Nits Will Be Lice

drogheda08Dear Quote Investigator: Historically, non-combatants have sometimes been deliberately attacked during warfare. A cruel motto has been employed to rationalize the targeting of young people. Here are three versions:

Nits make lice.
Nits will become lice.
Nits will be lice.

Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: Warning: This article discusses cruel and inhumane activities. The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1683 book by an English historian named John Nalson titled “An Impartial Collection of the Great Affairs of State from the Beginning of the Scotch Rebellion in the Year MDCXXXIX to the Murther of King Charles I”. While discussing warfare in Ireland the author stated that barbarities were committed by combatants on all sides. He also stated that one of his relatives who had served in the military heard the motto spoken during battle. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

. . . I have heard a Relation of my own, who was a Captain in that Service, Relate, that no manner of Compassion or Discrimination was shewed either to Age or Sex, but that the little Children were promiscuously Sufferers with the Guilty, and that if any who had some grains of Compassion reprehended the Soldiers for this unchristian Inhumanity, they would scoffingly reply, Why? Nits will be Lice, and so would dispatch them . . .

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  1. 1683, Title: An Impartial Collection of the Great Affairs of State: From the Beginning of the Scotch Rebellion in the Year MDCXXXIX, To the Murther of King Charles I: Wherein the first occasions, and the whole series of the late troubles in England, Scotland & Ireland, are faithfully represented. Taken from authentic records, and methodically digested, Author: John Nalson, Section: The Introduction, Quote Page vii, Printed for S. Mearne, T. Dring, B. Tooke, T. Sawbrige, and C. Mearne, London. (Early English Books Online 2 and HathiTrust)

What You Can Do, or Dream You Can, Begin It; Boldness Has Genius, Power, and Magic in It

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? John Anster? William Hutchison Murray? Apocryphal?

goethe08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a wonderful quotation about the pivotal step of making a commitment to an enterprise:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

These two lines are often attributed to the great German playwright and thinker Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. There are different versions of the quotation and some contain the following:

Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. . .

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1835 an Irish poet named John Anster published a translation of Part One of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragic masterwork “Faust”. Anster’s interpretation was free and poetical; thus, some pieces did not directly align with the German text written by Goethe. The passage below was from a section titled “Prelude at the Theatre” (Vorspiel auf dem Theater) and was spoken by a character called “Manager” (Direktor). Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Strong drink is what we want to gull the people,
A hearty, brisk, and animating tipple;
Come, come, no more delay, no more excuses,
The stuff we ask you for, at once produce us.
Lose this day loitering—’twill be the same story
To-morrow–and the next more dilatory;
Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest? seize this very minute–
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated—
Begin it, and the work will be completed!

Anster wrote the phrase “What you can do” and not “Whatever you can do” which has become common in modern times. QI believes that the lines above should be credited to Anster with an inspiration from the words of Goethe.

The passage containing the word “hesitancy” that was also mentioned by the questioner was from neither Goethe nor Anster. An explanation is given together with the 1951 citation presented further below.

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  1. 1835, Faustus, A Dramatic Mystery; The Bride of Corinth; The First Walpurgis Night, Translated from the German of Goethe, and Illustrated with Notes by John Anster, Section: Prelude at the Theatre, (Spoken by Manager), Quote Page 15, Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman, London. (Google Books Full View) link

There Have Only Been Two Geniuses in the World — Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare

Tallulah Bankhead? Apocryphal?

mays08Dear Quote Investigator: The famous actress Tallulah Bankhead was an ardent baseball fan, and she was particularly impressed by the outstanding skills of the great athlete Willie Mays. Apparently, she stated that there have only been two authentic geniuses in history:

Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare

I am not sure if this ascription is accurate because Bankhead died in 1968, and the earliest citation I have seen is from the 1980s. Would you please examine this quotation?

Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence that Tallulah Bankhead did make a remark of this type. The earliest instance located by QI appeared in 1962. The detailed citation is given further below.

In 1960 “Ebony” magazine published a profile of Bankhead in which she praised Willie Mays and expressed her allegiance to the San Francisco Giants baseball team: 1

Willie Mays: “A perfectly charming man . . . the greatest all-around ballplayer in the world . . . a master showman with a spectacular touch” says Tallulah . . .

Her well-known devotion to the National League Giants started in 1939 and persisted after that club had abandoned New York’s Polo Ground for San Francisco’s Seals Stadium. The Giants’ failure to win the pennant last year was a disappointment to her, but she is speculating enthusiastically about their chances in 1960. “With the help of those good Alabama men, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, they might do it this time,” she says.

