Sigmund Freud on the meaning of a cigar
“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” is a quote attributed to Sigmund Freud, meaning that not everything signifies something other than what it plainly is, without secondary – or what is now often called Freudian – meaning. While some say Freud was the source of this observation several years before his death there is nothing in his voluminous writings which comes remotely close to the sentiments of the statement. There is evidence that the first reference in writing to the quote, which appeared in 1950 and claimed the quote had been “famous” for thirty years, is simply fabrication.
The reference to the cigar (and cigarettes) as phallic symbols is the first link in the chain attaching the quote to Freud. Freud’s ideas and writings regarding sexual symbols and their effects on human behavior were highly controversial when they were first announced, and in many cases members of both sexes found the public discussions of his views to be titillating. A 1922 article in the “International Journal of Psycho-Analysis” discussed in detail the relationship between smoking and display of masculinity through the phallus represented by cigarettes or cigars. It did not mention Freud.
Freud himself was an inveterate consumer of cigars, to the point that he grew to dislike those who did not join him in the habit, and most of his close associates took up smoking. Freud saw no need to defend the practice, which at the time was widely practiced and even encouraged. Social manners had their rules regarding smoking and it was rare indeed to find a place where it was prohibited either in public or in private, although there were some restrictions regarding the consumption of tobacco in the presence of ladies.
Nothing in Freud’s writings, in either English or German, indicates a similar thought or observation regarding either the practice of smoking or the symbolism of the instrument being smoked. There were attributions of the observation to him beginning with the above cited 1950 article, but none before, and in the many years since the quote has been repeated scores of times, with its source being named as Sigmund Freud. None of Freud’s contemporaries refer to the statement, strangely as they were nearly all cigar smokers.
The symbolism of the cigar due to its shape and the often misunderstood sexual drives described by Freud seem to be the source of this quote, rather than the words of Sigmund Freud himself. The quote is probably at least a partial source for the famous quotation attributed to Groucho Marx – itself an urban legend without a shred of truth – that he told a mother with several children that he liked his cigar but he took it out once in a while.