We Shape Our Tools, and Thereafter Our Tools Shape Us

Marshall McLuhan? Winston Churchill? Robert Flaherty? Emerson Brown? John Culkin? William J. Mitchell? Anonymous?

tools12Dear Quote Investigator: While participating in a trivia contest recently I heard the moderator emphasize this rule: “Thou shalt not use Google”. Indeed, the amount of information accessible via a quick search using a cell-phone is remarkable. The cognitive capacity of humans has been enormously amplified. The famous media theorist Marshall McLuhan has been credited with a germane adage. Here are two versions:

  1. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.
  2. We make our tools, and then our tools make us.

I have not been able to find a good citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that these sayings evolved from a remark made by the U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill during a speech in the House of Commons in October 1943. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

On the night of 10th May, 1941, with one of the last bombs of the last serious raid, our House of Commons was destroyed by the violence of the enemy, and we have now to consider whether we should build it up again, and how, and when. We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us. Having dwelt and served for more than 40 years in the late Chamber, and having derived fiery great pleasure and advantage therefrom, I, naturally, would like to see it restored in all essentials to its old form, convenience and dignity.

Churchill referred to “buildings” instead of “tools”, but buildings may be viewed as specialized tools for providing shelter. Interestingly, by 1965 a variant using “tools” was being attributed to Churchill. Details are provided further below in this set of chronological citations.

Churchill’s expression was memorable, and a short piece in “The New Yorker” magazine in November 1943 reprinted his words: 2

“We shape our buildings and afterward our buildings shape us,” said Mr. Churchill, addressing Parliament on the subject of plans for rebuilding the bombed-out House of Commons. He had a lot of good reasons for wanting to keep the British legislature just as it used to be—a rectangular chamber instead of a semicircular one, so that the dividing line between Liberal and Conservative could be marked by an aisle a man would think twice before crossing…

In 1948 the New York periodical “The Saturday Review” discussed a documentary about U.S. agriculture by filmmaker Robert Flaherty which depicted large-scale mechanization. The narration included thematically pertinent commentary using the word “shape”: 3

These miraculous machines!
Do we shape them
Or do they shape us?
Or reshape us from our decent, far designs?

But we are learning.
We are learning to build for the future
From the ground up.

In February 1965 a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate convened to discuss the improvement of educational quality in schools. Emerson Brown who was the President of the American Textbook Publishers Institute testified, and he employed a statement that strongly matched the one under investigation. Intriguingly, he credited Winston Churchill. Perhaps Brown crafted the variant based on his own faulty memory. Alternatively, he was relaying an altered quotation that was already in circulation. 4

Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our tools and then the tools shape us.” The tools the textbook publishers are capable of producing today can, if given the opportunity, shape a new and better education for all young people growing up today.

In March 1967 “The Saturday Review” published an expository article titled “A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan” by John M. Culkin who was a friend and colleague of McLuhan’s. Culkin’s presentation and interpretation of McLuhan’s thought was organized into five main sections as indicated in the article: 5

What follows is one man’s McLuhan served up in barbarously brief form. Five postulates, spanning nearly 4,000 years, will serve as the fingers in this endeavor to grasp McLuhan.

The third postulate was “Life imitates art”, and the elaboration written by Culkin included an instance of the saying:

3) Life imitates art. We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us. These extensions of our senses begin to interact with our senses. These media become a massage. The new change in the environment creates a new balance among the senses. No sense operates in isolation. The full sensorium seeks fulfillment in almost every sense experience.

The fourth postulate presented a specific example of a tool that was shaped by humans:

4) We shaped the alphabet and it shaped us. In keeping with the McLuhan postulate that “the medium is the message,” a literate culture should be more than mildly eager to know what books do to people.

Culkin helped to popularize the expression under analysis, but the 1965 citation suggested that it was already in circulation. Also, Culkin was presenting McLuhan’s ideas. Oddly, the expression has not yet been found directly in the texts written by McLuhan; hence, Culkin has sometimes been credited with the saying.

In 1968 “The Rotarian” printed an essay that contained a modified instance of Churchill’s adage together with variant thoughts: 6

It is true what Churchill said: “We build our buildings, we shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us.” We can express it in an even more general way. Nature is shaping man, and man is reshaping Nature. Society is reshaping man and the buildings which are reshaping man and society. The networks demolish and reshape the buildings.

