Author Archives: garson

To Err Is Human, But a Human Error Is Nothing To What a Computer Can Do If It Tries

Agatha Christie? Bill Vaughan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Previously you examined a humorous statement from columnist Bill Vaughan about the electronic beasts that control so much of our lives:

To err is human, to really foul things up requires a computer.

I think that the famous mystery writer Agatha Christie said something very similar. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1969 Agatha Christie published “Hallowe’en Party” featuring her masterful Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The character Mrs. Oliver tells Poirot that he is acting like a computer by programming himself with data about the crime that occurred. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“It is certainly an idea you have there,” said Poirot, with some interest. “Yes, yes, I play the part of the computer. One feeds in the information—”

“And supposing you come up with all the wrong answers?” said Mrs. Oliver.

“That would be impossible,” said Hercule Poirot. “Computers do not do that sort of thing.”

“They’re not supposed to.” said Mrs. Oliver, “but you’d be surprised at the things that happen sometimes. My last electric light bill, for instance. I know there’s a proverb which says, ‘To err is human’ but a human error is nothing to what a computer can do if it tries.”

The quip by Bill Vaughan is discussed here. It appeared in April 1969, 2 and Christie’s book was published the same year, but writing a book is often a lengthy endeavor, and QI does not know precisely when Christie composed her computer remark. Thus, the chronology is uncertain.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1970 (Copyright 1969), Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie, Quote Page 35, Pocket Books, New York. (First published in 1969; this is 1970 paperback edition) (Verified with scans)
  2. 1969 April 2, Free Lance-Star, Senator Soaper [Free standing quote], Page 1, Column 2, Fredericksburg, Virginia. (Google News archive)

A Pedestal Is as Much a Prison as Any Small Space

Gloria Steinem? Joe King? Anonymous Black Feminist?

Dear Quote Investigator: Being placed on a pedestal has a serious drawback according to the following astute metaphorical amplification:

A pedestal is a prison, like any other small space.

Would you please explore the provenance of this expression which is often attributed to the prominent feminist Gloria Steinem?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in an advertisement for a realty company written by Joe King and published in “The Yuma Daily Sun” of Yuma, Arizona in September 1974. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The man who didn’t want his wife to work has been succeeded by the man who asks about her chances of getting a raise . . .
A pedestal is as much a prison as any small space . . .
Do you feel like you’re in prison?
Kids growing up and cramped for space?
Really put your wife on a pedestal — let HER pick out a larger house.

The advertisement contained other commonplace observations:

You can’t expect a person to see eye to eye with you when you’re looking down on him . . .
You can’t spend yourself rich any more than you can drink yourself sober . . .

Thus, QI conjectures that the saying about pedestals was already in circulation with an anonymous ascription.

In March 1976 a columnist in a Dubois, Pennsylvania newspaper credited Gloria Steinem with the remark: 2

A Thought: A pedestal is as much a prison as any small space. (Gloria Steinem)

Steinem used the saying during interviews and within articles, but she disclaimed authorship as shown below via selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1974 September 13, The Yuma Daily Sun, Time To Smile by Joe King (Advertisement for Paustell Realty), Quote Page 19, Column 8, Yuma, Arizona. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1976 March 11, The Courier-Express, Daisies Won’t Tell BUT I Will! by Bess K. Martin (C-E Staff Writer), Quote Page 5, Column 7, Dubois, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

Peter Drucker? Giga Information Group? Mark Fields? Eli Halliwell? Richard Clark? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Business leaders have found that the pre-existing culture of a company can thwart indispensable changes. A popular cautionary aphorism encapsulates this viewpoint. Here are two versions:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
Culture eats strategy for lunch.

The famous management guru Peter Drucker often receives credit for this saying, but I have not found a good citation. This notion can also be expressed less vividly as follows:

Culture constrains strategy.
Culture beats strategy.
Culture trumps strategy.

Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in the September 2000 issue of the trade journal “PIMA’s North American Papermaker: The Official Publication of the Paper Industry Management Association”. Two paper recycling consultants named Bill Moore and Jerry Rose wrote an article about online transactions that referred to the adage in the concluding paragraph. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The biggest question mark is the interest of the recovered paper industry in moving forward in the e-commerce business. As stated in the March 2000 Giga Information Group headline “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast!” Will the culture of the recovered paper transaction business stymie those using an e-strategy to improve the marketplace? Only time will tell.

