Q: I’ve found an earlier citation for “Tom, Dick, and Harry” than the one you cite in your Feb. 18, 2007, posting about the expression. The 17th-century English theologian John Owen used the words in 1657. I discovered this on page 52 of God’s Statesman, a 1971 a biography of Owen written by Peter Toon.
A: Congratulations! This predates the earliest citation for the combination “Tom, Dick, and Harry” in the Oxford English Dictionary: “Farewell, Tom, Dick, and Harry, Farewell, Moll, Nell, and Sue.” The quotation appears to be from a song lyric in Vocal Miscellany (2nd ed., 1734).
Your cite even beats an earlier variation in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 (1696): “I am sworn brother to a leash of Drawers, and can call them by their names, as Tom, Dicke, and Francis.”
Thanks for the information. We’ve added a note about the Owen quotation to our original blog post.
We suspect that we’ll be doing a lot more updating. Language sleuths are discovering earlier and earlier citations for words and phrases as Google and others digitize millions of published works.
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