If George Washington Were Alive Today He’d Turn Over in His Grave

Who made the remark? Samuel Goldwyn? Yogi Berra? William Cuffe? George Arliss? Corey Ford? Gerald Ford?

verne02Who was turning? Richard Cobden? Aunt Harriet? Jules Verne? Franklin D. Roosevelt? George Washington? Abraham Lincoln? Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky? John Foster Dulles? Casey Stengel?

Dear Quote Investigator: Samuel Goldwyn and Yogi Berra were both famous for constructing humorous phrases. Their solecisms and malapropisms often exhibited entertaining absurdist logic. The following comments have been credited to Goldwyn and Berra respectively:

1) If Franklin D. Roosevelt were alive now, he’d turn in his grave.
2) If Casey Stengel were alive today, he’d be turning over in his grave.

Remarks of the type above were probably constructed via the inadvertent blending of common expressions like these:

1) If she knew about it she would turn in her grave.
2) If she were alive today she would disapprove.

Would you please explore the origin of this family of jests?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this comical expression found by QI was printed in an 1879 novel titled “The Honourable Ella: A Tale of Foxshire” by William Ulick O’Connor Cuffe, 4th Earl of Desart. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“My dear Harry, you don’t understand the rudiments of political economy. If Cobden were alive to hear all the twaddle of the free-traders now he would turn in his grave—at least, I mean he’d be confoundedly disgusted.

The author Cuffe highlighted the wit by allowing his character to recognize that the figurative language was incongruous.

In 1898 “The Leisure Hour” magazine published an article about Irish humor with the following material: 2

It was an Irish moralist who rebuked a widow in the words, “If your husband were alive, your conduct would make him turn in his grave”; a speech which recalls the Irishman’s encomium of Kean—”He acts the dead man to the very life” . . .

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Notes:

  1. 1879, The Honourable Ella: A Tale of Foxshire by The Earl of Desart (William Ulick O’Connor Cuffe, 4th Earl of Desart), Volume 1 of 3, Quote Page 173, Hurst and Blackett, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1897-8, The Leisure Hour, Irish Wit and Humor As Shown in Proverbs and Bulls by Elsa D’Esterre-Keeling, Quote Page 709, Column 2, Paternoster Row, London. (HathiTrust) link link

You Can Avoid Reality, But You Cannot Avoid the Consequences of Avoiding Reality

Ayn Rand? Henry F. Cope? Josiah Stamp? Apocryphal?

atlas08Dear Quote Investigator: Here are two versions of an expression attributed to the influential and controversial novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand:

You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.
We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality.

A student would like to use Rand’s words as a quotation for the high school yearbook, but the editors have asked for a proper source. This request for exact citations has been made to all the students as part of a longstanding yearbook tradition extolling accuracy. The saying has remained elusive despite the careful examination of multiple books and essays by Rand. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: In 1961 Ayn Rand spoke at a symposium titled “Ethics in Our Time” held at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The paper Rand delivered contained a passage that partially matched the saying under examination. The semantics were similar, but the wording was distinct. For example, the phrase “evade reality” was employed instead of “avoiding reality”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

He is free to make the wrong choice, but not free to succeed with it. He is free to evade reality, he is free to unfocus his mind and stumble blindly down any road he pleases, but not free to avoid the abyss he refuses to see. Knowledge, for any conscious organism, is the means of survival; to a living consciousness, every “is” implies an “ought.” Man is free to choose not to be conscious, but not free to escape the penalty of unconsciousness: destruction.

Perhaps the modern saying attributed to Rand was based on a paraphrase or summary of the text above. Alternatively, future researchers might someday locate a superior match.

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Notes:

  1. Website: Ayn Rand Lexicon, Article title: The Objectivist Ethics, Article author: Ayn Rand, Article description: “Paper delivered by Ayn Rand at the University of Wisconsin Symposium on ‘Ethics in Our Time’ in Madison, Wisconsin, on February 9, 1961″, Website description: Compilation of key statements from Ayn Rand (and from a few other authorized Objectivist texts). (Accessed aynrandlexicon.com on April 29, 2015) link

I Would Rather Have Two Girls at 21 Each Than One At 42

W. C. Fields? Great Lester? Fred Allen? Anonymous Vaudevillian?

wcfields10Dear Quote Investigator: I have been trying to trace the following gag:

I’d rather have two girls at 21 each than one girl at 42.

This line is usually attributed to the famous comedian W. C. Fields who played cantankerous and henpecked characters in movies. Would you please explore its provenance? I recognize that today some would label the joke sexist and ageist.

