I'm a ESL student, and today I saw a shirt with this quote "we can't all come and go by bubble"

I tried to google but see no result.

Hope anyone can help me, thanks !

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  • It doesn’t make any sense as regular English, beyond just what the individual words mean. If it was on a t-shirt, it was probably meant to reference something specific, but I have no idea what. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 9 '17 at 17:23
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    See this explanation. It's a context-specific usage from Elphaba in the musical Wicked. Essentially, I think it means We can't all travel around in our own little [metaphoric] protective bubble, but I can't say I care enough to make sure. – FumbleFingers Jun 9 '17 at 17:27
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    I suspect it refers to any of several sci-fi movies and cartoons where people travel around in what are apparently large soap bubbles. – Hot Licks Jun 9 '17 at 17:31

It's a quote from the Broadway musical Wicked, based on Gregory Maguire's 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West which was, in turn, inspired by L. Frank Baum's 1900 children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and to some degree on the 1939 Hollywood film The Wizard of Oz (see Wikipedia).

In both the very famous film and the musical, Glinda the Good Witch travels via bubble (a literal giant soap bubble in the film, and a bubble-generating clockwork-contraption in the musical)1. You can see the musical version of the bubble in this "behind-the-scenes" video, and the Billie Burke movie Glinda arriving in her bubble in this clip from the film.

In the musical, Glinda is juxtaposed with the titular "wicked-witch" lead, Elpheba. Glinda is blonde and popular and glamorous; Elpheba is a dark-haired, green-skinned outcast. Glinda wears pastels and rides in a flying bubble; Elpheba wears black and rides on an old broomstick. The dialogue-in-question (from the musical's script2):

Glinda: ... And what exactly have you been doing besides riding around on that filthy, old thing?
Elphaba: Well, we can't all come and go by bubble.

Any deeper significance of the quote is up to the individual reader/viewer/wearer-of-t-shirts to decide.


1 So far as I can tell, bubbles were not a mode of transport for Glinda in Baum's original book; I'm not sure whether the 1939 film originated the idea or not, but it has been very persistent ever since, also appearing in several other subsequent adaptations.

2 If you search videos for "Wicked catfight" you can see the scene, though the legality of the videos is questionable at best.

1006a's answer accurately identifies the immediate source of the expression "we can't all come and go by bubble": it's from the Broadway musical Wicked (itself based on Maguire's novel of the same name) by way of the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, where Glinda—the Good Witch of the South—floats into a couple of scenes in a lovely pink bubble.

It is certainly true that Glinda in L. Frank Baum's original The Wizard of Oz (1900) does not travel by bubble. In fact, in that book, she doesn't travel at all; she stays in her palace in the Land of the Quadlings throughout the book, and isn't even mentioned until most of the story covered in the 1939 movie is over and the wizard has accidentally ballooned away from Dorothy. Likewise, the Good Witch of the North in the original Wizard of Oz doesn't travel by bubble in the story either, as far as the reader can tell; she is already waiting outside Dorothy's farmhouse when Dorothy first opens the door post-cyclone and finds herself in the Land of the Munchkins.

But that doesn't mean that the L. Frank Baum deserves no credit for the idea of traveling by bubble. His 1909 book, The Road to Oz, recounts the adventures of Dorothy, Toto, and three companions they meet along the way as they travel to Oz to (as it turns out) attend Princess Ozma's birthday party. In the final chapter of the book, the Wizard (who has returned to Oz) sends many of the birthday party guests safely off to their homelands in magic bubbles that he blows around them by means of a special machine he has invented.

I think it is quite possible that the screenwriters of the 1939 movie got the idea of having Glinda travel in a bubble from the episode at the end of The Road to Oz. The screenwriters clearly weren't overly concerned about fidelity to the details of Baum's original stories, as we can see from their dumping the Good Witch of the North in favor of a peripatetic Glinda, and their turning the original book's silver shoes (which had belonged to the Wicked Witch of the East) into ruby slippers.

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