‘even paranoids have enemies’: meaning and origin

The phrase even paranoids have enemies, and variants, are used to retort to the accusation of being paranoid—i.e., of showing unjustified suspicion and mistrust of other people.




The earliest occurrences of the phrase that I have found date from 1966, and—with one exception—the authors of the texts mentioning the phrase ascribed it to the U.S. poet and short-story writer Delmore Schwartz (8th December 1913 – 11th July 1966).

Perhaps relevant is the fact that Delmore Schwartz did suffer from paranoia. This is an extract from Self and History in Delmore Schwartz’s Poetry and Criticism, by David Zucker, published in The Iowa Review (University of Iowa) in 1977:

For him the oppressive reality of his life was his intensely painful manic-depression. His illness took the form, especially in the manic phase, of a paranoia that one can only call highly inventive. Struggling with his impulses—and the paranoia complicated his life in bizarre ways—became increasingly over the years his dominant obsession.

These are the three texts in which the phrase was ascribed to Delmore Schwartz:

1-: From the column The Lyons Den, by Leonard Lyons (1906-1976), published in The Morning Call (Paterson, New Jersey) of 19th August 1966:

Delmore Schwartz, the poet who died here recently, told a friend about his feeling he was being mistreated by people they knew. The man said: “You’re a paranoid” . . . Schwartz replied: “Even paranoids have enemies . . .”

2-: From the column written by Herb Caen (1916-1997), published in the San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) of 27th September 1966:

When and if somebody calls you paranoid, you would do well to recall the words of the late poet, Delmore Schwartz, who said: “Even paranoids have enemies.”

3-: From Famous Last Words, by Barnaby Conrad, published in the San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) of 11th December 1966:

Delmore Schwartz, 1914 [sic]-1966
The brilliant New York poet suffered from fits of depression about the imagined animosity of the world against him. Shortly before he died, he complained about his many enemies and their hostility. His girl friend remonstrated with him: “Delmore, you’re a paranoid!” He answered sagely: “My dear, even a paranoid has enemies.”

The only author who provided no ascription was Abe Mellinkoff (1912-1992) in his column Morning Report, published in the San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) of 21st October 1966:

If a paranoid can have real enemies, then a schizo may have a sound right to a split personality.




The phrase then occurs in Gags Or Not, Button, Bumper-Strip Slogans Vent Feelings, Bolster Identity, an article by John V. Hurst about the fad, among the younger generation, “of offbeat, generalized sloganeering” on buttons and bumper strips, published in The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California) of 5th March 1967:

A large dollar sign is centered on the button which rode some Carnaby cords at a recent rock ’n’ roll concert in Sacramento. In a circle around this is the lettering: “War Is Good Business—Invest Your Son.”
“Support Local Police,” reads the bumper strip. It looks like a variation of the familiar refrain. But beneath the slogan, in finer print, is this added instruction: “Bribe a Cop.”
The slogans, on button and bumper strip alike, are as various as the minds and emotions of men can make them:
Even Paranoids Have Real Enemies.”
“Preserve Democracy—Seal It in Plastic.”
“Mary Poppins Is a Junkie.”
“Make Love, Not War.”
“Vote Yes on No.”
“The Governor of Alabama Is a Mother.”
“Draft Beer, Not Students.”
“Caution: Military Service May Be Hazardous to Your Health.”
“No Tuition.”
“Bumper Sticker.”

Illustration for Gags Or Not, Button, Bumper-Strip Slogans Vent Feelings, Bolster IdentityThe Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 5th March 1967:

illustration for Gags Or Not, Button, Bumper-Strip Slogans Vent Feelings, Bolster Identity - The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California) - 5 March 1967


One Peggy Irving used the phrase in a letter in which she complained about the noise from the civic auditorium—letter published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) of 30th April 1967:

They have these super giant loudspeakers, up on the roof of the civic auditorium (behind the jackhammers that put a continent-sized bunch of dentist drills to work as soon as anybody in the area looks like they are headed for the sack.) And one of these speakers is aimed directly at my house (which may or may not have been deliberately done, even though paranoids can have real enemies too.) (Of course, the speakers were there before I was here, so it’s possible they weren’t really trying to get me.)

The phrase occurs again in two articles evoking the above-mentioned fad, among the younger generation, of sloganeering on buttons:

1-: In Hippie Movement’s History Written In A Pop Medium, by Billy E. Bowles, published in The News and Courier (Charlotte, South Carolina) of 1st November 1967:

The buttons and posters are the product of entrepreneurs rather than the hippies, and most are bought by tourists. But to some extent they reflect hippie tastes. Some posters […] are erotic or blatantly pornographic. So are some of the buttons, but most are merely humorous, or political, or what someone thought hip:
“LSD Fly United”
“Custer died for our sins”
“Win with Jesus”
“Is there life after birth?”
“Melts in your mind not in your hand”
“Chastity is its own punishment”
“Chicken Little was right”
“The Pill in time saves nine”
“Cure virginity”
“Smoke grass”
“J. Edgar Hoover sleeps with a night light”
“Don’t blame me, I voted for Brown”
“God isn’t dead. Church is”
Even paranoids have real enemies
“Cancer cures smoking”

2-: In Hippie Buttons Grab ‘Straights’, by Jon McKesson, published in The Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana) of 12th November 1967:

Bloomington, Ind.—A lot of people here are straining their eyes and bumping heads trying to read the thousands of buttons plastered on students’ chests.
Yep, folks, the poster and button revolution has taken hold of Bloomington […].
For instance, it would not be unlikely to encounter on the street a young mother wearing a button reading, “Even Paranoids Have Real Enemies” while leading a child wearing a button inscribed, “Mary Poppins is a Junkie.”

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