Life Is Like Riding a Bicycle. To Keep Your Balance You Must Keep Moving

Albert Einstein? Walter Isaacson? J. Benson Hamilton? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? Dorothy Tucker? William Whiting?

bicycle07Dear Quote Investigator: The famous physicist Albert Einstein reportedly used a wonderful simile that compared riding a bicycle with living successfully. Here are three versions:

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

People are like bicycles. They can keep their balance only as long as they keep moving.

It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.

Would you please explore this topic? Which version is the most accurate?

Quote Investigator: On February 5, 1930 Albert Einstein wrote a letter to his son Eduard that included a remark that has been translated in different ways. In 2007 Walter Isaacson published a biography titled “Einstein: His Life and Universe”; the notes section at the end of the book printed an excerpt from the original text of the letter in German together with a translation by the Information Officer of the Einstein Archives. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The exact quote is: “Beim Menschen ist es wie beim Velo. Nur wenn er faehrt, kann er bequem die Balance halten.” A more literal translation is: “It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.” Courtesy of Barbara Wolff, Einstein archives, Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

Further below supplementary citations are presented for alternative versions of the saying ascribed to the acclaimed scientist.

Interestingly, the simile has a long history that reaches back into the 1800s in the English language. The early citations found by QI referred to the religious lives of individuals. Later citations referred to business and secular pursuits.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2007, Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, Section: Notes, Epigraph: 1, Quote Page 565, Location 10155, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Kindle Edition)

Any Field That Had the Word “Science” in Its Name Was Guaranteed Thereby Not To Be a Science

Frank Harary? Gerald M. Weinberg? Marshall C. Yovits? Max Goldstein? Richard Feynman? Anonymous?

science14Dear Quote Investigator: The participants in several fields of endeavor have selected names that include the word “science”, e.g., Political Science, Information Science, Military Science, Library Science, Domestic Science, and Computer Science. This motley collection inspired the following quip:

Anything with “science” in its name is not a science.

Would you please explore the origin of this saying?

Quote Investigator: Because this jest can be expressed in many ways it is difficult to trace. The data below is not presented as definitive; it is being shared so that others may have a starting point to build upon.

In 1975 Gerald M. Weinberg published “An Introduction to General Systems Thinking”, and the first chapter ended with a set of exercises. The seventh exercise presented a jocular law which Weinberg attributed to Frank Harary who was a prominent mathematician in the field of graph theory. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The misnaming of fields of study is so common as to lead to what might be general systems laws. For example, Frank Harary once suggested the law that any field that had the word “science” in its name was guaranteed thereby not to be a science. He would cite as examples Military Science, Library Science, Political Science, Homemaking Science, Social Science, and Computer Science.

This citation was the earliest known to QI though the joke referred to some domains of thought which were named many decades before the 1970s. QI suspects that this citation can be antedated.

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  1. 1975, An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Gerald M. Weinberg, Chapter 1: The Problem, (Questions for Further Research: Exercise 7), Quote Page 24 and 25, Published by John Wiley & Sons, New York. (Verified on paper)

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous There Is But One Step

Napoleon Bonaparte? Thomas Paine? Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle? Thomas Warton? Pierre-Jacques Changeux? James Joyce? Mark Twain?

paine09Dear Quote Investigator: Aesthetic evaluations are sometimes complex and contradictory. A well-known saying reflects this unstable nature. Here are two versions:

1) The sublime is only a step removed from the ridiculous.
2) From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but a step.

This expression has been linked to the military leader Napoléon Bonaparte, activist and revolutionist Thomas Paine, literary modernist James Joyce, and humorist Mark Twain. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match for this saying located by QI appeared in French in a 1777 collection of philosophical thoughts titled “Pensées Nouvelles et Philosophiques”. The words were attributed to the prominent author Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Du sublime au ridicule, disait Fontenelle, il n’y a qu’un pas: de la raillerie à l’insulte il y en a encore moins.

Here is one possible translation into English:

From the sublime to the ridiculous, said Fontenelle, it is only one step: from raillery to insult there is even less.

Fontenelle died in 1757, two decades before the book’s publication. Hence, this citation did not provide strong evidence of a linkage, but it did show that the expression was in circulation in French by 1777.

Each of the writers mentioned by the questioner has employed this saying and precise citations are presented further below.