In 1970 “Southwest Review” published an anti-war poem with the variant phrase “Our tools make us” instead of “Our tools shape us”: 7

Hefting the M-l and slapping the operating rod handle back
As if they were masters of silence.
Our tools make us.
The brute brown length of my rifle oppresses me,
And how I served it with patches and rod,

In 1985 an electrical engineering textbook titled “VLSI Systems Design for Digital Signal Processing” included a full version of the adage using “make” and “tools”, but the surrounding quotation marks indicated that the book authors disclaimed coinage: 8

A structured approach to design seems a desirable, if somewhat elusive, goal. Yet, there is a danger that the complexity of the overall methodology could inhibit the design process: “First we make our tools, and then our tools make us.” This accounts for the reluctance of many teams to formalize their procedures.

In 1986 a journal published by the American Library Association reported on a keynote speech delivered at a conference during which a version of the adage was attributed to Marshall McLuhan: 9

The conference theme—”Accreditation: The Way Ahead?”—was addressed in a keynote paper presented by Richard Budd, dean of the Rutgers University library school. Budd quoted Marshall McLuhan to characterize the problems facing accreditation efforts: “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”

In 1992 the book “The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era” by William J. Mitchell included an instance: 10

Tools are made to accomplish our purposes, and in this sense they represent desires and intentions. We make our tools and our tools make us: by taking up particular tools we accede to desires and we manifest intentions.

The same author, Mitchell, released a book titled “City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn” in 1995. He credited Churchill with a version of the adage using “make”: 11

In his best Obi wan-Kenobi mode, remarking on the British Houses of Parliament, Winston Churchill cast this point into a much-quoted aphorism: we make our buildings and our buildings make us.

Professor Mitchell also offered an alternate saying based on Churchill’s remark:

It is time to update Churchill’s bon mot. Now we make our networks and our networks make us.

In 1998 “The Sydney Morning Herald” of Australia printed a futuristic remark made by Professor Jim Dator of the University of Hawaii: 12

Quoting Marshall McLuhan’s dictum, “we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us”, Dator foresees the “end of homo sapiens in one form, and our emergence, during the 21st century, into something totally different”.

In conclusion, Winston Churchill should be credited with the remark he made in 1943 using the words “buildings” and “shape”. Churchill’s statement provided a template for a family of expressions employing altered vocabulary and phrasing. For example, in 1965 publisher Emerson Brown employed a variant with “tools” and “shape”. But he incorrectly attributed the adage to Churchill. John Culkin helped popularize the expression with “tools” and “shape” when he used it in an article about his friend Marshall McLuhan, but QI has not yet found any evidence that McLuhan used the adage himself.

Image Notes: Publicity photo of Charlie Chaplin for the film “Modern Times”. Words of welcome in multiple languages from Tumisu at Pixabay.


  1. 1943 October 28, Hansard, United Kingdom Parliament, Commons, House of Commons Rebuilding, Speaking: The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill), HC Deb 28, volume 393, cc403-73. (Accessed hansard.millbanksystems.com on June 25, 2016) link
  2. 1943 November 13, The New Yorker, The Talk of the Town, Quote Page 17, Column 2, F. R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online New Yorker archive of digital scans)
  3. 1948 August 7, The Saturday Review, The Ground from Under Your Feet by Russell Lord, Start Page 13, Quote Page 34, Column 2, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz)
  4. 1965, United States Senate, Eighty-Ninth Congress, First Session, Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Education of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare on S.370, A Bill to Strengthen and Improve Educational Quality and Educational Opportunities in the Nation’s Elementary and Secondary Schools, Held in January and February 1965, Part 4, Statement of Emerson Brown, President, American Textbook, Publishers Institute; Accompanied by Austin J. McCaffrey, Executive Director, Date: February 1, 1965, Start Page 1800, Quote Page 1804, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (HathiTrust) link link
  5. 1967 March 18, The Saturday Review, A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan by John M. Culkin, (Director of the Center for Communications, Fordham University), Start Page 51, Quote Page 53 and 70, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz)
  6. 1968 March, The Rotarian, Volume 112, Number 3, Toward the Ecumenopolis by Constantinos Doxiadis, Start Page 18, Quote Page 19, Published by Rotary International. (Google Books Full View) link
  7. 1970 Spring, Southwest Review, Volume 55, Number 2, Poem: ROTC: US55415237 Passes By by John Taylor, Start Page 154, Quote Page 154, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, Texas. (Verified on microfilm)
  8. 1985, VLSI Systems Design for Digital Signal Processing by B. A. Bowen and W. R. Brown, Volume 2 of 2, Quote Page 57, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  9. 1986 March, American Libraries, Volume 17, Number 3, Section Title: ALA and You – Midwinter Report, Article: Library educators ponder future of accreditation, Section Start Page 172, Quote Page 199, Column 1, Published by American Library Association. (JSTOR) link
  10. 1994 (Copyright 1992), The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era by William J. Mitchell, Chapter 4: Electronic Tools, Quote Page 59, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Google Books Preview)
  11. 1995, City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn by William J. Mitchell, Chapter 4: Recombinant Architecture, Quote Page 48 and 49, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  12. 1998 May 16, The Sydney Morning Herald, Section: Good Weekend: The Sydney Morning Herald Magazine, The future isn’t what it used to be by Richard Nevlle, Start Page 16, Quote Page 19, Column 3, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. (Newspapers_com)

