If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going

Winston Churchill? Douglas Bloch? Linda Crew? Mario Murillo? Brian Mulroney? Wally Amos? Ron Kenoly? Anonymous?

flames07Dear Quote Investigator: Winston Churchill is often associated with quotations about steadfastness and tenacity. Consider the following saying:

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

I have seen this statement attributed to Churchill several times, but I have never seen any solid citations. Are these really the words of the famous British Prime Minister?

Quote Investigator: Probably not. In 2009 the publication “Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill” stated that the saying above was “not by Churchill, or at least not verifiable in any of the 50 million published words by and about him”. 1 In addition, the statement was placed in an appendix titled “Red Herrings: False Attributions” in the book “Churchill By Himself” which is the most comprehensive collection of quotations from the statesman. The editor was Richard M. Langworth, the top expert in this domain. 2

This adage is difficult to trace because of the malleability of its expression. The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in “The Oregonian” newspaper of Portland, Oregon in 1990. A self-help author and counselor named Douglas Bloch was profiled in an article that employed a version of the saying in its title: “If You’re Going Through Hell, Don’t Stop”. The phrase “don’t stop” was used instead of “keep going”. Within the body of the article Bloch spoke a slightly different two-part comment-response version of the maxim to his interviewer. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 3

When someone says, “I’m going through hell,” the best response is to tell them, “Don’t stop!” Bloch maintains. If we see that pain, grief and tough times are a process and that it will get better, we’re less likely to get stuck in the hell.

Based on current evidence Bloch is a plausible candidate for creator of this adage.

In 1993 the book “Ordinary Miracles” by Linda Crew was published with a saying that closely matched the title of the 1990 article. The author gave no ascription and indicated that the expression was already in circulation 4

He studied me for a moment. “You do seem to be under a lot of stress with this. Why don’t you consider just taking a breather? Even if you’re determined to go on, nothing says you have to do it right away.”

No, I had to be done with this one way or the other. You know what they say—when you’re going through hell, for Pete’s sake, don’t stop.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2009-2010 Winter, Finest Hour: The Journal of Winston Churchill, Number 145, Around & About, Quote Page 9, Column 2, The Churchill Centre & Churchill Museum, Andover, Hampshire, United Kingdom. (Verified with PDF) link
  2. 2013 December 12 (Kindle Edition Date), Churchill By Himself (Winston Churchill’s In His Own Words Collection), Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, Appendix I: Red Herrings: False Attributions, Entry: If you’re going through hell, keep going. (Kindle Location 19706)
  3. 1990 November 18, The Oregonian, Edition: Fourth, Section: Living, If You’re Going Through Hell, Don’t Stop by Jann Mitchell (The Oregonian staff), Quote Page L04, Portland, Oregon. (NewsBank Access World News)
  4. 1993, Ordinary Miracles by Linda Crew, Quote Page 179, Published by William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

Whenever a Friend Succeeds, a Little Something in Me Dies

Gore Vidal? Wilfrid Sheed? Anonymous?

ladder08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a mordant expression that reflects the corrosive nature of jealousy. Here are four versions:

1) Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.
2) Every time a friend succeeds I die a little.
3) When a friend succeeds, a small part of me dies.
4) Every time a friend succeeds, something in me dies.

This self-revelatory statement is usually attributed to the writer Gore Vidal. Could you please explore this remark?

Quote Investigator: In February 1973 the essayist Wilfrid Sheed penned an article in “The New York Times” titled “Writer as Wretch and Rat” about the vanity, rivalry, and bitterness experienced by some wordsmiths. The earliest strong match for the saying known to QI appeared in this article, but Sheed disclaimed authorship and ascribed the words to Gore Vidal. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Envy? Oh yes. Wanton. “Every time a friend succeeds I die a little.” Only a writer could have said that. In fact, I thought I’d said it myself, only to learn that Gore Vidal had beaten me to it by years — the upstart.

In September 1973 a long profile article about Gore Vidal by journalist Susan Barnes was published in “The Sunday Times Magazine” of “The Sunday Times” newspaper in London. Barnes spoke to friends of Vidal such as the prominent actress Claire Bloom. The following passage began with Bloom’s words followed by an instance of the saying spoken directly by Vidal who stated that he had written it somewhere previously: 2

“I’ve never seen the cynical side of him that comes out in public. I’ve never heard him say anything personally hurtful about any of his friends. Gore makes a great division here. I love gossip about my friends. He loves gossip about public people.”

Vidal says this is an exaggeration. “It was I who wrote: whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.”

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Notes:

  1. 1973 February 4, New York Times, Section: Book Review, Writer as Wretch and Rat by Wilfrid Sheed, Quote Page 2, Column 1, (ProQuest Page 324), New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1973 September 16, The Sunday Times, Section: The Sunday Times Magazine, Behind the Face of the Gifted Bitch by Susan Barnes, (“A profile of Gore Vidal, whose latest novel, Burr, will be published early next year”), Start Page 44[S], (Quote appears in the first column on page 3 of 5 within the article), London. England. (Gale Digital Archive of The Sunday Times)

You’ll Worry Less About What People Think of You When You Realize How Seldom They Do

David Foster Wallace? Olin Miller? Lee Traveler? Ethel Barrett? Mark Twain? Anonymous?

wallce07Dear Quote Investigator: An astute quotation about insecurity is often attributed to the novelist and teacher David Foster Wallace:

You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.

The statement is also credited to Mark Twain, but I have not yet seen a precise citation for anyone. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: David Foster Wallace did express this idea using a different phrasing in his 1996 novel “Infinite Jest”, and the details are given further below.

The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the widely syndicated newspaper column of Walter Winchell in January 1937. The words were credited to a jokesmith named Olin Miller. Boldface has been added to excerpts below. The ellipsis was present in the original text of the following: 1 2

Olin Miller’s thought should comfort the victims of self-pity, etc. . . . “You probably,” he submits, “wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do!”

QI believes that Olin Miller was the most likely originator of this remark. Other individuals such as David Foster Wallace and Ethel Barrett employed the saying after it was already in circulation. The phrasing has varied as the quotation has evolved over the decades. The linkage to Mark Twain appears to be spurious.

Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who located the key Winchell citation above and other valuable citations. 3

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Notes:

  1. 1937 January 7, Logansport Pharos-Tribune, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 8, Column 1, Logansport, Indiana. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1937 January 8, The Evansville Courier (Evansville Courier and Press), On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 8, Column 3, Evansville, Indiana. (GenealogyBank)
  3. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “You wouldn’t worry about what people may think of you if you could know how seldom they do”, Date on website: September 01, 2013, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik.com on September 9, 2014) link

Education Is What Remains After You Have Forgotten Everything You Learned In School

Albert Einstein? B. F. Skinner? Edouard Herriot? C. F. Thwing? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Agnes F. Perkins? James Bryant Conant? E. F. L. Wood? George Savile? Lord Halifax? Anonymous?

school10Dear Quote Investigator: My question concerns a provocative aphorism about memory, schooling, and curriculum. Here are four example statements that can be grouped together:

1) Culture is that which remains with an individual when he has forgotten all he learned.

2) Culture is what is left when what you have learned at college has been forgotten.

3) Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.

4) Education is what is left after you have forgotten all you have learned.

It would be possible to split this set into two subgroups: adages for education and adages for culture. But all the statements conform to the same underlying template, and this leads to a natural collection.

The French Prime Minister Edouard Herriot has been linked to the saying about culture. The famous physicist Albert Einstein and the prominent psychologist B. F. Skinner have been connected to sayings about education. Would you please examine this family of expressions?

Quote Investigator: This family of quotations has been evolving for more than one hundred years, and instances were already circulating before linkages were established to any of the persons named by the questioner. Newspapers credited Edouard Herriot with a comparable adage about culture by 1928. Albert Einstein wrote an essay in 1936 that included a commensurate remark about education, but he credited the words to an unnamed “wit”.

In 1942 E. F. L. Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax employed the remark about education during a speech. Later the statement was reassigned to the 17th century figure George Savile, 1st Marquess of Halifax. QI believes that this attribution was constructed because of confusion between names. In 1965 B. F. Skinner included an instance of the saying about education in an article about teaching, but he disclaimed credit. Details for these citations are given further below.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off

Gloria Steinem? Joe Klaas? Anne Kristine Stuart? David Icke? Bill Cosby? Erin Brockovich? Anonymous?

chain14Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is sometimes used as a rallying cry by activists:

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.

The words are typically attributed to the feminist Gloria Steinem. Would you please explore its origin?

Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that Gloria Steinem used instances of this expression in speeches by 1998, but the saying was already in circulation by 1990. Detailed citations for these dates are given further below.

This saying simultaneously modifies and evokes a well-known Biblical verse: John 8:32: 1

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

The earliest partial match known to QI appeared in the title of a 1988 religious book “The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Make You Miserable” by Jamie Buckingham. The phrase “make you miserable” provided only a partial match for “piss you off” because of the reduced connotation of anger. The body of the main text also included the expression. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Life is a comedy. Each day is a wonderful adventure, full of fun and laughter. Most important, remember this: The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.

The first strong match located by QI was published in the 1990 book “Twelve Steps to Happiness” by Joe Klaas who labeled the statement his “favorite motto”. Klaas helped to popularize the phrase, but it was unclear whether it was pre-existing: 3

Rest assured my favorite motto will come true. “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. Website: Bible Hub, Article title: Parallel Verses of John 8:32, Translation: New Living Translation, Website description: Online Bible Study Suite. Bible hub is a production of the Online Parallel Bible Project. (Accessed biblehub.com on September 4, 2014) link
  2. 1988, The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Make You Miserable: The Collected Wit and Wisdom of Jamie Buckingham by Jamie Buckingham, Section: Introduction, Quote Page 20, (Also appears in booktitle), Published by Creation House, Altamonte Springs, Florida. (Verified with scans in second printing May 1989)
  3. 1990, Twelve Steps to Happiness by Joe Klaas, Revised and Expanded, Series: A Hazelden Book, Quote Page 15, Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, New York. (Google Books Preview)

Choose a Job You Love, and You Will Never Have To Work a Day in Your Life

Confucius? Arthur Szathmary? An Old-Timer? Janet Lambert-Moore? Harvey Mackay? Anonymous?

jobchoice11Dear Quote Investigator: I assist students in the selection of accurate and properly credited quotations for the school yearbook. One student would like to use a popular adage about career choice:

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

This statement is often attributed to the ancient Chinese sage Confucius, but the student considers this assertion anachronistic. Job choice flexibility was sharply limited in the era of Confucius. Would you please explore this issue?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have found no substantive support for the claim that Confucius made this statement.

The earliest strong match located by QI was published in the “Princeton Alumni Weekly” in 1982 which quoted a Professor of Philosophy named Arthur Szathmary who employed the saying; however, Szathmary attributed the words to “an old-timer” who was not identified. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

An old-timer I knew used to tell his students: ‘Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’

The expression has sometimes been attributed to the entrepreneur and top-selling author Harvey Mackay who did use the adage in 1989 as shown in the citation given further below, but QI believes that he did not craft it.

This article presents a snapshot of current knowledge on this topic; and future research may uncover citations which antedate the 1982 passage above. QI suspects that earlier instances exist that use a different phrasing.

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Notes:

  1. 1982 October 6, Princeton Alumni Weekly, Article Title: Toshiko Takaezu, Article Author: Ann Woolfolk, Start Page 31, Quote Page 32, Column 1, Published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Google Books Preview)

The Biggest Problem in Communication Is the Illusion That It Has Taken Place

George Bernard Shaw? William H. Whyte? Pierre Martineau? Joseph Coffman? Anonymous?

illusion10Dear Quote Investigator: I am copy editing a book, and the author would like to include an insightful remark about communication. Here are four versions:

1) The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

2) The greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.

3) The most serious danger in communication is the illusion of having achieved it.

4) The great enemy of communication is the illusion of it.

The first expression is usually attributed to the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw, but the citations I have seen are unconvincing. I do not wish to reference a business book published in 2000 to support an ascription to Shaw. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that George Bernard Shaw who died in 1950 made this statement. The saying has been linked to Shaw only in very recent decades.

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an article titled “Is Anybody Listening?” by William H. Whyte which was published in “Fortune” magazine in 1950. Whyte was a journalist and a best-selling author who wrote about organizations and public spaces. His instructional “Fortune” article was designed to encourage improved communication within the business domain: 1

LET US RECAPITULATE A BIT: The great enemy of communication, we find, is the illusion of it. We have talked enough; but we have not listened. And by not listening we have failed to concede the immense complexity of our society–and thus the great gaps between ourselves and those with whom we seek understanding.

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Notes:

  1. 1950 September, Fortune, “Is Anybody Listening?” by William Hollingsworth Whyte, Start Page 77, Quote Page 174, Published by Time, Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)

Nobody Goes There Anymore, It’s Too Crowded

Yogi Berra? Rags Ragland? Suzanne Ridgeway? John McNulty? Ukie Sherin? Anonymous?

party07Dear Quote Investigator: An amusing anecdote states that baseball great Yogi Berra was once asked whether he wished to have dinner at a highly-regarded restaurant, and he replied with a remark combining wisdom with contradiction:

Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.

Is this an authentic Yogiism?

Quote Investigator: Berra has stated on multiple occasions that he did make this remark, and detailed citations for this claim are given further below.

Yet, this joke has a long history, and it was already circulating before Berra was born. A thematic precursor about parties was published in 1882 in a London periodical called “The Nonconformist and Independent”. The comedy hinged on the impossibility of all the guests delaying attendance until all the other guests had already arrived: 1

“I’m afraid you’ll be late at the party,” said an old lady to her stylish granddaughter, who replied, ” Oh, you dear grandma, don’t you know that in our fashionable set nobody ever goes to a party till everybody gets there?”

The earliest strong match known to QI was published in December 1907 in a New York newspaper humor column called “Sparklets”. The creator of the joke was unidentified, and the person delivering the punchline was also not named: 2

Ambiguous, Yet Clear—Oh, don’t go there on Saturday; it’s so frightfully crowded! Nobody goes there then!”

In the ensuing days, months, and years the jest was reprinted with minor alterations in other papers such as “The Philadelphia Inquirer” in Pennsylvania. 3 4 It was still circulating in 1914 when the same text was printed in the “Middletown Daily Times-Press” of Middletown, New York. 5 Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who identified this primal version and located other valuable citations. 6

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Notes:

  1. 1882 February 23, Nonconformist And Independent, Gleanings, Quote Page 178, Column 3, London, Middlesex, England. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1907 December 7, Daily People, Sparklets, Quote Page 2, Column 3, New York, New York. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1907 December 19, Philadelphia Inquirer, Here and There: Clear But Confusing, Quote Page 8, Column 4, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1908 March 9, Titusville Herald, Clear but Confusing (Filler item), Quote Page 5, Column 7, Titusville, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
  5. 1914 March 4, Middletown Daily Times-Press, Clear, but Confusing (Filler item), Quote Page 7, Column 5, Middletown, New York. (NewspaperArchive)
  6. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: ‘”Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded” (restaurant joke)’, Date on website: July 22, 2004, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik on August 26, 2014)

“If I Were Your Wife I’d Put Poison in Your Tea!” “If I Were Your Husband I’d Drink It”

Winston Churchill? Nancy Astor? Marshall Pinckney Wilder? Patrick O’Dowd? David Lloyd George? George Bernard Shaw? Groucho Marx? Anonymous?

astor09Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous anecdote in which an exasperated individual fantasizes aloud about giving poison to another person. The sharp rejoinder is surprising and hilarious. Usually the two named participants are Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill. Are you familiar with this story? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI of a strongly matching jest was published in November 1899. The excerpt below from an Oswego, New York newspaper acknowledged a source called the “Listener”. Neither participant was identified. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The “Listener” reports the following from the subway: On one of the recent warm days a sour-visaged, fussy lady got on one of the smoking seats on an open car in the subway.

Next her sat a man who was smoking a cigar. More than that, the lady, sniffing, easily made out that the man had been eating onions. Still more than that, she had the strongest kind of suspicion that he had been drinking beer. The lady fussed and wriggled, and grew angrier, and looked at the man scornfully. Presently she could endure it no longer. She looked squarely at him and said:

“If you were my husband, sir, I’d give you a dose of poison!”

