Do You Want Six or Eight Slices of Pizza?

Yogi Berra? Ken Thompson? Bobby Bragan? Muriel Vernick? Danny Osinski? Andy Wimpfheimer? George Carlin? Anonymous?

pizza08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a comical tale about whether a pizza should be cut into six or eight slices. The punchline is typically attributed to an athlete such as Yogi Berra. Are you familiar with this joke? Would you please explore its history?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this anecdote located by QI was published on June 17, 1965 in a Nebraska newspaper which acknowledged a Wisconsin newspaper: 1

Ken Thompson stopped in at Dick McDaniels’ Pizza Palace the other night and ordered a pizza. When it was ready, Dick asked Ken if he wanted it cut in six or eight pieces.

Ken thought a while, and then said, “Better make it six pieces. I could never eat eight.”—Weyauwega (Wis.) Chronicle.

A variety of citations appeared in 1965 with several different ascriptions. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1965 June 17, Omaha World Herald, Quick Reading: A Smile or Two, Quote Page 24, Column 2, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank)

Art, Like Morality, Consists of Drawing the Line Somewhere

Oscar Wilde? G. K. Chesterton? Anonymous?

hands10Dear Quote Investigator: I saw the following remark on the webpage of an educator:

Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.

The phrase was attributed to Oscar Wilde, but I have not been able to find it in his oeuvre. It was listed on websites like Goodreads and Quotationspage where it was ascribed to Wilde, but I know that websites with massive compilations of quotations are often packed with misinformation. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde said or wrote this statement.

In the 1920s the English author, journalist, and critic Gilbert Keith Chesterton penned a column in “The Illustrated London News”. In May 1928 he wrote a passage containing a strongly matching expression. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Some say that art is unmoral; and some of these arts are very unmoral. I may not have described them here in the correct conventional terms; but then I do not think that art is unmoral. Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.

The positions of the terms “art” and “morality” have been switched when compared to the modern instance provided by the questioner. The phrase “drawing the line” wittily referred simultaneously to an artist physically drawing a line on a canvas and figuratively creating an artwork on a subject with moral implications.

This was the earliest strong match located by QI, and QI believes that G. K. Chesterton should be credited with the phrase he wrote and not Oscar Wilde.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1928 May 5, Illustrated London News, Our Note Book by G. K. Chesterton, Quote Page 780, Column 1, London, England. (Gale NewsVault)

What Would You Attempt If You Knew You Could Not Fail?

Robert H. Schuller? Regina Dugan? Sebastian Thrun? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: There is a saying in self-help books that presents encouragement in the form of a question with a trace of wistfulness:

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

This statement was highlighted in a TED talk by Regina Dugan, the former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Do you know the name of the person who crafted this motivational query?

Quote Investigator: Robert H. Schuller was a minister and popular speaker who was best known for hosting a syndicated television show called “Hour of Power” and for building an impressive edifice called the Crystal Cathedral. In 1973 he published the book “You Can Become the Person You Want To Be”. The second chapter started with a set of questions; these were the first three: 1

What goals would you be setting for yourself if you knew you could not fail?

What dreams would you have on the drawing board if you had unlimited financial resources?

What plans would you be making if you had thirty years to carry them out?

Schuller continued by asking each reader to think about the role he or she wished to play in the “drama of human life”:

Clarify your role before you set your goal or you’ll encounter confusion and frustration. Conflict in inter-personal relations is too often the result of a misinterpretation by the involved persons of the roles each should be playing.

Schuller’s book contained the earliest evidence located by QI of this interrogative framework being used to aid a person to delineate goals and formulate a plan or purpose. The phrasing differed somewhat from the version used by Dugan.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1973, You Can Become the Person You Want To Be by Robert H. Schuller, Chapter 2: Set Your Goals and Let Them Lift You, Quote Page 11, Hawthorn Books, New York. (Verified on paper)

Bigamy Is Having One Spouse Too Many. Monogamy Is the Same

Erica Jong? Oscar Wilde? Robert Webster Jones? H. L. Mencken? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: As a single person I enjoy the following joke about bigamy. Here are two versions:

(1) Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.