On October 23, 1962 “The Chicago Daily Defender” printed a small set of miscellaneous quotations under the title “They Said It”. The statement under examination was credited to Tallulah Bankhead. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

“There have only been two geniuses in the world — Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare. But dahling, I think you had better put Shakespeare first.”
—Actress Tallulah Bankhead

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  1. 1960 January, Ebony, Volume 15, Number 3, A Southerner Looks At Prejudice By Allan Morrison, Start Page 29, Quote Page 30 and 33, Published by Johnson Publishing Company. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1962 October 23, Chicago Daily Defender, They Said It, Quote Page 11, Column 4, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)

Riches Are Like Muck Which Stinks in a Heap But Spread Abroad Makes the Earth Fruitful

Richard Branson? Thornton Wilder? Francis Bacon? Mr. Bettenham? King James I of England? Henry Edmundson? Richard Flecknoe? Clint Murchison? Anonymous?

fertilizer10Dear Quote Investigator: The famous British entrepreneur Richard Branson employed an extraordinary simile. He said that “money is like manure”, and elaborated on the thought as follows: 1

If you let money pile up, it starts to stink. But if you spread it around then it can do a lot of good.

Branson also credited the prominent playwright Thornton Wilder with a remark that was thematically similar. Would you please explore the history of this figurative language?

Quote Investigator: This family of expressions has a very long history that stretches back into the 1600s. The English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon wrote a piece discussing statecraft titled “Of Seditions and Troubles” that was published in his landmark collection of essays in 1625. Bacon wrote a precursor to the expression under examination that used the word “muck” instead of “manure”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Above all things, good Policie is to be used, that the Treasure and Moneyes, in a State, be not gathered into few Hands. For otherwise, a State may have a great Stock, and yet starve. And Money is like Muck, not good except it be spread. This is done, chiefly, by suppressing, or at the least, keeping a strait Hand, upon the Devouring Trades of Usurie, Ingrossing, great Pasturages, and the like.

Bacon presented the core simile, but he did not extend the analogy to the olfactory organ. Yet, in 1625 Bacon also released a collection of “Apophthegmes New and Old” that included a longer expression with the word “stench” that was attributed to someone named “Mr. Bettenham”: 3

Mr. Bettenham vsed to say; That Riches were like Mucke: When it lay, vpon an heape, it gaue but a stench, and ill odour; but when it was spread vpon the ground, then it was cause of much fruit.

The above simile matched the notion presented by Richard Branson recently. Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who located the saying. Popik’s entry on this topic is located on his website.

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  1. Website: Richard Branson blog at, Article title: Why money is like manure, Article author: Richard Branson, Date on website: February 13, 2014, Website description: Thoughts of businessman Richard Branson who founded the Virgin Group. (Accessed on February 5, 2016) link
  2. 1625, Title: The Essayes or Counsels, Ciuill and Morall, of Francis Lo. Verulam, Viscount St. Alban, Author: Francis Bacon, Quote Page 85, Printed by Iohn Haviland for Hanna Barret, London. (Early English Books Online 2)
  3. 1625, Title: Apophthegmes New and Old, Collected by the Right Honourable, Francis Lo. Verulam, Viscount St. Alban, Author: Francis Bacon, Quote Page 273, Printed by J. Haviland for Hanna Barret, and Richard Whittaker, and are to be sold at the Kings head in Pauls Chuch-yard, London. (Early English Books Online)

It’s Not True That Life Is One Damn Thing After Another—It’s One Damn Thing Over and Over

Edna St. Vincent Millay? Apocryphal?

millay08Dear Quote Investigator: You have already examined the following mordant saying:

Life is just one damned thing after another.

Apparently, the prominent poet Edna St. Vincent Millay disagreed, and she offered her own alternative trenchant analysis of life. Here are three versions:

It’s one damn thing over and over.
It’s the same thing over and over again.
It’s the same damn thing over and over.

Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a letter dated October 24, 1930 to friend and fellow poet Arthur Davison Ficke. She complained about her recurrent bouts of sickness: 1

Dearest Artie:
It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another—it’s one damn thing over & over—there’s the rub—first you get sick—then you get sicker—then you get not quite so sick—then you get hardly sick at all—then you get a little sicker . . .

Although the letter was written in 1930 it was only released to the general public in 1952 with the publication of “Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay” edited by Allan Ross Macdougall.

