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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  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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  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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  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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  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)

The Ultimate Purpose of an Economy Is to Produce More Consumer Goods

Arthur F. Burns? Raymond J. Saulnier? Anonymous?

shopping08Dear Quote Investigator: One criticism of modern economies asserts that consumer goods are being wastefully over-produced and human happiness has become disconnected from the possession of superfluous material objects. These critics contend that individuals and economic architects should concentrate on creating positive and constructive experiences and deemphasize the proliferation of mass-produced physical artifacts. I am interested in a quotation that exemplifies the opposite viewpoint:

The economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.

This statement has been attributed to the notable economist Arthur F. Burns who was an adviser to President Dwight Eisenhower. Indeed, as I write this message the Wikipedia entry for Burns ascribes this saying to him, but no solid citation is given, and I have doubts. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: There exists some confusion regarding the name of the economist who made this statement and the precise form of the remark.

In 1959 Dwight Eisenhower was the president of the United States, and the prominent economist Raymond J. Saulnier was the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. In January 1959 Saulnier gave testimony to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, and he spoke a version of the saying under investigation in response to a question from a senator. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Mr. Saulnier. Let me interpolate by saying that, as I understand an economy, its ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods. This is the goal. This is the object of everything that we are working at: to produce things for consumers.

Senator O’Mahoney. But we must have consumers who can buy.

Based on current evidence QI suggests that Raymond J. Saulnier should be credited with the expression above. QI has not yet found solid support for the ascription to Arthur F. Burns. Interestingly, Burns was also the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Eisenhower administration; however, Burns served before Saulnier. It is possible that the shared job title may have caused a misunderstanding that resulted in a misattribution. Of course, it is also conceivable that both economists made the remark.

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  1. 1959, Congressional Hearing, Hearing Before the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, Eighty-Sixth Congress, First Session, Pursuant to Sec. 5(a) of Public Law 304 (79th Congress), Meetings Held in January and February 1959, January 1959 Economic Report of the President, (Statement of Raymond J. Saulnier, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers on January 27, 1959), Quote Page 29, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (HathiTrust Full View) link link

Play Is the Highest Form of Research

Albert Einstein? Neville V. Scarfe? Anonymous?

playing12Dear Quote Investigator: A marvelous quotation about play is attributed to the most brilliant scientist of the modern age, Albert Einstein:

Play is the highest form of research.

I would like to include this statement in a paper I am writing, but I have not been able to find a good citation. Sadly, quotations misattributed to Einstein are very common, and I fear that this may be another example. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this statement. The following nearly identical remark is listed in a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” within the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press: 1

Playing is the highest form of research.

QI believes that he has located the most likely origin of this popular misattribution to Einstein. In 1962 the journal “Childhood Education” published an article titled “Play is Education” by N. V. Scarfe that contained the following passage: 2

All play is associated with intense thought activity and rapid intellectual growth.

The highest form of research is essentially play. Einstein is quoted as saying, “The desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with basic ideas. This combinatory or associative play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought”

The careful reader will note that the quotation credited to Einstein was placed after his name and not before. The phrase “The highest form of research is essentially play” was not attributed to Einstein; those words should properly be credited to N. V. Scarfe who wrote the article.

One important mechanism for the generation of misattributions is based on the misreading of neighboring expressions. A reader sometimes inadvertently transfers the ascription of one statement to a contiguous statement. QI conjectures that the words of Scarfe have been re-ordered and reassigned to Einstein to yield the common quotation under investigation. This may have occurred through a multi-step process.

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  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not by Einstein, Page 482, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1962 November, Childhood Education, Volume 39, Issue 3, “Play is Education” by N. V. Scarfe, Start Page 117, Quote Page 120, Published Association for Childhood Education International, Washington D.C. (Verified with scans; thanks to Jacksonville, Florida public library)

The Plays of Shakespeare Were Not Written by Shakespeare but by Another Man of the Same Name

Mark Twain? Oxford Student? Frenchman? Lewis Carroll? Schoolchild? G. K. Chesterton? Israel Zangwill? Charles Lamb? Benjamin Jowett? Aldous Huxley? Anonymous?

quill08Dear Quote Investigator: Determining the accurate provenance of famous plays and poems can be a contentious topic. According to tradition the composer of the Iliad and Odyssey has been referred to as Homer, but some question this ascription and wonder whether there may have been more than one “Homer”. The authorship of the works ascribed to Shakespeare has also been challenged for many years. Candidates for the Bard’s secret identity have included Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, and Christopher Marlowe. The fractious arguments about origins have inspired a family of jokes. Here are two examples:

The Homeric Poems were not written by Homer, but by another person of the same name.

The plays of Shakespeare were not written by Shakespeare but by another man of the same name.

These remarks have been connected to well-known humorists and literary figures, e.g., Mark Twain, G. K. Chesterton, Lewis Carroll, Israel Zangwill, and Aldous Huxley. Would you please explore the history of these expressions?