Quote Investigator: W. C. Fields did sing this line while taking a shower in the 1939 film “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man”. 1 However, the joke was already well-known to humorists before this film was shot.

The earliest strong match located by QI was printed in “The Seattle Daily Times” of Seattle, Washington in 1915. An advertisement for “The Pantages” theater mentioned a vaudeville performer named Great Lester and described his act as follows: 2

World’s Foremost Ventriloquist in His Cleverest and Funniest Exhibition! (He’s a Riot, Folks.)

The same newspaper page featured a section titled “Lines From Current Vaudeville” which recounted jokes that were being used in local venues. Here were two examples. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 3

“An optimist is a person who doesn’t give a whoop what happens so long as it doesn’t happen to him.”
—Howard & McCane, Orpheum.

“I would rather have two girls at 17 than one at 34.”
—Lester, Pantages.

The number of years specified in the quip was variable, e.g., 16, 17, 18, and 21. QI believes that the line was used by multiple comedians. QI does not know whether Great Lester crafted the statement or lifted it from a fellow performer.

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Notes:

  1. Subzin; Movie Subtitle Search, Movie: You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, Year of Movie: 1939, Time stamp for quotation: 00:17:15, Quotation Line 01: I’d rather have two girls at 21 each, Quotation Line 02: Than one girl at 42. (Accessed on Subzin on April, 28 2015)
  2. 1915 February 23, The Seattle Daily Times, (Advertisement for the Pantages theater), Quote Page 9, Column 1, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1915 February 23, The Seattle Daily Times, Lines From Current Vaudeville, Quote Page 9, Column 4, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)

I Had Six Theories About Bringing Up Children

Lord Rochester? John Wilmot? James A. Magner? Mrs. John McLauchlan? Leonard Lyons? Apocryphal?

theory07Dear Quote Investigator: A very funny comment about child-rearing has implausibly been attributed to John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester:

Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.

Wilmot died in 1680, and I do not think this quotation was crafted in the 17th century because the language is too modern. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of a close match found by QI appeared in a 1946 pamphlet titled “Parent Education Through Home and School”. The document was released by the Family Life Bureau, a Catholic Church organization. A section written by Reverend James A. Magner began with the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Before I got married,” wrote Lord Rochester, “I had six theories about bringing up children. Now I have six children—and no theories.”

Historically, the designation “Lord Rochester” has been used for John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, but it was very unlikely that a joke Wilmot wrote or spoke before his death in 1680 was somehow hidden for 266 years and only emerged in 1946. To date QI has located no substantive linkage between Wilmot and the quotation.

An interesting precursor to the quip was circulating by 1916. Detailed information is given further below.

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Notes:

  1. Date: 1946, Pamphlet Title: Parent Education Through Home and School, Catalog Description from Preface: [Addresses] originally presented at the fourteenth annual meeting of the National Catholic conference on family life, held at the Catholic University of America, February 5-8, 1946, Article Title: The Social Values of the Home, Article Author: Rev. James A. Magner, Start Page 11, Quote Page 11, Publisher: N.C.W.C. Family Life Bureau, Washington, D.C. (Verified with scans; great thanks to the librarians at Logue Library of Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

No Bastard Ever Won a War by Dying for His Country

George Patton? T. W. H. Crosland? Edmund Kozalla? Apocryphal?

patton08Dear Quote Investigator: General George S. Patton made the most incisive remark about war that I have ever heard. He was rallying Allied troops who were attempting to defeat the Axis Powers during World War II. His assertion about the two-edged sword of patriotism was cloaked in grim humor:

No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making some other poor dumb bastard die for his country.

I am not certain of the exact wording. Interestingly, some claim that this comment was not spoken by the general and actually originated with the 1970 movie “Patton”. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence known to QI appeared in the 1958 book “War and Peace in the Space Age” by Lt. General James M. Gavin. The author stated that he and other military personnel heard an address by Patton shortly before leaving Africa in 1943. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

George Patton’s last words to us before we left Africa came home with meaning: “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”

The speech was not publicized contemporaneously because of war time restrictions on information and because it contained language that was considered coarse for the era. Patton delivered many speeches during the war and some of the soldiers who heard his words recounted them in the following years. Unsurprisingly, the precise phrasing of the quotation under examination varied in these accounts.

An interesting precursor to the statement was in circulation during World War I, and similar remarks were printed in newspapers by 1942. Detailed information is further below.