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  1. 1952, Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edited by Allan Ross Macdougall, (Letter from Edna St. Vincent Millay to “Artie” Arthur Davison Ficke; Date: October 24, 1930; Location: Steepletop), Quote Page 240, Published by Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)

Human: A Non-Linear Servo-Mechanism Weighing Only 150 Pounds that Can Be Produced Cheaply by Unskilled Labor

Arthur C. Clarke? Albert Scott Crossfield? George T. Hauty? S. Fred Singer?

spacewalk07Dear Quote Investigator: In the early days of the space-age researchers and administrators were considering replacing human pilots and astronauts with computers. The argument against this form of automation was presented with a single humorous sentence that emphasized the advantages of humans. Are you familiar with this quotation? Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In May 1954 “The New York Times” published an article titled “Test Pilot Faces Robot Challenge” which reported on suggestions made by scientists within the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) alliance that test pilots should be replaced by machines. A set of pilots spoke in opposition to this proposal during a meeting of a NATO advisory group.

Albert Scott Crossfield was a prominent American test pilot who had achieved speed records while flying experimental aircraft. He delivered a compact comical summary of human uniqueness in the form of an interrogative. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

“Where can you find another non-linear servo-mechanism weighing only 150 pounds and having great adaptability, that can be produced so cheaply by completely unskilled labor?” Mr. Crossfield” inquired.

The passage above was the earliest instance located by QI. Interestingly, it did not contain the word “computer”. Also, the words were spoken as a rebuttal to the idea of replacing aircraft pilots and not astronauts. Many variant expressions have evolved over time. QI believes that earlier instances may exist.

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  1. 1954 May 6, New York Times, Test Pilot Faces Robot Challenge: U. S., British, French Fliers Reply in NATO Air Group to Machine Proposal by Thomas F. Brady, Quote Page 11, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1954 May 6, Seattle Daily Times, Supersonic Pilots Resent Idea of Yielding to Robots (New York Times News Service), Quote Page 15, Column 5, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)

The Architect’s Most Effective Tools Are the Eraser in the Drafting Room and the Wrecking Bar on the Job

Frank Lloyd Wright? Edgar Tafel? Apocryphal?

wreck08Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I was reading a book about software design, and the author emphasized the importance of detecting and fixing errors quickly. The following quotation was presented:

You can use an eraser on the drafting table or a sledgehammer on the construction site.

The statement was attributed to the innovative major architect Frank Lloyd Wright, but I have been unable to locate a proper citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that the expression above was probably not spoken or written by Frank Lloyd Wright. But he did make a remark that displayed several points of similarity; hence, the statement above probably evolved from an accurate quotation.

The earliest pertinent instance located by QI was published in the 1965 biographical work “Frank Lloyd Wright: America’s Greatest Architect” by Herbert Jacobs. The author was in frequent contact with Wright for twenty-five years as client, friend, and reporter. Indeed, Wright designed and built two houses for the author. Part of the book described the relationship between Wright and his apprentices. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

If Wright was passing by a drafting board, he might stop to note progress. The apprentice would leap to his feet and stand respectfully at the side while Wright eased himself onto the bench and took up pencil-and eraser.

“The architect’s two most important tools are: the eraser in the drafting room and the wrecking bar on the site,” he would say with a smile.

Wright died in 1959; thus, the text above was published posthumously. Nevertheless, QI believes the ascription was highly credible because of the author’s long relationship with Wright. The tool specified was a wrecking bar instead of a sledgehammer. Also, there was no implicit conditional ordering between the eraser and wrecking bar; both were deemed important.

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  1. 1965, Frank Lloyd Wright: America’s Greatest Architect by Herbert Jacobs, Chapter 12: Taliesin Accents Youth, Quote Page 139, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York. (Verified on paper)

It’s True I’m Here, and I’m Just as Strange as You

Frida Kahlo? Rebecca Katherine Martin? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

alterego08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a fascinating quotation about self-consciousness and the desire to establish a connection with an alter ego or doppelganger. Here is the beginning:

I used to think I was the strangest person in the world, but then I thought, there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do.

These words have been attributed to the famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, but I have not been able to find a good citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Frida Kahlo died in 1954, and QI has not yet found any substantive evidence that she wrote or said this quotation in Spanish or English.

The earliest appearance of this quotation known to QI occurred on the “PostSecret” website in March 2008. The quotation was printed on a postcard which had been mailed to a post-office box maintained by Frank Warren, the founder of “PostSecret”. Warren has described his website as a community art project. He has encouraged individuals to write personal secrets on homemade postcards and anonymously mail them to him; a subset are selected and displayed on the website.