Beer/Wine Is Proof that God Loves Us and Wants Us To Be Happy

Benjamin Franklin? Apocryphal?

vineyard08Dear Quote Investigator: The renowned statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin has been credited with two variant statements about alcohol:

1) Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
2) Wine is constant proof that God loves us and likes to see us happy.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Benjamin Franklin sent a letter written in French to his friend Monsieur L’Abbé Morellet (André Morellet) that discussed wine and God. In 1818 William Temple Franklin who was the grandson of Benjamin published a posthumous collection of the statesman’s letters based on the originals. The volume included the French text together with an English translation for the missive, but it did not specify the date. The “marriage in Cana” in the following referred to an event described in the Gospel of John. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

On parle de la conversion de l’eau en vin, à la nôce de Cana comme d’un miracle. Mais cette conversion est faite tous les jours par la bonté de Dieu, sous nos yeux. Voilà l’eau qui tombe des cieux sur nos vignobles, et alors elle entre dans les racines des vignes pour-être changée en vin. Preuve constante que Dieu nous aime, et qu’il aime à nous voir heureux.

We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana, as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!

The comment on wine was remembered and reprinted repeatedly. The phrasing evolved and was streamlined over the period of nearly two centuries since the above publication.

The variant mentioning beer appeared relatively recently circa 1996, and it was constructed by simply replacing “wine” with “beer”; hence, it was not supported by Franklin’s primordial remark.

Thanks to a forum participant at Snopes and to a volunteer editor at Wikiquote who mentioned the letter above. Also, thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who explored this topic.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1818, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Published by His Grandson, William Temple Franklin, (From the Originals), Letter from Benjamin Franklin to the Monsieur L’Abbé Morellet (no date given in text), (French with translation into English), Start Page 347, Quote Page 348 and 349, Printed for Henry Colburn, Conduit Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1819, The Posthumous and Other Writings of Benjamin Franklin: Published from the Originals by His Grandson, William Temple Franklin, Volume 1 of 2, Third Edition, Letter from Benjamin Franklin to the Monsieur L’Abbe Morellet (no date given in text), (French with translation into English), Start Page 286, Quote Page 287 and 290, Printed for Henry Colburn, Conduit Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Two Most Important Days in Your Life: The Day You Were Born and the Day You Discover Why

Mark Twain? Ernest T. Campbell? Anita Canfield? William Barclay? William McCartney? Tim Elmore? David Wood? Dave Martin? Helen Burns? Anonymous?

birth09Dear Quote Investigator: The number of fake Mark Twain quotations grows significantly every year. I fear that a civilization of the distant future will credit Twain with authorship of every extant text. Here are two versions of a saying that has improbably been attributed to the man from Hannibal, Missouri:

1) The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

2) There are two great days in a person’s life—the day we are born and the day we discover why.

Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive support linking Mark Twain to the statement.
The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a 1970 pamphlet published by “The Riverside Church” of New York City. Minister Ernest T. Campbell delivered a sermon on January 25, 1970 that was recorded in the pamphlet. Campbell prefaced the saying with the locution “it has been said”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Our times call not for diction but for action. It has been said that the two most important days of a man’s life are the day on which he was born and the day on which he discovers why he was born. This is why we were born: To love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Based on current evidence the provenance is anonymous. This article presents a snapshot of what QI has found, and subsequent researchers may discover more information.

