Is it on-topic to ask on English language & Usage:

Who first said [insert quote]?

2 Answers 2


No. While ELU can help you find the first usage of a word and how it has changed over time, finding the first utterance of a quote is likely to be closed as General Reference or Off Topic. The difference is that word etymology can be analyzed and explained (though note it's not always on-topic either!) while a quote will generate a short answer like "so-and-so said it first". In addition, the source of a quote isn't really asking something about how the language itself is being used.

For example, https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/63421/need-help-finding-source-of-quote was closed as off topic.

  • 1
    I agree. Unless it's an awfully famous quotation, any answers are spurious, because it was certain to have been said before it was written, and nobody who heard it noted it. Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 21:13
  • 1
    '[T]he source of a quote isn't really asking something about how the language itself is being used' is true. A quote (other than a short one that has established itself as a building-block of the language / proverb, such as 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet') belongs more properly on Literature, and a request for the author on Literature and/or History. Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 15:45
  • What appears in the parenthetical remark of Mr Ashwort's comment is crucial here. The questions about quotations as such are off topic, but if a quote 'has established itself as a building-block of the language', in other words, if it has introduced an idiom, then the questions about it are effectively about the origins of the idiom, and thus on topic.
    – jsw29
    Commented Dec 9, 2023 at 17:42

'Who first said X?' questions and their similar etymology questions are sometimes on-topic sometimes not. It actually depends on the answer.

If the answer is in an easily accessible place (like etymonline or possibly OED which keeps lists of earliest references), the the question is closable as General Reference. That is, you probably could have done minimal google research to find your answer.

A difficulty with these kinds of questions is that sometimes it is just not knowable. "Was it Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw? My high school teacher said.." There might be some articles out there where the research was done, but it might be too arguable.

You should definitely do the research ahead of time, but if you can't find the answer with OED or etymonline, definitely ELU is the place to go for a mildly on-topic answer.

Such a question would be more on-topic for a site like Literature.SE which was unfortunately obsoleted.

But if your question is something like "Who first said 'The nut doesn't fall far from the tree'?" it might be quickly closed for not having a good answer.

  • 1
    This is a very old answer; literature.stackexchange.com is now a thing for your literary questions.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 17, 2023 at 15:34
  • "It depends on the answer" is a metric that is (now?) frowned upon on the entire network. The quality and germaneness of questions (as well as answers) should be judged solely by their own merits.
    – Joachim
    Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 15:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .