If I Could Remember the Names of These Particles, I Would Have Been a Botanist

Albert Einstein? Enrico Fermi? Leon M. Lederman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During the twentieth century the field of physics advanced astonishingly quickly. Researchers discovered a large number of elementary particles. A prominent physicist quipped:

If I could remember the names of all those particles, I’d be a botanist.

Did Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, or somebody else say this?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this statement. The remark appeared in a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” within the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press.

The earliest instance located by QI occurred in a 1963 lecture by the experimental physicist Leon M. Lederman delivered at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

In introducing the elementary particles to a wide audience like this one, I always remember the statement of the great Enrico Fermi who said, “If I could remember the names of these particles, I would have been a botanist.” I will therefore restrict myself to a small fraction of the particles in order to keep the discussion simple. Probably the proton, the neutron, and the electron are familiar to all of you — you may even own some.

Fermi died almost a decade earlier in 1954, but he is the leading candidate. The phrasing of the expression is variable.

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Notes:

  1. 1963 January 9, Brookhaven Lecture Series on Unity of Science, BNL 787, Number 23, Neutrino Physics by Leon M. Lederman (Physics Departments, of Columbia University and Brookhaven National Laboratory), Start Page 1, Quote Page 1, Published by Office of Technical Services, Department of Commerce, Washington D.C. (HathiTrust Full View) link

You’re Not the Customer; You’re the Product

Richard Serra? Carlota Fay Schoolman? Steve Atkins? Tom Johnson? Claire Wolfe? Andrew Lewis? blue_beetle? Tim O’Reilly?

Dear Quote Investigator: For decades the most powerful mass medium has been television. The internet has dramatically shifted our access to information. Nowadays, society reflects upon itself by using internet search engines. Yet, both of these fundamental channels of communication, access, and synthesis are primarily supported by advertising. A pithy expression explicates the resultant skewed perspective:

You’re not the customer; you’re the product.

Would you please explore the history of this saying?

Quote Investigator: In 1973 the artists Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman broadcast a short video titled “Television Delivers People”. An anodyne soundtrack played while sentences in white text on a blue background slowly scrolled upward. The messages displayed thematically matched the saying under exploration. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Commercial television delivers 20 million people a minute.
In commercial broadcasting the viewer pays for the privilege of having himself sold.
It is the consumer who is consumed.
You are the product of t.v.
You are delivered to the advertiser who is the customer.
He consumes you.
The viewer is not responsible for programming——
You are the end product.

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Notes:

  1. YouTube Video, Title: Richard Serra “Television Delivers People” (1973), Authors of video: Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman, Uploaded on Feb 2, 2011, Uploaded by: KunstSpektrum, Copyright date within video: Mar 30, 1973, (Quotation starts at 0 minute 54 seconds of 6 minutes 55 seconds) (Video of scrolling text with canned soundtrack music; Text criticizes the corporate and advertiser control of television content), (Accessed on youtube.com on May 13, 2017) link

The Worm Was Punished for Early Rising

John Godfrey Saxe? Frederick Locker-Lampson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: “The early bird catches the worm” has become an irritating cliché. I love this entertaining comical response:

But the worm was punished for getting up early.

Do you know who crafted this rejoinder?

Quote Investigator: The work “Early Rising” appeared in the 1876 collection “The Poems of John Godfrey Saxe”. The stanza below expressed the unhappiness of the author with leaving his bed early in the morning: 1

Yes — bless the man who first invented sleep
(I really can’t avoid the iteration);
But blast the man, with curses loud and deep,
Whate’er the rascal’s name, or age, or station,
Who first invented, and went round advising,
That artificial cut-off, — Early Rising!

The final stanza of the poem contained the quip. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

So let us sleep, and give the Maker praise.
I like the lad who, when his father thought
To clip his morning nap by hackneyed phrase
Of vagrant worm by early songster caught,
Cried, “Served him right! — it’s not at all surprising;
The worm was punished, sir, for early rising!”

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Notes:

  1. 1876, The Poems of John Godfrey Saxe Complete in One Volume, Poem: Early Rising (Stanza Two and Final Stanza), Start Page 133, Quote Page 133 and 134, James R. Osgood and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

The Early Bird Catcheth the Worme

William Camden? Thomas Fuller? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: People who enjoy waking up early in the morning and going to work cite the following adage:

The early bird gets the worm.

Would you please explore the history of this expression?

Quote Investigator: English historian William Camden published “Remaines Concerning Britaine” in the 17th century, and this adage appeared in the fifth edition in 1636. Here is a contiguous sampling from the list of proverbs. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Thoughts be free from toll.
Trust is the Mother of deceit.
The gray Mare is the better horse.
The lame tongue gets nothing.
The early bird catcheth the worme.

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Notes:

  1. 1636, Remaines Concerning Britaine: Their Languages, Names, Surnames,… by William Camden, Fifth Impression, Section: Proverbs, Quote Page 307, Printed by Thomas Harper for John Waterson, London. (Internet Archive at archive.org) link

The Enormous Multiplication of Books in Every Branch of Knowledge is One of the Greatest Evils of This Age

Edgar Allan Poe? Alfred Smee? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The number of new books has increased vertiginously in recent years, but even in the nineteenth century critics lamented an oversupply. Did the major literary figure Edgar Allan Poe complain that the proliferation of books was “one of the greatest evils” of his age?

Quote Investigator: Edgar Allan Poe was an early employee of the “Southern Literary Messenger” of Richmond, Virginia. In 1836 he wrote a review of a legal tome titled “Reports of Cases Decided in the High Court of Chancery of Maryland”, and his first sentence provided a harsh assessment: 1

We cannot perceive any sufficient reason for the publication of this book.

Poe’s piece included a provocative general statement on this topic. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Now, the enormous multiplication of books in every branch of knowledge is one of the greatest evils of this age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the acquisition of correct information, by throwing in the reader’s way piles of lumber, in which he must painfully grope for the scraps of useful matter, peradventure interspersed. In no department have the complaints of this evil been louder or more just, than in the law.

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Notes:

  1. 1836 October, Southern Literary Messenger, Volume 2, Number 11, Bland’s Chancery Reports (Book Review of “Reports of Cases Decided in the High Court of Chancery of Maryland” by Theodorick Bland) Quote Page 731, Column 2, Publisher and Proprietor T. H. White, Richmond, Virginia. (Google Books Full View) link

Never Attempt To Teach a Pig To Sing; It Wastes Your Time and Annoys the Pig

Mark Twain? Robert Heinlein? Paul Dickson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Teaching a pig to sing is a futile task that aggravates the porcine student according to a popular saying. Luminary Mark Twain and science fiction author Robert Heinlein have received credit for this adage. Would you please determine the accurate ascription and the original context?

Quote Investigator: In 1973 Robert Heinlein published “Time Enough for Love” featuring a main character, Lazarus Long, who appeared in several other novels by the author. Long was a colorful individualist who had been genetically selected to live for centuries. He delivered the adage during a discussion of avarice and deceit. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I have never swindled a man. At most I kept quiet and let him swindle himself. This does no harm, as a fool cannot be protected from his folly. If you attempt to do so, you will not only arouse his animosity but also you will be attempting to deprive him of whatever benefit he is capable of deriving from experience. Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

Thus, the context was the difficulty and pointlessness of communicating a lesson that an individual is unwilling or unready to learn.

A different saying with a distinct meaning is sometimes confused with this adage. QI has a separate article on this topic: Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.

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Notes:

  1. 1974 (Copyright 1973), Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long by Robert A. Heinlein, Section: Prelude II, Quote Page 31, A Berkley Medallion Book: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans)

Never Wrestle with a Pig. You Both Get Dirty and the Pig Likes It

George Bernard Shaw? Mark Twain? Abraham Lincoln? Cyrus Stuart Ching? J. Frank Condon? Richard P. Calhoon? N. H. Eagle? Cale Yarborough? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular metaphorical adage warns individuals not to engage with disreputable critics. Here are two versions:

  1. Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.
  2. Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.

This saying has been credited to a triumvirate of quotation superstars: Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and George Bernard Shaw. I doubt these ascriptions because I haven’t seen any solid citations. Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Twain, Lincoln, or Shaw crafted this saying. Each was given credit only many years after death.

The adage evolved in a multistep multi-decade process. An interesting precursor was in circulation by 1776. QI has a separate article about that saying: Don’t wrestle with a chimney sweep or you will get covered with grime.

In 1872 a partial match using “hog” instead of “pig” appeared within a letter by J. Frank Condon published in an Ebensburg, Pennsylvania newspaper. Condon was responding to a previous verbal fusillade. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It has been remarked by a wise man that he who wrestles with a hog must expect to be spattered with filth, whether he is vanquished or not. This maxim I have long known and appreciated; nevertheless, there are occasions when it must be disregarded. A man may be attacked in such a way that he is compelled to flagellate his hogship, even at the risk of being contaminated by the unclean beast.

The label “maxim” and the phrase “long known” signaled that the saying was not constructed for the letter; instead, it was already in circulation. This simpler adage differed from the modern version because it did not mention the contentment of the swine.

The earliest strong match for the modern saying located by QI appeared in the January 3, 1948 issue of “The Saturday Evening Post” within a profile of Cyrus Stuart Ching who was the head of the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The ellipsis is in the original text: 2

A man in the audience began heckling him with a long series of nasty and irrelevant questions. For a while Ching answered patiently. Finally he held up his big paw and waggled it gently.

“My friend,” he said, “I’m not going to answer any more of your questions. I hope you won’t take this personally, but I am reminded of something my old uncle told me, long ago, back on the farm. He said. ‘What’s the sense of wrestling with a pig? You both get all over muddy . . . and the pig likes it.'”

Ching did not claim coinage; instead, he credited an unnamed uncle who may have been relaying a pre-existing item of folk wisdom. Oddly, another later citation shows Ching crediting his grandfather. Whatever the source, Ching did help to popularize the expression.