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  1. 1777, Pensées Nouvelles et Philosophiques, Statement Number 264 (CCLXIV), Quote Page 75, Published by Marc-Michel Rey, Amsterdam. (Google Books Full View) link

The Contending Lawyers Can Fight, Not for Justice, But to Win

Clarence Darrow? Miriam Gurko? Apocryphal?

darrow14Dear Quote Investigator: Clarence Darrow was a famous American lawyer with a sobering view of the justice system. The following words have been attributed to him:

A courtroom is not a place where truth and innocence inevitably triumph; it is only an arena where contending lawyers fight, not for justice, but to win.

I have had difficulty trying to find a supporting citation. Would you please examine the origin of this statement?

Quote Investigator: The quotation above was inaccurate; however, it was partially based on a passage written by Clarence Darrow in his 1922 book “Crime: Its Cause and Treatment”. Darrow suggested that in an ideal world the tribunal responsible for legal judgements would be all-knowing and all-understanding, but actual tribunals clearly have been unable to achieve this type of discernment and perfection. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The law furnishes no means of making these judgments. All it furnishes is a tribunal where the contending lawyers can fight, not for justice, but to win. It is little better than the old wager of battle where the parties hired fighters and the issue was settled with swords. Oftentimes the only question settled in court is the relative strength and cunning of the lawyers.

The words above were remembered by an author named Miriam Gurko who in 1965 published a biography titled “Clarence Darrow”. The following passage contained Gurko’s conception of Darrow’s thoughts together with a short direct quotation from Darrow: 2

As a lawyer, he knew it was not enough to be innocent. Proving one’s innocence was a long, hard, expensive process, and a highly uncertain one. A courtroom, he was to say later, is not a place where truth and innocence inevitably triumph; it is only an arena where contending lawyers fight, “not for justice, but to win.”

QI believes that the text in boldface above was the source of the common modern quotation. However, the passage was a composite, and most of the words were crafted by Gurko and not by Darrow. Only the final six words were enclosed in quotation marks.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1922, Crime: Its Cause and Treatment by Clarence Darrow, Chapter XVI: The Law and the Criminal, Quote Page 128, Thomas Y. Crowell, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1965, Clarence Darrow by Miriam Gurko, Chapter 17: The Trial of Clarence Darrow, Quote Page 170, Thomas Y. Crowell, New York. (Verified with scans)

Though Music Be a Universal Language, It Is Spoken with All Sorts of Accents

George Bernard Shaw? Alan Lomax? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow? Henry David Thoreau?

music14Dear Quote Investigator: I believe that the famous playwright and music critic George Bernard Shaw said something like the following:

Music may be a universal language, but it’s spoken with all sorts of peculiar accents.

I checked some quotation references and was unable to find this statement. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In December 1890 George Bernard Shaw wrote a music review that contrasted the divergent sounds produced by orchestras in Manchester and Lancashire. The drummer in Manchester employed “mighty drum-sticks” which could perform well on the “final crescendo roll” of the “Trold King’s dance” in the Peer Gynt suite. But the drummer in Lancashire excelled in pieces that required greater delicacy. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Thus, though music be a universal language, it is spoken with all sorts of accents; and the Lancashire accent differs sufficiently from the Cockney accent to make the Manchester band a welcome variety, without counting the change from Cowen or Cusins to Hallé.

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  1. 1949 (Reprint of 1932 edition), Music in London: 1890-94 by Bernard Shaw, Volume 1 of 3, (Music review dated December 10, 1890), Start Page 90, Quote Page 91 and 92, Constable and Company Limited, London. (Verified on paper)

There Are Only Three Great Cities in the U.S.: New York, San Francisco, and Washington. All the Rest Are Cleveland

Mark Twain? Tennessee Williams? Edward Gannon? Hugh A. Mulligan? Anonymous?

NewYork07Dear Quote Investigator: Travelers in the U.S. sometimes complain of cookie-cutter monotony. The following quip has been attributed to the prominent playwright Tennessee Williams, and the luminary Mark Twain:

America has only three great cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.

I find this comment entertaining although I personally like Cleveland. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Mark Twain employed this joke; it is not recorded in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips”. 1 Also, it is not listed on Barbara Schmidt’s valuable website. The comedian Russell Brand did improbably attach a version to Twain in his 2014 book “Revolution”. 2

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a 1975 issue of a periodical called “Best Sellers” which was composed of book reviews. A reviewer named Edward Gannon printed an instance and attributed the words to an unnamed Frenchman. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 3

I once heard a Frenchman say, “There are only three cities in the United States: New York, San Francisco and Washington. All the rest are Cleveland.” (I suggested he add Boston and Atlanta.)