Below is the postcard that was displayed next to the date March 16, 2008. The quotation was anonymous; specifically, it was not ascribed to Frida Kahlo; however, the background image showed part of a portrait of the prominent artist. QI conjectures that this image induced the misattribution to Kahlo:


I used to think I was the strangest person in the world
but then I thought, there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do
I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too.
well, I hope that if you are out there you read this and know that yes, it’s true I’m here,
and I’m just as strange as you.

The protean electronic nature of websites often makes it difficult to verify the dates of text and images from past years. In this case, fortunately, a snapshot of the “PostSecret” website was taken on March 18, 2008 and stored in the “Internet Archive: Way Back Machine” database. 1

Because the quotation appeared initially without an ascription it has been difficult to ascertain its provenance with much certainty. Nevertheless, QI believes that the top candidate for authorship is Becky Martin (Rebecca Katherine Martin).

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  1. Internet Archive: Way Back Machine, Web snapshot date: March 18, 2008, Date on Webpage: March 16, 2008, Archive download URL:, Title: Sunday Secrets. (Accessed at on January 28, 2016) link

The Dictionary Feud: Faulkner versus Hemingway

William Faulkner? Ernest Hemingway? Apocryphal?

dictionary10Dear Quote Investigator: Two major writers of the twentieth century disagreed sharply about the type of vocabulary that was advantageous in literary works. Apparently, Faulkner said that Hemingway had “no courage” because he tightly circumscribed his word choice. Hemingway punched back by stating that he did not need “ten-dollar words”. He also said that Faulkner’s writing had deteriorated because of his dependence on alcohol. Would you please examine this altercation?

Quote Investigator: In April 1947 William Faulkner visited the University of Mississippi by invitation. He answered questions posed by students in a Creative Writing class, and his remarks were transcribed. After a multi-year delay the text was published in the Summer 1951 issue of the quarterly “The Western Review”. When asked to evaluate his own position in the literary pantheon he made a critical comment about Hemingway. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

Q. If you don’t think it too personal, how do you rank yourself with contemporary writers?

A. 1. Thomas Wolfe: he had much courage and wrote as if he didn’t have long to live; 2. William Faulkner; 3. Dos Passos; 4. Ernest Hemingway: he has no courage, has never crawled out on a limb. He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used; 5. John Steinbeck: at one time I had great hopes for him — now I don’t know.

. . .
Q. Mr. Faulkner, do you mind our repeating anything we have heard today outside of class?

A. No. It was true yesterday, is true today, and will be true tomorrow.

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  1. 1951 Summer, The Western Review: A Literary Quarterly Published at the State University of Iowa, Volume 15, Number 4, An Interview with William Faulkner, Edited by Lavon Rascoe, (Interview was conducted in April 1947), Start Page 300, Quote Page 304, Published by the State University of Iowa, Iowa City. (Verified on paper in 1967 reprint from Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York)
  2. 1999, Conversations with William Faulkner, Edited by M. Thomas Inge, (Collection of William Faulkner interviews from miscellaneous publications), Series: Literary Conversations Series, Chapter: An Interview with William Faulkner, Edited by Lavon Rascoe, (Reprinted from Summer 1951 issue of “The Western Review”), Start Page 66, Quote Page 71, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified on paper)

An Apology Is the Superglue of Life. It Can Repair Just About Anything

Lynn Johnston? Apocryphal?

apology11Dear Quote Investigator: The Canadian cartoonist Lynn Johnston has crafted a wonderful metaphor equating the reparative quality of apologies to superglue. Her statement is very popular on the web, but no one seems to know the precise phrasing; also, I have never seen a solid citation. Would you please trace this quotation?

Quote Investigator: The widely-syndicated long-running comic strip “For Better or For Worse” was created, written, and drawn by Lynn Johnston. The strip published on May 31, 1994 depicted the character Sharon Edwards, a teacher, conversing with the character Elizabeth Patterson, a student. Patterson’s relationship with a friend had deteriorated because she had been preoccupied with a boyfriend. Edwards suggested that the friendship might be mended with an apology. Here are the final two panels of the four panel strip: 1


There’s nothing like an apology, Liz. — An apology is the superglue of life!
It can repair just about anything!!

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  1. 1994 May 31, The Ukiah Daily Journal, Syndicated Comic Strip: For Better Or For Worse by Lynn Johnston, Quote Page 12, Ukiah, California. (Newspapers_com)