“This is why we can’t have nice things”

Slowly, I’ve become aware that this has attained a sort-of underground catchphrase status. When I ran a treasure hunt earlier this year, one of the students accidentally broke part of the treasure chest I was using as a prop — nothing I couldn’t fix quickly, but he was chagrined. And his teammate immediately said “This is why we can’t have nice things,” with such a concentration of irony that you could almost hear the quotation marks.

But what was he quoting? Does this phrase originate somewhere? Anybody know?

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  1. Becky
    Posted June 10, 2006 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    No doubt he was quoting his mother after he broke the cookie jar, or slammed a door or spilled his milk. It’s one of those stock phrases of the universal guilt-inflicting mother. I certainly heard it from my mom, and she is now 90. I expect she heard it from her own mom.


  2. Posted June 10, 2006 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    This seems like asking where “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice” comes from — it’s just a parent-ism from way back when, right?


  3. Posted June 10, 2006 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Huh. I guess that’s one parentism I was spared — I honestly had never heard it, up to the moment when I started hearing it everywhere.


  4. Dan
    Posted June 10, 2006 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    When I hear that quote, I think of the Simpsons. In a certain episode (can’t remember which), Lisa said “This is why I can’t have nice things” when Bart or Homer broke something of her’s.


  5. Toonhead!
    Posted June 10, 2006 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Gotta go with the Simpsons as well because I can’t recall ever hearing it anywhere else: http://www.snpp.com/episodes/CABF14


  6. Posted June 10, 2006 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Upon further reflection, I think the first time I heard it (or was conscious of hearing it, anyway) was an episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The beneficiary in that episode was quite nearly beyond help — simultaneously clueless and overly self-conscious. In preparing to meet his girlfriend’s parents, perhaps for the first time, he made a botch of nearly everything his gay mentors had instructed him to do. This culminated in his sweeping his brand-new barware off the kitchen counter with a careless arm, after which he said “This is why I can’t have nice things!” with genuine self-pity — no way was he quoting someone or using the phrase ironically. If the phrase hadn’t been in existence, he’d have coined it on the spot.

    I recalled this episode shortly after making this post initially, and after remembering it, I would not have been surprised if someone here had commented, “Well, it all started on this disasterous episode of Queer Eye…


  7. Posted June 12, 2006 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    That was “Alan,” and that was the first episode of QE I watched. I remember calling you and saying, “I watched Queer Eye and they failed.” :)


  8. braine
    Posted June 12, 2006 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    That’s also the first episode I ever watched, and it’s the one that hooked me. That moment, of him sweeping the broken stuff off the floor and damning himself under his breath, was some of the best TV I’ve ever seen. What a mess.

    The “tiwwchnt” phrase has been around for generations.


  9. AmesGames
    Posted June 12, 2006 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Right, the phrase has been around forever. I couldn’t possibly tell you where I first heard it (not from my parents), because it’s just one of those phrases everyone uses–well, almost everyone, I guess. This long predates Queer Eye, and I’m quite certain the poor schlep didn’t make it up. Don’t forget that often-used “just,” though: “We just can’t have nice things.”


  10. Posted June 12, 2006 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Now, see, I’ve never heard it said that way. I’m telling you, there’s a research paper in here somewhere for some eager linguistics major.


  11. Lance
    Posted June 12, 2006 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Toonhead will attribute anything to the Simpsons, won’t he? From Paula Poundstone in 2000: “My mother was the angriest person I’ve ever known in my entire life. One time I knocked a Flintstones glass off the kitchen table. She said, ‘Well, damn it, we can’t have nice things.'”

    (Cited in a 2001 LA Times article.)

    So Poundstone’s quote at the very least predates the Simpsons, and if her mother did indeed say it, it predates the Simpsons by decades. Which is my intuition: that Poundstone was playing off a familiar phrase.


  12. Posted April 18, 2008 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    I swear I’ve heard it on a popular series.. none mentioned above… maybe Will & Grace?
    Either way it’s a classic. Just one of those kind of ‘jokingly’ used quotes you hear.


  13. Posted September 11, 2008 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I have actually not started hearing it till just a few months back and I thought it was some quote from a movie, too…


  14. red
    Posted September 19, 2008 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    I heard it from my old roomate, so he started it. He was also a big Simpsons buff fwiw.


  15. G
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink
  16. Adam
    Posted July 13, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    First time I heard it was in 1996 in Mystery Science Theater 3000 the movie.


  17. Carter
    Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    err, I just got led here by a google search, but I think I should probably share that it has become very popular on the internet, usually said to people who ruin jokes, warn people about pranks, or otherwise get in the way of “good things”. I’m sure that it takes no stretch of the imagination to assume that teenagers brought it over to offline conversation.
    Hope that I helped…


  18. dimac
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    yeah, I came here from a google search for the phrase after hearing it loads recently.It is definatly a very old phrase and I think parentism is acurate but I dont know what has caused its recent popularity. I know (to my shame) that it is commonly used on the /b/ board at 4chan and I think it may have started there in reference to how they scared off their ‘queen’ Boxxy by obsesing over her until it started to ruin her life a bit and she was never to be seen again.