The small collection of cities deemed worthy by quipsters has varied; the group has included: New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Washington, Boston, Atlanta, and Santa Fe. Tennessee Williams died in 1983, and one year afterwards the joke was attributed to him. A detailed citation is given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2014, Revolution by Russell Brand, Chapter 9: It’s Big But It’s Not Easy, Unnumbered Page, Ballantine Books: Random House, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  3. 1975 September, Best Sellers, Volume 35, Number 6, (Review by Edward Gannon of the book “Washington Now” by Arthur H. Kiplinger and Knight A. Kiplinger), Quote Page 176, Column 1, University of Scranton Library and Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation, Washington, D.C. (Verified with microfilm)

Never Permit a Dichotomy to Rule Your Life

Pablo Picasso? Edward L. Bernays?

dichotomy09Dear Quote Investigator: Achieving happiness is often challenging. Some people intensely dislike their work life and attempt to obtain joy elsewhere. There is a quotation that cautions against allowing this type of dichotomy to rule one’s life, and this valuable guidance has been attributed to the famous painter Pablo Picasso, but I have never seen a good citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This advice about avoiding a pernicious dichotomy was formulated by Edward L. Bernays who was an important pioneer in the controversial disciplines of public relations, advertising, and propaganda.

Bernays contributed a short untitled essay to a 1986 book called “Are You Happy?: Some Answers to the Most Important Question in Your Life” compiled by Dennis Wholey. Bernays suggested that colleges should offer a course called “Personal Happiness”, and he emphasized the value of psychological tests to help the job selection process. Bernays also gave the following warning. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I say, “Never permit a dichotomy to rule your life, a dichotomy in which you hate what you do so you can have pleasure in your spare time. Look for a situation in which your work will give you as much happiness as your spare time.”

QI has found no substantive evidence that Pablo Picasso ever made a matching remark. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1986, Are You Happy?: Some Answers to the Most Important Question in Your Life, Compiled by Dennis Wholey, Section: Edward L. Bernays, Start Page 94, Quote Page 94, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)

Looked at the Right Way It Becomes Still More Complicated

Poul Anderson? Arthur Koestler? Anonymous?

poul08Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement has been called Anderson’s Law and Koestler’s motto:

I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated.

The words have been attributed to the prominent science fiction author Poul Anderson and the influential literary figure Arthur Koestler. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: In April 1957 Poul Anderson published a novelette titled “Call Me Joe” in the magazine “Astounding Science Fiction”. The story concerned a paraplegic who was given the task of psionically controlling an artificially constructed creature who was located on the planet Jupiter with its challenging environment. The tale has been reprinted frequently and appeared in prestigious collections of the “Hall of Fame” and “Masterpieces” variety. Curiously, the plot and situation displayed several parallels with the enormously popular movie “Avatar”. 1

One character named Jan Cornelius complained that he was visiting the satellite research station near Jupiter on a simple mission that should only take a few weeks, but he was required to spend 13 months waiting for a return spaceship to Earth. A scientist on the station named Arne Viken replied as follows. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

“Are you sure it’s that simple?” asked Viken gently. His face swiveled around, and there was something in his eyes that silenced Cornelius. “After all my time here, I’ve yet to see any problem, however complicated, which when you looked at it the right way didn’t become still more complicated.”

The popular modern version of this quotation differed slightly. The original employed the contractions “I’ve” and “don’t”. Also, it used the phrase “the right way” instead of “in the right way”. Arthur Koestler did include an instance of the saying in one of his books in 1967, but he did not claim credit; instead, he ascribed the words to Poul Anderson.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. Website: io9, Article Title: Did James Cameron Rip Off Poul Anderson’s Novella?, Article Author: Lauren Davis, Date: October 26, 2009, Website description: “io9 is a daily publication that covers science, culture, and the world of tomorrow”. (Accessed io9.comon June 15, 2015) link
  2. April 1957, Astounding Science Fiction, Edited by John W. Campbell Jr., Call Me Joe by Poul Anderson, Start Page 8, Quote Page 12, Published by Street & Smith Publications, New York. (Verified on paper; great thanks to Dennis Lien)

Only Monarchs, Editors, and People with Tapeworms Have the Right to Use the Editorial ‘We’

Mark Twain? Robert Ingersoll? Edgar Wilson Nye? John Phoenix? George H. Derby? Roscoe Conkling? John Fiske? Horace Porter? Henry David Thoreau? Hyman G. Rickover

derby08Dear Quote Investigator: Some writers use “we” as a form of self-reference. For example, an author might state: We base our opinion on the highest authority. A comically reproachful remark about this practice has been attributed to Mark Twain:

Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial ‘we’.