The man looked at her. “If I were your husband,” said he, “I’d take it!”

The popular story above was reprinted with minor alterations in multiple newspapers in the following days, months, and years. An early instance in the “New York Tribune” acknowledged “The Boston Transcript”. 2 3 Top researcher Barry Popik identified this primordial version of the repartee and located other valuable citations. 4

This joke has been evolving for more than one hundred years. In March 1900 the humorist Marshall Pinckney Wilder asserted authorship of the gag. By April 1900 a version with a comical Irishman was circulating. In 1902 a theatrical production switched the roles of the husband and wife.

In 1949 an instance with Winston Churchill delivering the punchline to an unnamed woman was printed in “The New York Times”. The story with Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill was recounted in a 1952 book called “The Glitter and the Gold”. It is conceivable that Churchill employed this line, but he would have been knowingly or unknowingly re-enacting a joke that had been circulating for many years.

In 1962 the legendary comedian Groucho Marx presented the gag, but he credited the prominent playwright George Bernard Shaw with the punchline. The details for all these citations are given further below.

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Notes:

  1. 1899 November 18, Oswego Daily Times, Right and Left, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 2, Column 4, Oswego, New York. (Old Fulton)
  2. 1899 November 19, Colorado Springs Gazette, Tales of the Town, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1899 November 19, New York Tribune, Section: Illustrated Supplement, Well Agreed, (Acknowledgement to The Boston Transcript), Quote Page 19, Column 3, New York, New York. (Old Fulton)
  4. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “‘If you were my husband, I’d poison your coffee’ (Nancy Astor to Churchill?)”, Date on website: February 09, 2009, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik com on August 26, 2014)

Know Your Lines and Don’t Bump Into the Furniture

Spencer Tracy? Noel Coward? Alfred Lunt? Lynn Fontanne? Anonymous?

stage10Dear Quote Investigator: Some actors engage in elaborate rituals when preparing to perform a role. But the funniest advice about acting that I have ever heard avoids all pretensions. Here are three versions:

1) Speak clearly, and don’t bump into the furniture.
2) Learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.
3) Memorize your lines and try not to crash into the furniture

Statements of this type have been attributed to several noteworthy artists, e.g., Spencer Tracy, Noel Coward, Alfred Lunt, and Lynn Fontanne. Would you please identify the humble promulgator?

Quote Investigator: The earliest partial match for this advice located by QI was spoken by the playwright and actor Noel Coward and published in August 1954 by the syndicated columnist Leonard Lyons. Coward used the phrase “without bumping into people” and not the more comical phrase “without bumping into the furniture”. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1

The only advice I ever give actors is to learn to speak clearly, to project your voice without shouting—and to move about the stage gracefully, without bumping into people. After that, you have the playwright to fall back on—and that’s always a good idea.

The couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were major stars of the theatre for several decades. In January 1955 the columnist Lyons reported on an appearance of the pair at Columbia University in New York City. Fontanne delivered the memorably self-effacing statement about the dramatic arts with the phrase “without bumping into the furniture”: 2 3

Alfred Lunt, lecturing at Columbia, was asked to define the style of acting he and his wife, Lynn Fontanne, use, “Frankly, I’ll have to ask my wife,” said Lunt. Miss Fontanne supplied the answer “We read the lines so that people can hear and understand them; we move about the stage without bumping into the furniture or each other; and, well that’s it.”

The two passages above were the earliest evidence of matching expressions located by QI. Questions about the craft of acting were directed at Coward and Fontanne many times during their careers. QI believes that replies similar to those given above were employed more than once.

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Notes:

  1. 1954 August 16, Long Beach Independent, The Lyons Den: Broadway Gazette by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 10, Column 7 and 8, Long Beach, California. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1955 January 24, Morning Advocate, The Lyons Den by Leonard Lyons (Syndicated), Quote Page 4A, Column 2, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1955 January 25, The New Mexican (Santa Fe New Mexican), Press Agent Writes Of Dorothy McGuire’s Reconciliation With Estranged Husband, (Continuation Title: Lyons) by Leonard Lyons, Start Page 4, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Santa Fe, New Mexico. (NewspaperArchive)