People Say Nothing Is Impossible, But I Do Nothing Every Day

A. A. Milne? Alfred E. Neuman? Winnie the Pooh? The Foolish Almanak? Theodor Rosyfelt? Anonymous?

foolish06Dear Quote Investigator: I saw the following entertaining quotation on several websites where it was ascribed to the Winnie-the-Pooh character of the author A. A. Milne:

People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.

I searched for this quote in The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh and was unable to find it. Perhaps it was used in one of the movies. Could you explore this funny statement?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this humorous remark located by QI appeared in 1906 in “The Foolish Almanak For Anuthur Year” by Theodor Rosyfelt. The book was filled with deliberate misspellings, and the author’s name may have been creatively altered. No attribution was given within the text for its prolix version of the jest: 1

It is said that nothing is impossible; but there are lots of people doing nothing every day.

The first collection of Winnie-the-Pooh stories was published in 1926, so the joke was already in circulation before A. A. Milne’s children’s classic was released. In addition, QI has found no substantive evidence that Milne wrote or said this jest.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1932 the same version of the quip that was printed in the 1906 almanac was published in North American newspapers in Saskatoon and New York. No attribution was given: 2 3

It is said that nothing is impossible; but there are lots of people doing nothing every day.

In 1968 the indefatigable collector Evan Esar included the funny remark in his massive compendium “20,000 Quips and Quotes” without ascription: 4

It is said that nothing is impossible, yet there are lots of people doing nothing every day.

In 1997 an Associated Press article about Mad magazine contained a section called “The Thoughts of Alfred E. Neuman” which presented a list of statements including the following: 5

“Who says nothing is impossible? Some people do it every day!”

The website goodreads has a webpage listing “Winnie-the-Pooh Quotes” with the following instance which was liked by 1,329 people as of March 8, 2013: 6

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

In conclusion, this joke was in circulation by 1906 when it was printed in a humor book authored by “Theodor Rosyfelt”. The phraseology changed as it was transmitted across decades. In modern times it has been connected to two iconic figures: Alfred E. Neuman and Winnie-the-Pooh. QI has not found any substantive evidence that A.A. Milne used the expression.

(Many thanks to Nina Gilbert who inquired about this saying for another person. The text of the question was constructed by QI.)

Notes:

  1. 1906, “The Foolish Almanak For Anuthur Year” by Theodor Rosyfelt, Section: March, Unnumbered Page, [First page for the month of March], John W. Luce and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Internet Archive) link  link
  2. 1932 May 2, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, [No Title; Filler item], Page 15, Column 2, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. (Google News Archive)
  3. 1932 May 19, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, [Freestanding quote with no attribution], Page 4, Column 8, Brooklyn, New York. (Old Fulton)
  4. 1968, 20,000 Quips and Quotes by Evan Esar, Quote Page 409, Column 1, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1997 April 16, The Stuart News, Edition: Martin County, Section: Trends, Meet the New Mad Not Quite the Old Mad by Larry McShane, (Associated Press), Page C1, Stuart, Florida, E.W. Scripps Company. (NewsBank Access World News)
  6. Goodreads website, Winnie-the-Pooh Quotes by A.A. Milne. (Accessed goodreads.com on March 8, 2013) link