(2) Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.

The first has been attributed to the best-selling novelist Erica Jong, and the second has been credited to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. I haven’t been able to find this remark in the works of Wilde. Are these ascriptions accurate?

Quote Investigator: In 1973 Erica Jong published a scandalous blockbuster titled “Fear of Flying” and the first chapter used the following as an epigraph: 1

Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same.
—Anonymous (a woman)

Note that Jong did not credit herself indicating that the joke was already in circulation.

QI has found no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde wrote or said this joke. The variant using “wife” instead of “husband” does have a long history. In 1922 the book “Light Interviews with Shades” by Robert Webster Jones included a quip that displayed several points of similarity including the use of matching vocabulary terms “bigamy” and “monogamy”: 2

They say bigamy means one wife too many; but so does monogamy sometimes.

Precursor jokes on this theme were being disseminated by 1841 as shown below. QI believes that the modern quip evolved from these antecedents.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1973, Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, (Epigraph of Chapter 1), Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1922, Light Interviews with Shades by Robert Webster Jones, Chapter 1: Bluebeard Tells Why He Killed Wives, Quote Page 18, Published by Dorrance & Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link

A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes

Mark Twain? Jonathan Swift? Thomas Francklin? Fisher Ames? Thomas Jefferson? John Randolph? C. H. Spurgeon? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: An insightful remark about the rapid transmission of lies is often attributed to Mark Twain. Here are two versions:

(1) A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.

(2) A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on

I have not found this statement in any of the books written by Twain; hence, I am skeptical of this ascription. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: A version of this adage was attributed to Mark Twain in 1919, but Twain died in 1910. QI believes that this evidence of a linkage was not substantive. Details of the 1919 citation are given further below.

Metaphorical maxims about the speedy dissemination of lies and the much slower propagation of corrective truths have a very long history. The major literary figure Jonathan Swift wrote on this topic in “The Examiner” in 1710 although he did not mention shoes or boots. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…

The phrasing and figurative language used in these sayings have been evolving for more than three hundred years. In 1787 “falsehood” was reaching “every corner of the earth”. In 1820 a colorful version was circulating with lies flying from “Maine to Georgia” while truth was “pulling her boots on”. By 1834 “error” was running “half over the world” while truth was “putting on his boots”. In 1924 a lie was circling the globe while a truth was “lacing its shoes on”.

Top researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake identified the passage by Swift listed above and several other important items covered in this article.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1710 November 2 to November 9, The Examiner, Number 15, (Article by Jonathan Swift), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Printed for John Morphew, near Stationers-Hall, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Old Age Isn’t So Bad When You Consider the Alternative

Maurice Chevalier? Harry Oliver? Louis Calhern? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: The following piece of humorous proverbial wisdom has been attributed to the film star Maurice Chevalier. Here are two versions:

(1) Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.
(2) Growing old isn’t so terrible — when you consider the alternative.

Is this ascription accurate? When did this remark originate?

Quote Investigator: There is evidence that Maurice Chevalier did deliver this comical line by 1959; however, the quip was already in circulation. The earliest citation located by QI was published in 1952 in a Long Beach, California newspaper. The columnist did not provide an ascription and stated that the phrase was already in use: 1

The situation reminds me of that famous quotation: “Growing old isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.”

In March 1953 a newspaper in Ottawa, Kansas printed an instance of the remark without ascription as a short filler item: 2

Growing old doesn’t seem quite so bad when you stop to consider the alternative.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1952 August 2, Long Beach Press-Telegram, In the Spotlight: Arati Saha Also Can Claim Olympic Mark by Fred Delano, Quote Page B-2, Column 1, Long Beach, California. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1953 March 20, The Ottawa Campus, (Freestanding comical remark), Quote Page 2, Column 3, Ottawa, Kansas. (NewspaperArchive)

There But for the Grace of God, Goes God

Winston Churchill? Leo C. Rosten? Walter Winchell? Herman Mankiewicz? Apocryphal?
orsonDear Quote Investigator: Winston Churchill had an unhappy experience negotiating with a politician who held a very high opinion of himself. Afterward Churchill reportedly concocted the perfect remark for deflating the pretensions of an egomaniac:

There, but for the grace of God, goes God.