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Notes:

  1. 1958, War and Peace in the Space Age by Lt. General James M. Gavin (James Maurice Gavin), Quote Page 64, Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper)

The Most Rewarding Things You Do in Life Are Often the Ones that Look Like They Cannot Be Done

Arnold Palmer? John Sutton? Anonymous?

golf08Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement about overcoming obstacles is attributed to the famous golfer Arnold Palmer:

The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done.

I am graduating soon and would like to use this as my yearbook quotation. The words are attributed to Palmer on several websites, but no citation is provided. Unfortunately, misinformation about quotations is rampant online as this website reveals. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an August 1966 speech delivered by Leslie B. Worthington who was the President of U.S. Steel Corporation. The full text of the address was printed in “The Baytown Sun” newspaper of Baytown, Texas. Worthington credited Arnold Palmer with the saying. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

As a friend of mine up in Pennsylvania — a pretty fair golfer by the name of Arnie Palmer — remarked some time ago: “The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done.”

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Notes:

  1. 1966 August 11, The Baytown Sun, U.S. Steel Boss Lauds Baytown Council, CC For Spur Action, (Article contains full text of speech delivered in Houston, Texas by Leslie B. Worthington who was the President of U.S. Steel Corporation), Quote Page 8, Column 4, Baytown, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)

Chance, Coincidence, Miracles, Pseudonyms, and God

Albert Einstein? Théophile Gautier? Alexis de Valon? Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Helena Blavatsky? Dr. Paul F.? Heidi Quade? Bonnie Farmer? Charlotte C. Taylor? Doris Lessing? Nicolas Chamfort? Horace Walpole?

chance10Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is attributed to the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein:

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.

I have been unable to find any solid information to support this ascription. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein ever made a remark of this type. It is not listed in the comprehensive collection “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

This topic is large, complex, and tangled. QI believes that the remark evolved from a family of interrelated sayings that can be traced back many years. These sayings did not have the same meaning, but QI believes that the earlier statements influenced the emergence of the later statements.

Below is a summary list with dates of the pertinent quotations. The shared theme was an examination of the connections between chance, coincidence, Providence, and God. The term “Providence” refers to the guardianship and care provided by God, a deity, or nature viewed as a spiritual force. Statements in French are accompanied with a translation.

1777: What is called chance is the instrument of Providence. (Horace Walpole)

1795: Quelqu’un disait que la Providence était le nom de baptême du Hasard, quelque dévot dira que le Hasard est un sobriquet de la Providence. (Nicolas Chamfort) [Someone said that Providence was the baptismal name of Chance; some pious person will say that Chance is a nickname of Providence.]

1845: Le hasard, c’est peut-être le pseudonyme de Dieu, quand il ne veut pas signer. (Théophile Gautier) [Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he does not want to sign.]

1897: Il faut, dans la vie, faire la part du hasard. Le hasard, en définitive, c’est Dieu. (Anatole France) [In life we must make all due allowance for chance. Chance, in the last resort, is God.]

1949: Chance is the pseudonym of God when He did not want to sign. (misattribution: Anatole France)

1976: He defined coincidence as a miracle in which God chose to remain anonymous. (Dr. Paul F. of Indianapolis, Indiana)

1979: A coincidence is a small miracle where God chose to remain anonymous. (Anonymous in “Shop with Sue”)

1984: A coincidence is a small miracle when God chooses to remain anonymous. (attribution: Heidi Quade)

1985: Coincidence is when God works a miracle and chooses to remain anonymous. (attribution: Bonnie Farmer)

1986: Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (Charlotte Clemensen Taylor)

1997: Coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous. (attribution: Doris Lessing)

2000: Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. (misattribution: Albert Einstein)

Details for these statements together with additional selected citations in chronological order are given below.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Examined on paper)

“She Is Always Kind to Her Inferiors” “But Where Does She Find Them?”

Dorothy Parker? Mark Twain? Samuel Johnson? Sidney Skolsky? Margaret Case Harriman? Anonymous?

parker08Dear Quote Investigator: The scintillating wit Dorothy Parker once listened to an enumeration of the many positive attributes of a person she disliked. Below is the final statement of praise together with Parker’s acerbic response:

“She is always kind to her inferiors.”
“And where does she find them?”

The humor hinges on the possible non-existence of the inferiors. Is this tale accurate? Who was the person being discussed?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this anecdote located by QI was printed in the Hollywood gossip column of Sidney Skolsky in 1937. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

At lunch the other day, a group were discussing a prominent actress and a person said: “She’s only kind to her inferiors.” Whereupon Dorothy Parker remarked: “Where does she find them?”

In January 1941 “The New Yorker” magazine printed an article by Margaret Case Harriman that profiled the fashionable author and playwright Clare Boothe Luce, and it included an oft-repeated version of the tale in which Clare Boothe Luce was the target of the barb from Parker.

