take me to your leader

The phrase take me to your leader is a science fiction cliché, so much so that in the 2007 “Voyage of the Damned” episode of Doctor Who the time-traveling, title character said, “Take me to your leader! I’ve always wanted to say that!” (Another phrase in that episode that the good doctor always wanted to say was “Allons-y Alonso!”)

The current popularity of the phrase dates to the 1950s, but the phrase itself may be considerably older. The first known application of the phrase to first contact with extraterrestrials dates to 21 March 1953 and a cartoon by Alex Graham that appeared in the New Yorker. The cartoon depicts a flying saucer that has landed in a field and two aliens talking to a horse, saying, “Kindly take us to your President!”

By 1957 the phrase was firmly established in the public consciousness. In October of that year the Chicago Daily Tribune reported on a teen party that featured a “crazy hat” contest. One of the winning entries was called “Take Me to Your Leader.” While we can’t tell with absolute certainty that this is a reference to extraterrestrials, it’s a pretty safe bet that it is. And a few weeks later the same paper had an unambiguous use of the phrase in an alien context:

“Help! help! said the noises. “Take me to you leader!” “The men from Mars are here!” “We’re being invaded!"—these were some of the screams persons reported.

But before the extraterrestrial invasion of our popular culture, the phrase appears quite often in adventure fiction dating back to the nineteenth century. But it’s hard to tell from our twenty-first century perspective whether it was a catchphrase or simply a natural collocation of words. In other words, we can’t tell if take me to your leader was a well-known meme repeated for effect or just an ordinary way to say that you want to meet the head honcho.

Some early non-extraterrestrial examples are:

Mitford, Edward L., The Arab’s Pledge: A Tale of Marocco in 1830, London: Hatchard and Co., 1867, 63:

“You come alone; have you no token?”
“I have,” said he, “but it is as my life; take me to your leader.”

Ainsworth, William Harrison. Merry England: or, Nobles and Serfs. vol. 2. Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz. 1874. 207:

“’Tis true, nevertheless,” rejoined Chaucer. “Take us to your leader.”
“Not till we have further questioned you,” cried the man.

Dowie, John Alexander. Leaves of Healing, vol. 3, Zion Publishing House, 1897, 581:

Some of the band seized upon him not knowing who he was, and carried him off to rob him. He said: “Take me to you leader; take me to your leader at once; I have come into the mountains for that purpose.”

Hayans, Herbert, Clevely Sahib: A Tale of the Khyber Pass, Nelson, 1897, 114:

Rising unsteadily to my feet, I repeated the call for help, and was speedily surrounded by a body of soldiers.
“Take me to your leader quickly,” I gasped—“do not delay a second; it is a matter of life and death.”

Le Queux, William, Whoso Findeth a Wife, Rand McNally, 1898, 258:

“I’ll pay you nothing, not even a rouble, na vódkou, until you take me to your leader,” I answered defiantly.

Orczy, Emma, Leatherface: A Tale of Old Flanders, New York: George H. Doran, 1916, 288:

“Let me get to him ... take me to your leader ... I must speak with him at once!”

Streeter, B. H. and A. J. Appasamy, The Message of Sadhu Sundar Singh: A Study in Mysticism on Practical Religion, New York: Macmillan, 1922, 51:

On the way he fell into the hands of dacoits, who robbed him of the money and valuables, and mortally wounded him. He said to them, “I don’t mind your seizing all I have; only take me to your leader,” which they did.



Sources:

“A Boy’s Queer Noises Curdle Lots of Blood.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 18 Nov 1957. 4.

“Dig Those Hats (Crazy) Made At Teen Dance.” Chicago Daily Tribune. 13 Oct 1957. w5.

Graham, Alex. Cartoon. New Yorker, 21 Mar 1953.

Partridge, Eric. Dictionary of Catchphrases. Ed. Paul Beale. Scarborough House. 1992.

Shapiro, Fred, ed. The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. 2006.

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