The Grammarphobia Blog

It’s Yogi all over again

Q: I read this story somewhere, but I can’t track it down. When Yogi Berra was coaching the Mets, he said, “You’re never out of it ’til you’re out of it.” Many years later, a writer garbled this and misquoted him as saying “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” UNFORTUNATELY, Yogi used the misquoted version in a Yoo-Hoo commercial and now he believes that’s what he actually said. Do you know the source of this?

A: It seems that Yogi Berra is responsible for both versions.

Fred Shapiro, in his meticulously researched reference The Yale Book of Quotations, attributes “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” to Berra, as quoted in an article in the Washington Post on Sept. 26, 1977.

Shapiro notes that Berra later wrote in The Yogi Book (1998): “That was my answer to a reporter when I was managing the New York Mets in July 1973. We were about nine games out of first place. We went on the win the division.”

Shapiro adds that Berra was quoted in the New York Times on June 30, 1974, as using the similar expression “You’re not out of it until you’re out of it.”

By the way, Yogi used the expressions “Me for Yoo-Hoo” and “The Drink of Champions” in his Yoo-Hoo advertisements in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but I can’t find that he ever used “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” in promoting the soft drink.

In case you’re wondering about a similar expression, it was the sports publicist Ralph Carpenter who said, “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

He was quoted in the Dallas Morning News on March 10, 1976, according to Shapiro. Carpenter made the remark during a basketball game between Texas Tech (where he was sports information director) and Texas A & M.

The expression was then used by the sportscaster Dan Cook in 1978 and still later by the NBA coach Dick Motta.

But Shapiro says another version, “Church ain’t out till the fat lady sings,” may suggest “an ultimate origin in Southern proverbial lore.”

Was Yogi the first person to say “It’s déjà vu all over again”? I had a blog item last year that discusses this.

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