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  1. Pamphlet, Sermons from Riverside, Date of Sermon: January 25, 1970, Title of Sermon: “Give Ye Them to Eat”: Luke 9:10-17, Author of Sermon: Dr. Ernest T. Campbell, Quote Page 8, The Publications Office, The Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive, New York, N.Y., Call number: Ernest T. Campbell Manuscript Collection Box 2, No. 3, Book contributor: Princeton Theological Seminary Library. (Internet Archive at archive.org)

I Have Forgotten the Books I Have Read and the Dinners I Have Eaten, But They Both Helped Make Me

Ralph Waldo Emerson? G. B. Emerson? Charles Gordon Ames? Anonymous?

rwebooks08Dear Quote Investigator: The well-known lecturer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson has been credited with a provocative remark about reading and memory:

I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.

I have not found a convincing citation for Emerson. Are these really his words?

Quote Investigator: QI has not yet found convincing evidence that Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke or wrote this statement. He died in 1882, and the earliest strong match located by QI appeared in “The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine” issue of June 1896 within an article about a Harvard Divinity graduate and prominent Unitarian clergyman named William Henry Furness who had died earlier in the year. The piece reviewed the life and accomplishments of Furness who was born in 1802 and attended Harvard in the early 1820s. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Whatever impressions were made on the student’s mind by the courses of instruction, hardly a trace of them appears in his later authorship. Yet this may only imply thorough assimilation; for he can never be classed among those who have gone forth from classic halls to afflict mankind with the bad breath of ill-digested scholarship. “I have forgotten the books I have read,” said Emerson; “and so I have the dinners I have eaten; but they both helped make me.”

The paragraph preceding the passage above mentioned that G. B. Emerson was a tutor at Harvard while Furness was a student. Hence, it was conceivable that the ambiguous term “Emerson” referred G. B. Emerson instead of the better known Ralph Waldo Emerson (R. W. E.). On the other hand, the author of the article, Charles Gordon Ames, used “Emerson” to refer to R. W. E. in a later section. In addition, a quotation from R. W. E. would fit because Furness and he maintained a lifelong friendship that extended back to their days at Boston Latin School.

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  1. 1896 June, The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine, Volume 4, Number 16, William Henry Furness by Charles Gordon Ames, (Profile of Harvard graduate William Henry Furness who died January 30, 1896), Start Page 545, Quote Page 546, Published by The Harvard Graduates’ Magazine Association, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

I Would Rather Die of Passion than of Boredom

Vincent van Gogh? Émile Zola? Apocryphal?

starry08Dear Quote Investigator: The famous Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh has been credited with the following fervent statement:

I would rather die of passion than of boredom.

Surprisingly, this remark has also been ascribed to the prominent French novelist Émile Zola. Would you please elucidate this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1883 Émile Zola wrote a novel that contained an instance of this saying in French. In October 1884 Vincent van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother Theo that included the quotation as part of a larger excerpt from Zola’s novel. Thus, both well-known figures employed the saying, but Zola was the originator.

In 1833 Émile Zola released “Au Bonheur des Dames” which has been given several different English titles: “The Ladies’ Paradise”, “The Ladies’ Delight”, and “The Shop Girls of Paris”. The book was part of an important and popular series of twenty novels called: Les Rougon-Macquart. The saying under examination was spoken by a character named Octave Mouret while he was conversing with a character named Paul Vallagnosc. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Agir, créer, se battre contre les faits, les vaincre ou être vaincu par eux, toute la joie et toute la santé humaines sont là!

— Simple façon de s’étourdir, murmura l’autre.

— Eh bien! j’aime mieux m’étourdir… Crever pour crever, je préfère crever de passion que de crever d’ennui!

Ils rirent tous les deux, cela leur rappelait leurs vieilles discussions du collège.

In 1883 a translation of Zola’s novel by Frank Belmont was published under the title “The Ladies’ Paradise”. The passage above was rendered as follows: 2

“To act, to create, to struggle against facts, to overcome them or be overthrown by them, all health, all human joy consists in that!”

“Simple method of diverting one’s self.”

“Well, I prefer diverting myself. Death against death, I would rather die of passion than of ennui!” They both laughed, this reminded them of their old discussions at college.