However, I have heard that this same jibe was aimed at the renowned auteur Orson Welles during the filming of “Citizen Kane”. Would you please explore the provenance of this witticism?

Quote Investigator: This remark was based on a comical modification of a resonant phrase from history. Here are two instances:

There but for the grace of God, go I.
There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.

More information about the origin of this penitent statement is available here.

The earliest evidence of the quip located by QI was printed in the 1941 book “Hollywood: The Movie Colony, The Movie Makers” by Leo C. Rosten which included the quotation applied to filmmaker Orson Welles. Rosten did not identify the person who delivered the barb. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

When Orson Welles (of whom someone said, “There, but for the grace of God, goes God”) was first shown through a studio he exclaimed, “This is the biggest electric train any boy ever had!” The remark is acute and revealing.

QI is not certain of the precise release date in 1941 of the “Hollywood” book. On January 20, 1941 the widely-distributed syndicated columnist Walter Winchell presented a different version of the circumstances surrounding the quotation. The target of the barb was a religious figure named Father Divine instead of Orson Welles. The word “niftied” was a vocabulary item employed by Winchell. It meant the spoken phrase was “nifty”, i.e., deft. The name “Divine” was spelled “Devine” in the paper: 2

The Story Tellers: The DAC News reports that a Harlemite watching Father Devine whisk by in a long limousine, niftied: “There, but for the grace of God—goes God.”

Above are the two earliest citations located by QI, and the temporal ordering was uncertain. The tale mentioning Orson Welles has circulated continuously to the present day. The version with Father Divine has largely disappeared from collective memory. A third version with Winston Churchill speaking the humorous line entered circulation by 1943 as indicated by the citation listed further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1941 copyright, Hollywood: The Movie Colony: The Movie Makers by Leo C. Rosten, Quote Page 51, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Facsimile produced on demand in 1973 by University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan) (Verified on paper in facsimile)
  2. 1941 January 20, Omaha World Herald, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 5, Column 5-6, Omaha, Nebraska.(GenealogyBank)

There But For the Grace of God, Go I

John Bradford? George Whitfield? John Newton? Sherlock Holmes? Philip Neri? Dwight Moody? Apocryphal?


Dear Quote Investigator: A deeply religious individual once saw a man being led to the gallows and said:

There but for the grace of God, go I.

In modern times, this proverbial phrase is used to express empathetic compassion and a sense of good fortune realized by avoiding hardship. A version has been ascribed to the preacher John Bradford who died in 1555:

There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford

But the earliest citation I have seen was published in the 1800s. A similar story has been told about others including John Newton and Dwight Moody. Is there earlier support for the existence of this saying?

Quote Investigator: In 1771 a sermon was delivered in Kidderminster, England about a man who had been robbed and murdered. The criminal had been apprehended, tried, and executed. The preacher mentioned John Bradford and presented a somewhat clumsy and lengthy version of the saying. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

…when Mr. Bradford, an eminent martyr, in the bloody reign of Queen Mary, saw a malefactor going to Tyburn, he humbly adored the distinguishing grace of God, ‘to which says he, it is entirely owing, that John Bradford is not in that man’s condition.’

The passage above matched the modern version because it included two key elements. Bradford invoked the grace of God, and he indicated that he might have been substituted for the malefactor, but the phrasing was quite different. This was the earliest match located by QI, and it was published more than two hundred years after the death of Bradford. Of course, future research may antedate this citation.