  19. Oscar
    Posted December 11, 2009 at 3:20 am | Permalink

    I definitely heard it in an early episode of Third Rock from The Sun (first series, I’m sure). The actor who plays Harry uses it but in an ironic way.


  20. lardboy
    Posted February 26, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    It’s also used in the 2000 episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, season 5, episode 6, “The Author”, after Ray and Robert get into a fight in their mother’s house. Marie, their mother, and after a short discussion comes in and uses the line, with such a reaction from the studio audience that it must already be a pre-existing phrase.


  21. JAY
    Posted April 10, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    holy shit thank you lardboy….i was looking for hours trying to find out where i heard it, and it was everybody loves raymond def.


  22. Rick Cain
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 12:57 am | Permalink

    In my house we had a variation of that: “You broke a drinking glass! Now we have to go out and buy another jar of jelly!”


  23. Rick Cain
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    The first time I heard the quote was from Babylon-5, where Zathras was unhappy that the time stabilizer was broken, and he lamented that Zathras can never have nice things. (He always spoke in the 3rd person)


  24. Monty
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    How about Jeff Foxwor.. Standup comedian. From one of his skits years ago. When as a child he broke the families treasured Elvis decanter, his mother said “thats why we just can’t have nice things” ?


  25. Jeff
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 7:06 pm | Permalink
  26. Jacob whalen
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I agree the very first time I heard this saying was from Jeff fox worthy. It’s a saying I’ve been saying ever since. The Irony behind that joke seems very wide spread no matter where you first heard it.


  27. John Smith
    Posted July 21, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    I swear this is what my dad used to say when I accidentally broke one of our flintstones glasses or our jelly jar glasses back in the 1970s.


  28. Chris
    Posted August 11, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Though there may not be alot out there to back this up my belief is that the phrases resurgence is due to its repeated use on Mythbusters, especially in the last couple years.


  29. jon
    Posted June 11, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    I know that its a meme now and that it originated somewhere, but i cant remember the name of the movie where I originally heard it. I remember that it was some sort of comedy, maybe a parody, and both the good guys and the bad guys in it say the line to their gang within 5 minutes of each other. Every time i try to think about it i come up with “spaceballs” but i dont think thats it.


  30. me
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Mafia, simpsons, everybody loves raymond


  31. Hannah
    Posted October 23, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    This is actually a very common, funny and ironic phrase used especially by young people (I’m a college student). It’s a playful way of being ironically critical of something someone did (it used to only pertain only to breaking or almost breaking a physical object). This phrase is now used in a very broad way (“break a leg” used to just relate to theatre and performance, but is now used for anything in which you want to wish someone luck). I’ve heard this phrase used twice in the past week. One was in discussing a grade on an exam with a friend. She told me hers (not great) and I said, “See, this is why we can’t have nice things.” This made her laugh. I also heard this phrase when I was at Mock Trial practice a few days ago. Several students did not show up. Our president was texting them when she looked up at the rest of the room and said, “well, they’re not showing up.” She took a few deep breaths and then, said, with a little frustration in her voice, “this is why we can’t have nice things.” Again, giggles and smiles. If you’re still not sure about this, google image, “this is why we can’t have nice things.” You will see some memes that will make it more clear.


  32. AJ
    Posted December 28, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I believe it came from the movie Godfather I. The Godfather was hurt and his oldest son was running things. He was an extreme hothead and the ones that hurt his father wanted to take him out. They managed to get his brother-in-law to help in a plot to kill him. His brother-in-law knew that if he upset his wife bad enough she would tell her family and her oldest brother would come after him. So as he was antagonizing his wife, she got to the point she was throwing dishes at him. That is when he made the comment “This is why we can’t have nice things”. To finish off the story, he beat her and she did call home. Brother came running, and was ambushed at a toll station and killed. Now I have not seen the Godfather I since early 90s so I could be off on this, but I believe that is where my generation in the Army got the expression (I am 45).


  33. Xyzzy
    Posted February 8, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    It was probably originally specific to a certain part of the country like the South… Regardless of where it’s from, it’s so vastly overused that I wish it would go back and stay there. (Based on people downvoting any comments with it on sites like Ars Technica, Reddit & Slashdot, I’m not alone.)


  34. funnyordie
    Posted March 30, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I can’t recall the comedy movie it was used in that has brought it back with the younger generation but it was used in that movie to make like of the fact they didn’t have nice things. It’s sarcasm/irony. I thought it was a Jim Carrey quote or Nicolas Cage (Raising Arizona) Quote. I’ve used it many times when something is damaged that is of little value and state – “This is why we can’t have nice things!”


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