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Notes:

  1. 1872 February 3, The Cambria Freeman, Communication, (Letter to the Editor from J. Frank Condon; letter date Jan 29, 1872), Quote Page 3, Column 4, Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com and Chronicling America)
  2. 1948 January 3, Saturday Evening Post, Volume 220 Number 27, The Two-Fisted Wisdom of Ching by Beverly Smith, Start Page 15, Quote Page 58, Column 1, Saturday Evening Post Society, Inc., Indianapolis Indiana. (Academic Search Premier Ebsco)

Don’t Wrestle with a Chimney Sweep or You Will Get Covered with Grime

William Adams? James Boswell? Walter Scott? Jonah Barrington? Viscount Bolingbroke? Henry Van Dyke? John Bright? John J. Keane? William Wedgwood Benn? Tony Benn? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When you are attacked with falsehoods and invective it is natural to respond with abusive language; however, viewers of the interaction may feel revulsion for both the attacker and the defender. This notion has been expressed using a vivid analogy. Here are three examples:

  1. You can’t wrestle with a chimney sweep and come out clean.
  2. He who wrestles with a sweep must expect to be begrimed with soot.
  3. Never wrestle with a chimney sweep.

The British politician Tony Benn employed this saying. Would you please examine its history?

Quote Investigator: The celebrated multi-volume biography “The Life of Samuel Johnson” by James Boswell included a pithy instance of the expression in a section recounting events in 1776. The saying was spoken to Samuel Johnson by William Adams who was Master of Pembroke College, University of Oxford. Interestingly, Johnson disagreed with the advice. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Johnson coincided with me and said, “When a man voluntarily engages in an important controversy, he is to do all he can to lessen his antagonist, because authority from personal respect has much weight with most people, and often more than reasoning. If my antagonist writes bad language, though that may not be essential to the question, I will attack him for his bad language.”

ADAMS. “You would not jostle a chimney-sweeper.”

JOHNSON. “Yes, Sir, if it were necessary to jostle him down.”

Adams employed a version of the metaphor without elaboration, and Johnson understood it readily; hence, both may have already heard similar phrases.

QI has an article on an entertaining variant adage that appeared later: Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.

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Notes:

  1. 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.: Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works, in Chronological Order by James Boswell, Volume 2 of 2, Time period specified: 1776, Quote Page 24 and 25, Printed by Henry Baldwin for Charles Dilly, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

I’ve Been Poor, and I’ve Been Rich. Rich Is Better!

Fanny Brice? Beatrice Kaufman? Joe E. Lewis? Sophie Tucker? Johnny Hyde? Jack Herbert? Harold Gray? Bernice Fitz-Gibbon? Bob Mankoff?

Dear Quote Investigator: A newly wealthy person sometimes feels sentimental about an earlier period of poverty. Yet, one well-heeled individual unapologetically proclaimed:

I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. And, believe me, rich is better.

These words have been ascribed to entertainer Fanny Brice, singer Sophie Tucker, comedian Joe E. Lewis, writer Beatrice Kaufman, and others. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in May 1937 in the popular syndicated gossip column of Leonard Lyons who credited the writer Beatrice Kaufman. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

At the Tavern Mrs. George S. Kaufman urges a noted theatrical figure to accept the movie offers being tendered him. “Listen, and take my advice,” she urges. “Don’t overlook the money part of it. I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better!”

The above citation was listed in the important reference works “The Yale Book of Quotations” 2 and “The Quote Verifier”. 3 Kaufmann is the leading candidate for creator of this remark although in subsequent years it was employed by many others. Even columnist Lyons credited multiple people.

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Notes:

  1. 1937 May 12, The Washington Post, The Post’s New Yorker by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 13,Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Beatrice Kaufman, Quote Page 415, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified with hardcopy)
  3. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 179, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)

I Take My Hat Off To You as a Composer; I Put Back Ten Hats as a Man

Arturo Toscanini? Georges Clemenceau? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend the prominent conductor Arturo Toscanini expressed disrespect for the famous composer Richard Strauss during an incident in the 1930s. To understand this incident it is helpful to know that removing one’s hat was a gesture of respect in the European culture shared by the two men. Here are two versions of the insult:

1) For Strauss the composer, I take my hat off. For Strauss the man, I put it on again.

2) Strauss, as a musician I take my hat off to you; as a man I put on twelve hats.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this insult schema located by QI appeared many years earlier in 1918. Georges Clemenceau who was the Prime Minister of France reportedly employed the hat remark while discussing the behavior of a country during World War 1. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He was receiving a delegation from Rumania, and, after a short conversation, was asked by one of the delegates to send a message to the Rumanians who had given such gallant support to the Allies before national intrigue played them false. Then up rose Clemenceau and uttered the following tigerish sentiment: “I rise in the presence of your delegation; I take my hat off to the Rumanian people; I put it on again in the face of the Rumanian government.” Short, sweet, typically French in its incisive, epigrammatic quality.

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Notes:

  1. 1918 December 21, The New Appeal (Appeal to Reason), A Great Difference, Quote Page 3, Column 6, Girard, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)