‘A famous phrase,’ as related by Pitchfork Ben

“All the world knows the remark of the governor of North Carolina to the governor of South Carolina, ‘It’s been a long time between drinks.’ The true history of the famous anecdote was told recently by [Ben Tillman, U.S. senator from  South Carolina].

“It appears that the phrase was first heard at a political dinner when the governors of both North and South Carolina were present. The first governor had delivered a fiery political speech. The situation was intense when the turn came for the governor of South Carolina to speak. It seemed that any word the governor might say would complicate the situations; even should he keep silent, his opinion would seem clear. It was at the critical moment that the governor of the other Carolina arose and, inspired by a stroke of genius, remarked: ‘It’s been a long time between drinks.’ The absolutely noncommittal remark saved the situation.”

— From “A Famous Phrase” in the Los Angeles Herald, Dec. 11, 1904

“A (damn) long time between drinks” has appeared in many variations over the decades.  I lean toward this one.


The rise and fall of ‘a long time between drinks’

“Mr. Edison’s phonograph preserves a conversation for 100 years. But conversations can be preserved that long without a phonograph. For instance, there is the celebrated conversation between the Governor of North Carolina and the Governor of South Carolina….”

— From Daily Alta California, Dec. 26, 1887 (via Louisville Courier-Journal)

How many people today would recognize this once world-famous expression, much less any of its numerous origin stories?  

Not many, the Google Ngram Viewer suggests.