Similar comments have been ascribed to humorist Bill Nye (Edgar Wilson Nye), transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, and orator Robert Ingersoll. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest pertinent citation known to QI appeared in the November 1855 issue of “The Knickerbocker” which contained an evaluation of a forthcoming book titled “Phoenixiana: Or Sketches and Burlesques” by John Phoenix. The reviewer reprinted a passage from the prospective volume by Phoenix that included a simple instance of the joke. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

It will be perceived that I have not availed myself of the editorial privilege of using the plural noun in speaking of myself. This is simply because I consider it a ridiculous affectation. I am a ‘lone, lorn man,’ unmarried, (the LORD be praised for His infinite mercy!) and though blessed with a consuming appetite, which causes the keepers of the house where I board to tremble, I do not think I have a tape-worm; therefore I have no claim to call myself ‘WE:’ and I shall by no means fall into that editorial absurdity.

John Phoenix was the pen name of the writer George H. Derby who was a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army originally from California. When his book “Phoenixiana” was released in 1856 the printed text differed slightly from the passage above with the addition of the word “whatever” to yield the phrase “no claim whatever”. 2

Derby’s early version of the quip and other important citations were identified by linguist Ben Zimmer who currently writes a wonderful column about language for “The Wall Street Journal”. The jest has metamorphosed over the years, and a wide variety of risible rationales have been presented to justify the use of the pronoun “we” including these:

A person with a mouse in his or her pocket
A king, queen, emperor, or president
A pregnant woman
A newspaper or magazine editor
A person with a tapeworm
A schizophrenic individual

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  1. 1855 November, The Knickerbocker, Editor’s Table, Page 520, Volume XLVI, Number 5, Samuel Hueston, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1856 (Copyright 1855), Phoenixiana; or Sketches and Burlesques by John Phoenix (George Horatio Derby), Phoenix Installed Editor of the San Diego Herald, Quote Page 96, D. Appleton and Co., New York. (Google Books Full View) link

The Difficult We Do Immediately. The Impossible Takes a Little Longer

Charles Alexandre de Calonne? Lady Aberdeen? George Santayana? Fridtjof Nansen? Nicolas Beaujon? Baron de Breteuil? Mrs. William Tilton?

calonne16Dear Quote Investigator: There exists a family of entertaining sayings that cheerfully displays inordinate confidence:

1) If the thing be possible, it is already done; if impossible, it shall be done.

2) If it is simply difficult, it is done. If it is impossible, it shall be done.

3) The difference between the difficult and the impossible is that the impossible takes a little longer time.

4) The difficult is that which can be done immediately, the impossible that which takes a little longer.

5) The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.

These phrases have been linked to the French statesman Charles Alexandre de Calonne, the American essayist George Santayana, and the Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published in a 1794 collection of tales titled “Domestic Anecdotes of the French Nation”. The saying was ascribed to Charles Alexandre de Calonne who was the controversial Finance Minister for King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette. Before the excerpt below had been published, the French Revolution had swept the King and Queen from power, and both had died on the guillotine in 1793. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

When the queen asked Calonne for money, he more than once made use of this singular expression: If it is possible, madam, the affair is done; if it is impossible, it shall be done! Appropriate language for a French petit-maitre addressing his mistress, but not for a financier in whose hands was reposed the prosperity of an oppressed people!

The expression has been circulating and evolving for more than two hundred years. The popular novelist Anthony Trollope included an instance in his 1874 book “Phineas Redux” ascribing the words to a French Minister. Fridtjof Nansen spoke a version of the saying when he was a delegate to the League of Nations in 1925.

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  1. 1794, Domestic Anecdotes of the French Nation During the Last Thirty Years: Indicative of the French Revolution by Isaac Disraeli, Chapter: The Queen, Start Page 376, Quote Page 404, Printed for C. and G. Kearsley, Fleet Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link