Quote Investigator: Because these jokes can be stated in many ways they are difficult to trace. The earliest strong match known to QI was published in “The Spectator” of London in 1860. A news item by an unnamed writer discussed the possible discovery of a new planet and then made a joke about Shakespearean authorship theories: 1

This rivals the new discovery about Shakespeare,—that the well-known plays and poems were not by William Shakespeare, but by another person of the same name!

An analogous quip about Homer was published in a periodical in Oxford, England in 1874. Celebrated writers, such as Mark Twain and G. K. Chesterton, did employ versions of this joke, but they did not claim coinage. Details are given further below.

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  1. 1860 January 14, The Spectator, Volume 33, The “New Planet” and Its Discoverers, Start Page 37, Quote Page 38, Column 1, Published by Joseph Clayton, Wellington Street, Strand, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Originality Is Undetected Plagiarism

Voltaire? William Ralph Inge? Herbert Paul? Paul Chatfield? Horace Smith? Katharine Fullerton Gerould? Anonymous?

copydoc14Dear Quote Investigator: I have been attempting to trace a provocative and humorous remark about originality that has been attributed to a professor at the University of Cambridge named William Ralph Inge:

Originality is undetected plagiarism.

Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: William Ralph Inge held the position of Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in addition to his professorship, and he was typically referred to as Dean Inge. He did make a comparable remark in 1928 but disclaimed authorship. The earliest closely matching statement located by QI was published in the journal “The Nineteenth Century” in 1896 by the English writer and politician Herbert Paul: 1

And, after all, what is originality? It is merely undetected plagiarism.

The saying has a long history and important precursors were in circulation in the 1700s and 1800s as illustrated below.

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  1. 1896 April, The Nineteenth Century, Volume 39, The Decay of Classical Quotation by Herbert Paul, Start Page 636, Quote Page 645, Published by Sampson, Low, Marston and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link

There Are Two Lasting Bequests We Can Give Our Children: Roots and Wings

Henry Ward Beecher? Jonas Salk? Hodding Carter? Wise Woman? Ronald Reagan? Jean W. Rindlaub? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: The goals of child rearing have sometimes been explicated using two vivid metaphors: roots and wings. This contrasting figurative language presents a powerful though oddly incongruous combination:

Parents should provide their children with roots and wings.

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other wings.

Good parents give their children roots and wings: roots to know where home is, and wings to fly off and practice what has been taught them.

Expressions of this type have been linked to the clergyman Henry Ward Beecher, the scientist Jonas Salk, and the journalist Hodding Carter. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of a strong match located by QI was published in 1953 in the book “Where Main Street Meets the River” by Hodding Carter who was a prominent newspaper editor. The expression was credited to an anonymous “wise woman”. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1

A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. And they can only be grown, these roots and these wings, in the home. We want our sons’ roots to go deep into the soil beneath them and into the past, not in arrogance but in confidence.

QI has found no substantive evidence that the well-known nineteenth-century minister Henry Ward Beecher used this expression. There is some evidence that the famous research scientist Jonas Salk employed a version of the saying, but citations occurred many years after Carter’s instance was already in circulation.

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  1. 1953, Where Main Street Meets the River by Hodding Carter, Chapter 27: It’s How We like It, Quote Page 337, Published by Rinehart & Company, New York. (Verified on paper)

If You Can’t Say Something Good About Someone, Sit Right Here by Me

Dorothy Parker? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Earl Wilson? Robert Harling? Anonymous?

longworth10Dear Quote Investigator: The most trenchant comment pertaining to gossip that I have ever heard is often attributed to the wit Dorothy Parker. The quip is based on altering the following conventional instruction on etiquette:

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Here are three versions of the twisted variation:

If you haven’t anything nice to say about anyone, come sit by me.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit next to me.
If you can’t say something good about someone, sit here by me.

These words have also been credited to Alice Roosevelt Longworth who was the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt and a long-time Washington socialite known for adroit remarks. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published in a magazine profile of Alice Roosevelt Longworth titled “The Sharpest Wit in Washington” published in “The Saturday Evening Post” issue of December 4, 1965. Interestingly, the expression was not spoken; instead, it was embroidered on a pillow. Also, the word “good” was used instead of “nice”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

We walked to Mrs. Longworth’s upstairs sitting room, where she often reads until six o’clock in the morning. Books were piled everywhere on the tables and on the floor, and contemporary newspaper clippings were strewn on the side tables. Coyote skins were lying on the backs of two large, comfortable chairs, and on one of the chairs was a pillow with the words, IF YOU CAN’T SAY SOMETHING GOOD ABOUT SOMEONE, SIT RIGHT HERE BY ME.

Longworth definitely popularized the expression, and she may have crafted it. There is no substantive evidence that Dorothy Parker employed the saying though it has been attributed to her in recent decades.

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  1. 1965 December 4, The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 238, Issue 24, The Sharpest Wit in Washington by Jean Vanden Heuvel, (Interview with Alice Roosevelt Longworth), Start Page 30, Quote Page 32, Column 3, Saturday Evening Post Society, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Academic Search Premiere EBSCO)