Youngman's most famous one-liner - ``Take my wife - please'' - was actually delivered by accident
before an appearance on radio's ``Kate Smith Show.''
A frazzled Youngman was getting ready minutes before air time when his wife, Sadie, showed up with several
friends to see the show. Youngman grabbed an usher and told him, ``Take my wife, please.'' The comic was
still using the line after his wife died in 1987 at age 82.
LARRY McSHANE, NEW YORK (AP), AP-NY-02-24-98 2237EST
Henny Youngman is justly famed for giving this observance its definitive form in English.
Actually, this archetype is far older.
Attentive students of Sir James Frazer's
The Golden Bough
will recognize this phrase as a vestige
of an archaic, solar fertility cult.
These ceremonies are too well known in Europe, Asia, and Africa to need further discussion in this node.
Here is an example attested in North America:
... the young men who have their wives back of the Circle
go each to one of the old men with a whining tone
and request the old man to take his wife
herself necked except a robe)
and -- (or Sleep with her)
the Girl then takes the Old Man
(who verry often can scarcely walk)
and leades him to a convenient place
for the business, after which they return to the lodge;
if the old man (or a white man) returns to the lodge without
gratifying the Man & his wife, he offers her again and again;
it is often the Case that after the 2d time without
the Husband throws a new robe over the old man &c. and begs him not to dispise
him & his wife.
(We Sent a man to this Medisan Dance last night,
they gave him 4 Girls) all this is to cause the buffalow to Come
near So that they may Kill them.
Journals of Lewis and Clark, ed. De Voto, 5th of January 1805.
Take my wife, please!: Henny Youngman's giant book of
Carol Pub. Group, A Citadel Press book, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1998,
DeVoto, Bernard, ed.,
The Journals of Lewis and Clark, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1953,
Bakeless, John, ed.
The Journals of Lewis and Clark, New American Library, New York, 1964