Many a true word is spoken in jest
Perhaps the earliest appearance in print of the most familiar form of this aphorism was in Volume VII of the Roxburghe Ballads, where appears in the prologue to The Merry Man's Resolution, or A London Frollick. The ballad purportedly goes back to the 17th century, but the introductory verse was probably written by the editor of the collection Joseph Woodfall Ebsworth:
He goes a wooing, yet the matter's so,
He cares not much whether he speeds or no;
'Cause City Wives and Wenches are so common,
He thinks it hard to find an honest woman.
Be n't angry with this fellow, I protest
That many a true word hath been spoke in jest.
By degrees he layes a wager, money's scant,
Until five shillings out; then ends his Rant.
- Jennifer Speake, John Simpson (2009), The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-953953-6
- Joseph Woodfall Ebsworth, The Roxburghe Ballads, Volume VII, The Ballad Society, Hertford (1893)
- Maud Ellmann (2003), "Shakespeare after Joyce", Shakespeare and Comedy, Cambridge University Press, p. 141, ISBN 978-0-521-82727-0