mostly for the browsing value. I hadn't read your comment in full either :) – Araucaria Apr 10 '16 at 20:49
  • @HotLicks Interestingly, Google, which gives yours as 1914, gives this one as 1914 too. – Araucaria Apr 11 '16 at 0:38
  • The point is that Google lists the most obvious date of the document, not necessarily it's publication date. (Sometimes this is off by years or even decades.) The PDF states "Published by the Class of 1914" but does not give a publication date. But The Country Gentleman carries a masthead with the date, making it's date much more believable. – Hot Licks Apr 11 '16 at 0:44
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    Look at the PDF of the Detroit College Medicine yearbook, and you'll see that it's titled The Second Junior Annual of the Detroit College of Medicine, published by "the Class of 1914." I believe this means that the junior class at the college was responsible for each year's yearbook, and therefore that this yearbook was published in 1913, by the junior class at the college (which would become the graduating class of 1914). It certainly devotes a lot of space to the senior class of 1913, which wouldn't make much sense if the yearbook had been published in 1914 for that year's senior class. – Sven Yargs Apr 11 '16 at 1:07

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