In 1774 a more concise instance of the saying was spoken during a sermon delivered at the Parish Church of St. Anne, Black-Friars, London. The phrasing still differed from the modern instance, but it moved closer: 2

I have heard, or read, concerning that excellent Dignitary of the Church of England, Mr. John Bradford (who was also burned for adhering to her Doctrines), that, one Day, on seeing a Malefactor pass to Execution, he laid his Hand to his Breast, and lifted his Eyes to Heaven, saying, “Take away the GRACE of God, and there goes John Bradford.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1771, Murther lamented and improved: Sermon Preached at Kidderminster, June 16, 1771. On Occasion of the Death of Mr. Francis Best, Who was Robbed and Murthered by John Child, on Saturday, June 8, by Benjamin Fawcett, Quote Page 14, Shrewsbury: Printed by J. Eddower, and sold by J. Buckland, Pater-noster-Row, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1775, Free Will and Merit fairly examined: or Men not their own Saviors: The Substance of a Sermon Preached in the Parish Church of St. Anne, Black-Friars, London On Wednesday, May 25, 1774 by Augustus Toplady, Vicar of Broad Hembury, (Footnote split across two pages), Quote Page 24 and 25, Printed for J. Mathews, in The Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link

How Can They Tell?

Dorothy Parker? Wilson Mizner? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

parker07Dear Quote Investigator: Calvin Coolidge was the 30th President of the United States, and his highly reserved character in social settings led to the nickname “Silent Cal”. A few years after his death in 1933 two similar anecdotes began to circulate about the spoken reaction to the news of Coolidge’s demise. Reportedly, when the wit Dorothy Parker was notified she said:

How can they tell?

Also, when the raconteur Wilson Mizner was told he said:

How do they know?

What evidence is there for these two tales?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published in the 1936 book “Enjoyment of Laughter” by Max Eastman in a chapter about the use of exaggeration in humor: 1

…Dorothy Parker’s remark when told that Calvin Coolidge was dead: How can they tell?

In 1937 a review of Eastman’s book was printed in “The Glasgow Herald” of Scotland, and the remark ascribed to Parker was reprinted 2

But here one gives the prize to Dorothy Parker, that vitriolic lady who “can’t read Wodehouse.” When told that President Coolidge was dead all she said was, “How can they tell?”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1936, Enjoyment of Laughter by Max Eastman, Quote Page 155, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1937 May 13, The Glasgow Herald, American Humour (Book Review of Enjoyment of Laughter by Max Eastman), Quote Page 2, Colum 4, Glasgow, Scotland. (Google News Archive)]

Nobody Will Ever Win the Battle of the Sexes. There’s Too Much Fraternizing with the Enemy

Henry Kissinger? M. Z. Remsburg? James Thurber? Ann Landers? Robert Orben? Anonymous?

together09Dear Quote Investigator: There is a joke about the uneasy relationship between the sexes that has been told for decades:

Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.

In the 1970s this statement was attributed to the U.S. foreign policy specialist Henry Kissinger, but I suspect that the quip existed before the 1970s. Would you explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: A version of this jest was circulating by the 1940s. In February 1944 a newspaper in Lubbock, Texas printed the following as a short filler item. No specific attribution or acknowledgement was given: 1

“One war that will never be won by either side is the continual war between the sexes,” declares a columnist. That’s true, mainly because there is so much fraternizing with the enemy on the part of both sides.

Only part of the text was placed between quotation marks because there were two participants in the joke. The quoted words of the columnist were followed by the humorous reaction of a second unidentified person. The common modern versions of the joke simplify the presentation so that there is only one speaker.

In August 1945 a newspaper in Covina, California printed an instance of the quip and named an editor as the source, but QI suspects that the editor was simply relaying a pre-existing joke. The semantically redundant phrase “on the part of both sides” in the 1944 version has been omitted from most later instances: 2


According to word from editor M. Z. Remsburg of the Vista Press, the reason the war between the sexes will never be ended is that there is too much fraternizing with the enemy!

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1944 February 16, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 8, Column 1, Lubbock, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1945 August 24, Covina Argus-Citizen, ‘Round the State by Leone Baxter, Quote Page 9, Column 6, Covina, California. (Newspaper Archive)