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  1. 1833, Au Bonheur des Dames by Émile Zola, Series: Les Rougon-Macquart, (Reprint of Charpentier edition from 1833 released by Hachette, Paris in 1980), Published by G. Charpentier, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1883, The Ladies’ Paradise by Émile Zola (Émile Édouard C.A. Zola), Volume 3 of 3, Translated by Frank Belmont, Quote Page 35, Tinsley Brothers, London. (Google Books Full View) link

A Letter Is In Fact the Only Device for Combining Solitude and Good Company

Lord Byron? Jacques Barzun? Robert Halsband? Apocryphal?

byron08Dear Quote Investigator: On a Pinterest pin-board I saw a picture of the famous British poet Lord Byron accompanying the following quotation:

Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.

I would like to use this expression in an article, but I have not been able to find a good citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron) crafted the statement above. The ascription was probably based on a mistake that will be explicated further below.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in 1953 in the introduction to “The Selected Letters of Lord Byron” which was edited and introduced by the prominent historian Jacques Barzun. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

It is obvious that letter writing often gave Byron the opportunity to be outrageous and gay in a degree that no civilized society allows. A letter is in fact the only device for combining solitude and good company. And for some obscure reason, letters are also the proper medium for extravaganza.

The original wording of the expression differed slightly from the popular modern versions. Barzun was presenting his viewpoint in this passage, and he was not using the words of Byron.

In October 1953 “The Saturday Review” published an examination of “The Selected Letters of Lord Byron” by the scholar Robert Halsband. He praised the introduction by Barzun and reprinted the statement under investigation. Unfortunately, the context was ambiguous, and QI believes that some readers incorrectly attributed the remark by Barzun to Byron: 2

The introduction, even if read after the letters (which is a test), stands out for its clarity and wit. Especially judicious is his distinction between the man Byron and the time-spirit Byronism; as a biographer and as a cultural historian he does justice to both. His epigrammatic style is no disadvantage: “A letter is in fact the only device for combining solitude and good company.”

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  1. 1953, The Selected Letters of Lord Byron by George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron), Edited by Jacques Barzun, Series: Great Letters Series, Introduction: Byron and the Byronic in History by Jacques Barzun, Start Page vii, Quote Page xxxvii and xxxviii, Farrar, Straus and Young, New York (Verified on paper)
  2. 1953 October 3, The Saturday Review, Writers Notes: A Poet’s Letters by Robert Halsband, (Review of The Selected Letters of Lord Byron edited by Jacques Barzun), Start Page 36, Quote Page 52, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz)

Do Not Let Spacious Plans for a New World Divert Your Energies from Saving What Is Left of the Old

Winston Churchill? Jack Fishman? Apocryphal?

bomb08Dear Quote Investigator: Here is a mystifying question for you. Winston Churchill has been credited with crafting two nearly identical quotations beginning as follows:

1) Do not let specious plans …
2) Do not let spacious plans …

The two expressions differed by a single word: specious/spacious. Did Churchill utter or write either of these quotations?

Quote Investigator: There is evidence that Churchill wrote both of these quotations. In 1950 he released a book titled “The Grand Alliance” which was part of his multi-volume history of World War II. He included an appendix reprinting “Prime Minister’s Personal Minutes and Telegrams”. After he had examined the damage to buildings caused by bombing he sent a message in June 1941 to the Minister for Works and Buildings, Churchill emphasized the goal of repairing structures that could be made habitable. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

I continue to see great numbers of houses where the walls and roofs are all right, but the windows have not been repaired, and which are consequently uninhabitable. At present I regard this as your Number 1 war task. Do not let spacious plans for a new world divert your energies from saving what is left of the old.

In 1974 a posthumous collection of writings ascribed to Winston Churchill was published under the title “If I Lived My Life Again”. The compiler and editor was Jack Fishman who stated that his sources included magazines, newspapers, speeches, unpublished texts, and personal discussions. Unfortunately, Fishman did not provide precise notes for the provenance of chapters in the book, and some pieces were mosaics from different sources. Chapter 15 was titled “Wise Heads and Young Shoulders” and contained the following: 2

To youth I say – It must be world anarchy or world order. Do not let specious plans for a new world divert your energies from saving what is left of the old.

