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Big Fish

In the Yale Book of Quotations, only one entry cites a Swarthmore origin: “Like a fish without a bicycle,” attributed to Charles Harris ’59.

Harris was an honors psychology major who minored in humor, working on Auk! and writing “Quote,” a humor column for The Phoenix.

On April 7, 1958, “Quote” included a line Harris had scribbled in philosophy class for the amusement of his classmates: “A man without faith is like a fish without a bicycle.”

Carried by peripatetic Swarthmore alumni, the aquatic aphorism spread.

On reaching Australia, it inspired a feminist variant: “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle,” often attributed to Gloria Steinem but coined by Irina Dunn, then a student at the University of Sydney, who scrawled it on a bathroom wall.

In its many finned forms, the famous fish has pedaled around the globe and into the very fabric of our language and culture.

As for Harris, he apparently had no urge to wander. After graduate school at Harvard and a teaching stint at Penn, he settled in New Jersey, doing research in perception at Bell Labs. He prefers to identify himself not as the fish’s father, but as the co-originator (with Lisa Deutsch Earle ’59) of the Swarthmore College calendar and co-author (with St. Anselm) of the lyrics to “Waltzing St. Anselm.”