We Cannot Direct the Wind, But We Can Adjust the Sails

Cora L. V. Hatch? Thomas Sheridan? George Whyte-Melville? A. B. Kendig? Ella Wheeler Wilcox? Bertha Calloway? Jimmy Dean? Dolly Parton? Thomas S. Monson?

Dear Quote Investigator: We are buffeted by events that are beyond our control, but we can still react constructively. A popular adage highlights this flexibility:

We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.

This saying has been credited to Dolly Parton, Thomas S, Monson, Bertha Calloway, Jimmy Dean, and several others. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: In 1859 the well-known spiritualist Cora L. V. Hatch delivered a lecture at the Cooper Institute while in a trance as reported in “The Cleveland Plain Dealer”. Hatch employed a version of the expression: 1

You could not prevent a thunderstorm, but you could use the electricity; you could not direct the wind, but you could trim your sail so as to propel your vessel as you pleased, no matter which way the wind blew.

This was the earliest close match known to QI. Other oft-mentioned candidates for crafters of this adage were born after it was in circulation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1859 January 15, Daily Plain Dealer, Mrs. Cora L. V. Hatch on Spiritualism: The Law of God a Unit, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

Believe Nothing You Hear, and Only One Half That You See

Edgar Allan Poe? Dinah Craik? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following hyperbolic proverb encouraging skepticism has been credited to the master of mystery and the macabre Edgar Allan Poe:

Believe half of what you see and nothing of what you hear.

Did Poe craft this saying?

Quote Investigator: The short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether” by Edgar Allan Poe appeared in the November 1845 issue of “Graham’s Magazine”. The tale was set in a private hospital for the mentally ill, and the adage was spoken by the nominal head of the institution. Emphasis added by QI: 1

“You are young yet, my friend,” replied my host, “but the time will arrive when you will learn to judge for yourself of what is going on in the world, without trusting to the gossip of others. Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.

This was the earliest strong match known to QI. Hence, Poe is the leading candidate for coiner of this expression although the phrasing differed slightly from the popular modern versions.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1845 November, Graham’s Magazine (Graham’s American Monthly Magazine of Literature and Art), Volume 28, Number 5, The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether by Edgar Allan Poe, Start Page 193, Quote Page 194, Column 2, George R. Graham & Co., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (HathiTrust Full View) link

If We’re Lucky, Robots Might Decide To Keep Us as Pets

Isaac Asimov? Marvin Minsky? Paul Saffo? Edward Fredkin? Bruce Sterling?

Dear Quote Investigator: Reportedly, a top researcher in artificial intelligence once said something like:

Humans will be lucky if superintelligent robots treat them as pets.

At some point a grim elaboration was appended:

If humans are unlucky, they will be treated as food.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1970 “LIFE” magazine journalist Brad Darrach wrote an article about Shakey the Robot, an early mobile robot built at the Stanford Research Institute. The primitive device was grandly called the “first electronic person” within the article title. Darrach interviewed Marvin Minsky, a leading researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who was quoted making a startling prediction: 1

In from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being. I mean a machine that will be able to read Shakespeare, grease a car, play office politics, tell a joke, have a fight. At that point the machine will begin to educate itself with fantastic speed. In a few months it will be at genius level and a few months after that its powers will be incalculable.

Minsky and a colleague warned that intelligent computers should not be put in control of indispensable systems; instead, they must be carefully controlled. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

The problem of computer control will have to be solved, Minsky and Papert believe, before computers are put in charge of systems essential to society’s survival. If a computer directing the nation’s economy or its nuclear defenses ever rated its own efficiency above its ethical obligation, it could destroy man’s social order—or destroy man. “Once the computers got control,” says Minsky, “we might never get it back. We would survive at their sufferance. If we’re lucky, they might decide to keep us as pets.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order including a 1985 passage asserting that Minsky denied making the statement about pets. Continue reading


  1. 1970 November 20, LIFE, Meet Shaky, the first electronic person: The fascinating and fearsome reality of a machine with a mind of its own by Brad Darrach, Start Page 58B, Quote Page 58D, 66, and 68, Time Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View)

Never Go to Bed Mad—Stay Up and Fight

Phyllis Diller? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Newlyweds are sometimes given the following thoughtful relationship advice:

Never go to bed while angry with your partner.

The prominent comedian Phyllis Diller twisted this expression to yield a very funny line. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The quip appeared in her 1966 book “Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Never Go to Bed Mad—Stay Up and Fight

Just the other day I said to Fang, “Don’t you think we’ve got a storybook romance?” and he said, “Yes, and every page is ripped.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1966 Copyright, Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints by Phyllis Diller, Chapter 7, Quote Page 98, Doubleday and Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

Patriotism Means To Stand by the Country. It Does Not Mean To Stand by the President or Any Other Public Official

Theodore Roosevelt? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a spirited disagreement on Facebook about whether the following statement can be ascribed to Theodore Roosevelt:

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President.

Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Several U.S. presidential administrations have been greeted by critics who have cited this expression. In May 1918 Theodore Roosevelt published an article titled “Lincoln and Free Speech” in “Metropolitan Magazine” which began with the following paragraph. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

PATRIOTISM means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him in so far as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth—whether about the President or about anyone else—save in the rare cases where this would make known to the enemy information of military value which would otherwise be unknown to him.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1918 May, Metropolitan Magazine, Volume 47, Number 6, Lincoln and Free Speech by Theodore Roosevelt, Start Page 7, Quote Page 7, Column 1, The Metropolitan Magazine Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

It Is the Customary Fate of New Truths to Begin as Heresies and to End as Superstitions

Thomas Henry Huxley? George Bernard Shaw? Garrett Hardin? Caryl P. Haskins? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: An influential idea passes through three stages:

1) Begins as heresy
2) Turns into orthodoxy,
3) Ends up as superstition.

I cannot remember who said this. Can you help?

Quote Investigator: There are several different quotations that describe the reception of new ideas via a series of stages. A partial match with two stages instead of three was spoken by the scientist Thomas Henry Huxley during a lecture delivered at The Royal Institution of Great Britain. Today Huxley is best known as “Darwin’s bulldog” because of his vigorous defense of the theory of evolution. Huxley’s speech was printed in the journal “Nature” in 1880. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

History warns us, however, that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions; and, as matters now stand, it is hardly rash to anticipate that, in another twenty years, the new generation, educated under the influences of the present day, will be in danger of accepting the main doctrines of the Origin of Species with as little reflection, and it may be with as little justification, as so many of our contemporaries, twenty years ago, rejected them.

In 1961 Huxley received credit for a version with heresy, orthodoxy, and superstition, but QI has not yet found substantive evidence that he actually employed a tripartite expression.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1880 May 6, Nature: A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science, Volume 22, The Coming of Age of the Origin of Species by T. H. Huxley, (Footnote: A lecture delivered at the Royal Institution, Friday March 19, 1880), Start Page 1, Quote Page 1, Column 2, Macmillan and Company, London and New York. (Google Books Full View) link

I Suppose the Process of Acceptance Will Pass through the Usual Four Stages

J. B. S. Haldane? Louis Agassiz? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane stated that interesting new truths were resisted, and acceptance required traversal through a series of four stages. During the first stage the new fact or theory was rejected as nonsense. Are you familiar with Haldane’s quotation on this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1963 J. B. S. Haldane reviewed a book filled with tables of statistics describing human longevity. The tables revealed that humans were living much longer than insurance companies were commonly calculating. Haldane thought that there was a financial incentive for companies selling life insurance to overestimate the probability of death when setting prices. He also thought that the new data would initially be rejected. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This will create a resistance. I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages:

1. This is worthless nonsense,
2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view,
3. This is true, but quite unimportant,
4. I always said so.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1963 December, Journal of Genetics, Volume 58, Number 3, Section: Book Reviews, The Truth About Death by J.B.S. Haldane, (Book Review of “The Chester Beatty Research Institute Serially Abridged Life Tables, England and Wales, 1841-1960”), Start Page 463, Quote Page 464, Revived in 1985 and now published by Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, India. (Indian Academy of Sciences Archive at www.ias.ac.in; accessed February 27, 2014) link

The Best Minds of My Generation Are Thinking About How To Make People Click Ads

Jeff Hammerbacher? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous poem “Howl” by Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg begins with a despairing cri de cœur: 1

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…

A very different mordant message was delivered by a Millennial who worried that his cohort was enmeshed in online advertising, and the most gifted were trying to convince people to click on advertisements. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In April 2011 “Bloomberg Businessweek” published a profile of Jeff Hammerbacher, an early employee of Facebook who gathered data about the behavior, relationships, and desires of the users of that quickly growing social network. Ultimately, the data allowed the precise targeting of advertisements, but Hammerbacher developed misgivings. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

After a couple years at Facebook, Hammerbacher grew restless. He figured that much of the groundbreaking computer science had been done. Something else gnawed at him. Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google (GOOG), and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” he says. “That sucks.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1989, The Macmillan Dictionary of Quotations, Topic: Madness, Quote Page 344, Column 1, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. Website: Bloomberg Businessweek website, Article title: This Tech Bubble Is Different, Article author: by Ashlee Vance, Date on website: April 14, 2011, Website description: Business news, (Accessed bloomberg.com on June 12, 2017) link

Gray Is the Color of Truth

André Gide? Stuart Henry? McGeorge Bundy? Jacques de Biez? W. C. Brownell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Many demand simple answers to tangled questions. Yet, some topics never yield straightforward black or white answers. The French Nobel prize winner André Gide supposedly made one of the following comments:

The color of truth is grey.
Gray is the color of truth.

I have been unable to find a solid citation for Gide. This remark has also been ascribed to the U.S. foreign-policy advisor McGeorge Bundy. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a “Scribner’s Magazine” essay in 1889. The literary critic William Crary Brownell credited the remark to French journalist and art critic Jacques de Biez. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Gray,” says M. de Biez again, “which is the color of the sky in France, is also the color of truth itself, of that truth which tempers the impetuosity of enthusiasm and restrains the spirit within the middle spheres of precise reason.” Nothing could more accurately attest the French feeling in regard to color—the French distrust of its riotous potentialities.

QI has not yet found substantive evidence supporting the attribution to André Gide. McGeorge Bundy did use the line in a speech in 1967. The spellings “gray”, “grey”, “color”, and “colour” have all appeared over the years. This adage has been difficult to trace and the earlier citations may be discovered by future researchers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1889 February, Scribner’s Magazine, Volume 5, Number 2, French Traits — The Art Instinct by W. C. Brownell, Start Page 241, Quote Page 245, Column 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Unz)