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The E-Sylum:  Volume 3, Number 19, May 7, 2000, Article 10

WHO'S JOSHING WHO? 

   Regarding the story of Josh Tatum, Carl C. Honore writes: 
   "I have published some information with Mike Hodder's 
   help in my upcoming book "The Life and Times of the 
   Liberty Nickel" on the origin of the term "to Josh". 
   Apparently the author Henry Wheeler Shaw wrote some works 
   before 1880 under the nom de plume Josh Billings.  One 
   of these was "Josh Billings's Farmer's Almanac".  Another 
   was "Josh Billing's Sayings"; from these to "Josh" someone 
   could have emerged. 

   This is not to say that Josh Tatum didn't exist.  He 
   possibly did and Mike mentioned that there may even be a 
   photograph of him someplace.  It's just that the term is 
   probably more likely to have come from the former source." 

   On the same topic NBS Board member Pete Smith writes:  
   "For a long time I have suspected that the Josh Tatum 
   story was more fancy than fact and have sought 
   confirmation, one way or another.  I was excited when I 
   viewed the "History, Money in Your Hands" video 
   distributed by the ANA since it included a picture of 
   Tatum. I asked James Taylor about the source of that 
   picture.  He admitted that it was an error and the 
   picture was really someone else. 

   A few years ago we had a file clerk working for us who 
   returned to law school. He did quite well in law school 
   and was editor of the law review. I gave him the story 
   of Tatum and asked him to do a search of legal sources  
   looking for confirmation of the Tatum story.  He was not 
   able to find anything.  One problem, known from other 
   examples, is that most old records have not been 
   converted to searchable forms.  I think it would be an 
   interesting exercise for E-Sylum readers to try to come 
   up with the first published reference to Tatum.  If he 
   existed, and if there was a trial, there would be 
   references in local (Boston?) papers from the era." 

   Back to Josh Billings: the New York Public Library 
   catalog (http://www.nypl.org/) lists several titles 
   between 1865 and 1880, and the following entry is found  
   at the Electric Library (http://www.encyclopedia.com/): 

   Billings, Josh 
     1818-85, American humorist; b. Lanesboro, Mass. His 
     popular, humorous sketches in rural dialect appeared 
     annually in the Farmer's Allminax (1869-80).  

   There are several web sites that cite quotes from the 
   Billings works.  Here are a few: 

      Always live within your income, even 
      if you have to borrow money to do so.  

      Don't ever prophesy; for if you prophesy wrong,  
      nobody will forget it; and if you prophesy right, 
      nobody will remember it.  

      In youth we run into difficulties.  
      In old age difficulties run into us. 

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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