The oldest habit in the world for resisting change is to complain that unless the remedy to the disease can be universally applied it should not be applied at all. But you must begin somewhere.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1950, The Second World War: The Grand Alliance by Winston S. Churchill, Appendix C, Book One: Prime Minister’s Personal Minutes and Telegrams: January to June 1941, Message from Prime Minister to Minister for Works and Buildings (also Minister of Health), Date: January 6, 1941, Quote Page 722 and 723, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1974, If I Lived My Life Again Winston S. Churchill, Compiled and edited by Jack Fishman, Chapter 15: Wise Heads and Young Shoulders, Start Page 179, Quote Page 183, Publisher by W. H. Allen, London. (Verified on paper)

If You’ve Told a Child a Thousand Times, and the Child Still Has Not Learned, Then It Is Not the Child Who Is the Slow Learner

Walter Barbee? Walter Barbie? Walter Barbe? Robert Alcorn? Nancy Reese?

learn09Dear Quote Investigator: A cogent adage aimed at teachers begins with the following phrase:

If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand…

The full expression concludes with a reversal of the traditional supposition and indicates that the teacher is the slow learner instead of the student. Do you know who should be credited with this saying?

Quote Investigator: The 1978 book “Inviting School Success: A Self-Concept Approach to Teaching and Learning” by William Watson Purkey contained the following passage. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

As Walter Barbe commented in an in-service workshop address (Marshall University, 1977): “If you’ve told a child a thousand times, and the child still has not learned, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.” The role of the teacher is to extend consistently the invitations most likely to result in students feeling better about themselves and working to learn more in school.

In 1986 “The Orlando Sentinel” newspaper of Orlando, Florida stated that Walter Barbe was the editor-in-chief of “Highlights for Children” magazine, and the paper recounted some of his comments made before a group of teachers in Seminole County, Florida: 2

“If a child does not grasp a lesson when it is first presented, do not just repeat the lesson and increase the volume,” he said. “Try another way, another modality.”

“After all,” Barbe said, “if you have to tell a child something a thousand times, perhaps it is not the child who is the slow learner.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1978, Inviting School Success: A Self-Concept Approach to Teaching and Learning by William Watson Purkey (University of North Carolina at Greensboro), Chapter 4: Skills of the Invitational Teacher, Quote Page 48, Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont, California. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1986 February 9, The Orlando Sentinel, Section: Seminole Sentinel, Article: Expert on Learning: Kids Absorb Knowledge in Many Ways, Byline: Elaine Bennett (The Sentinel Staff), Quote Page 1, Orlando, Florida. (NewsBank Access World News)

Chains Do Not Hold a Marriage Together. It Is Thread, Hundreds of Tiny Threads which Sew People Together Through the Years

Simone Signoret? Apocryphal?

simone09Dear Quote Investigator: I am trying to find a citation for a statement attributed to the wonderful French movie actress Simone Signoret. Here is a paraphrase from my memory: marriages are not held together by chains; they are held together by hundreds of threads. Are you familiar with this saying? Would you please help me to find its origin?

Quote Investigator: In 1978 Simone Signoret was interviewed by David Lewin in the pages of the UK newspaper the “Daily Mail”. She was asked about her husband, the actor Yves Montand, who had co-starred with the Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe in “Let’s Make Love” back in 1960. Gossip mongers suggested that Montand and Monroe may have taken the title of the movie literally, and Lewin inquired about what held Signoret’s marriage together. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

‘Chains do not hold a marriage together,’ she replied. ‘It is thread, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years. That is what makes a marriage last—more than passion or even sex.’
‘But those threads should never become chains.’

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  1. 1978 July 4, Daily Mail, Simone Signoret Talking to David Lewin, Quote Page 7, Column 3, United Kingdom. (Daily Mail Archive: Gale NewsVault)

First Forget Inspiration. Habit Is More Dependable. Habit Will Sustain You Whether You’re Inspired or Not

Octavia Butler? Apocryphal?

octavia08Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, a publisher in Silicon Valley tweeted an illustration of the prominent science fiction author Octavia Butler together with a quotation that offered intriguing advice about writing. The quote began:

First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable.

When were these words written or said by Butler?

Quote Investigator: Octavia Butler penned an essay addressed to aspiring writers titled “Furor Scribendi” that appeared in the ninth anthology of the series “L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future”. The piece was reprinted in the 1995 collection “Bloodchild: And Other Stories”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.

Butler also presented a refreshingly provocative viewpoint about talent:

Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.

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  1. 1995, Bloodchild: And Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler, Furor Scribendi, Start Page 137, Quote Page 141, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York. (Verified with scans)