Interestingly, the playwright was not known for her evanescent pursuit of acting. Her initial fame was primarily based on the Broadway hit she wrote titled “The Women” which debuted in December 1936, and QI believes that the columnist Sidney Skolsky would not have referred to Clare Boothe Luce as a “prominent actress” in June 1937.

There was another woman named Claire Luce who was a well-known actress in the time period. Conceivably, the names were confused. It was also possible that the entire story was simply concocted by someone to provide entertainment. Precursor tales and jibes have been circulating since the 1700s. Mark Twain employed a fun variant.

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Notes:

  1. 1937 June 23, Milwaukee Sentinel, Section: Peach, Page 3, Column 6, Hollywood by Sidney Skolsky, Quote Page 14, Column 6, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive)

Chance Is the Nickname of Providence

Nicolas Chamfort? Horace Walpole? Anonymous?

chnace08Dear Quote Investigator: The relationships between chance, luck, fate, and providence are often disputed. One viewpoint holds that no event occurs at random; instead, there is an underlying purpose or design though it may be hidden or opaque. Here is an adage encapsulating that thought:

Chance is the nickname of Providence.

Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: A precursor to the adage appeared in a 1777 letter written by Horace Walpole who was pioneer of gothic literature and a notable historian of art. The letter was addressed to the Countess of Ossory, and it was published by 1848. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

. . . what is called chance is the instrument of Providence and the secret agent that counteracts what men call wisdom, and preserves order and regularity, and continuation in the whole . . .

The earliest evidence of a strong match known to QI was from the pen of the famous French epigrammatist Nicolas Chamfort who died in 1794. A collection of his works was published in 1795 that included a set of “Maximes et Pensées” (Maxims and Thoughts) containing the following two-part statement: 2

Quelqu’un disait que la Providence était le nom de baptême du Hasard, quelque dévot dira que le Hasard est un sobriquet de la Providence.

Here was one possible translation into English:

Someone said that Providence was the baptismal name of Chance; some pious person will say that Chance is a nickname of Providence.

Chamfort’s complex remark intertwined and counterposed teleology, theology, probability, and contingency.

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Notes:

  1. 1848, Letters Addressed to the Countess of Ossory from the Year 1769 to 1797 by Horace Walpole (Lord Orford), Edited with Notes by R. Vernon Smith, Volume 1, Letter number 101, Letter from Horace Walpole, Letter to Countess of Ossory, Date: January 19, 1777, Start Page 262, Quote Page 262, Published by Richard Bentley, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Date: L’an 3 de la République (Third year of the Republic overlapped 1794 and 1795), Title: Oeuvres de Chamfort (Works of Nicolas Chamfort), Publisher: Recueillies et publiées par un de ses Amis (Collected and published by one of his friends), Volume: Tome IV (Volume 4), Section: Maximes et Pensées: Maximes générales, Quote Page 34, Publishing location: A PARIS Chez le Directeur de l’Imprimerie des Sciences et Arts, rue Thérèse (Published in Paris). (Google Books Full View) link

I Think that I Shall Never See a Billboard Lovely as a Tree

Joyce Kilmer? Ogden Nash? Confucious? Anonymous?

freeway10Dear Quote Investigator: April is National Poetry Month in the U. S., and Arbor Day also occurs in this month. A famous poem by Joyce Kilmer begins with the following couplet: 1

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A comical riff on this work begins with the following lines:

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.

I have seen multiple versions of this humorous poem that criticizes the massive signs next to highways. Would you please determine the proper text and the creator’s identity?

Quote Investigator: The October 15, 1932 issue of “The New Yorker” published a poem titled “Song of the Open Road” by Ogden Nash who was a popular wordsmith of light verse. This was the earliest publication known to QI: 2

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.
—OGDEN NASH

Over the decades, variants of the text have evolved. By 1940 Ogden Nash had produced a modified version of his own verse. He published a collection of works titled “The Face is Familiar” containing an instance of the poem that replaced the word “perhaps” with the word “indeed”. This made the point of the poem more emphatic.

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Notes:

  1. Date: 1913 October, Periodical: Boys’ Life, Poem title: Trees, Poem author: Joyce Kilmer, Quote Page 2, Publisher: Boy Scouts of America, Inc. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Date: 1932 October 15, Periodical: The New Yorker, Poem title: Song of the Open Road, Poem author: Ogden Nash, Quote Page 18, Column 2, Publisher: F.R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online Archive of page scans of The New Yorker; accessed archives.newyorker.com April 11, 2015)