The Giga Information Group is a technology consulting firm that was founded by Gideon I. Gartner who also founded the influential Gartner Group. QI has not seen the March 2000 periodical; hence, QI has not seen the initial surrounding context. In addition, the saying may have been in circulation before that date.

Peter Drucker who died in 2005 was not mentioned in the earliest citations found by QI. His name was attached to the saying by 2011.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2000 September, PIMA’s North American Papermaker: The Official Publication of the Paper Industry Management Association, Volume 82, Number 9, Recovered paper trading—ready for the Web? by Bill Moore and Jerry Rose (Moore & Associates, a paper recycling consulting firm based in Atlanta, Georgia), Start Page 26, Quote Page 28, Column 3, Paper Industry Management Association, Mount Prospect, Illinois. (Verified with hardcopy)

We Must Be Willing To Get Rid of the Life We’ve Planned, So As To Have the Life That Is Waiting for Us

Joseph Campbell? E. M. Forster? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Life often presents us with unexpected obstacles and challenges that require us to rethink our assumptions. The following pertinent statement has been attributed to the expert in mythology Joseph Campbell and popular English novelist E. M. Forster:

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

I have not been able to find a solid citation for either. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Joseph Campbell died in 1987, and In 1991 Diane K. Osbon published “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion” which consisted of material she selected and edited. The following text appeared in a section titled “In the Field”, and Osbon stated that she had collected the words directly from Campbell. The section contained “favorite expressions of his, recorded in my journals over the years in his company”. The layout of the phrases below mirrors the formatting in the book. 1

We must be willing to get rid of
the life we’ve planned, so as to have
the life that is waiting for us.

The old skin has to be shed
before the new one can come.

The text provided a close match to the sentence under examination although the precise phrasing differed. The final sentence employed a metaphor based on the shedding of skin, e.g., snakeskin.

QI has been unable to find substantive evidence supporting the ascription to E. M. Forster who died in 1970. He received credit for a version of the saying in 2002.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1991, Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, Selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon, Quote Page 8 and 18, HarperCollins, New York, New York.

The Only Thing More Painful Than Learning from Experience Is Not Learning from Experience

Archibald MacLeish? Laurence J. Peter? Earl Wilson? Eleanor Hoyt? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The American poet Archibald MacLeish apparently said that learning from experience was painful, but the alternative of not learning was worse. A similar remark has been ascribed to quotation collector Laurence J. Peter. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1966 in the widely syndicated column of Earl Wilson who presented it as an anonymous “Remembered Quote”: 1

“The only thing more painful than learning from experience is not learning from experience.”
–Anon.

More than a decade later in 1978 Archibald MacLeish received credit, and in 1982 Laurence J. Peter included an instance in one of his books.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1966 April 28, Reno Gazette-Journal, It Happened Last Night: Oscar-Winner Lee Marvin Has Bit of Bogart in His Style by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 17, Column 3, Reno, Nevada. (Newspapers_com)

Never Think That You’re Not Good Enough

Anthony Trollope? Isaac Asimov? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I saw a tweet ascribing the following words to the popular Victorian era English novelist Anthony Trollope:

Above all else, never think you’re not good enough.

Curiously, when I searched for a citation I found that it was also ascribed to the science fiction master Isaac Asimov. Would you please help me to identify the true originator?

Quote Investigator: In 1863 Anthony Trollope serialized the novel “The Small House at Allington” in “Harper’s New Monthly Magazine”. A character who was an earl offered the following advice. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And, above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.

Isaac Asimov was born in 1920 and died in 1992; the saying was attributed to him by 2009. Thus, he did not craft the expression, and the evidence that he ever employed it is very weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1863 September, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 27, The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope, Chapter 32: Pawkins’s In Jermyn Street, Start Page 518, Quote Page 522, Harper and Brothers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Creativity Is contagious. Pass It On

Albert Einstein? Bernice Bede Osol? Eugene Raudsepp? François de La Rochefoucauld? Dale Carnegie? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following words are often credited to the scientific genius Albert Einstein:

Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.

I cannot find a good citation. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke the statement above. The comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press contains a section on “Creativity” but the quotation is not listed there or anywhere else in the book. 1

In 1956 a partial match appeared in “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Cincinnati, Ohio. An article about a local elementary school described a teacher who helped students and fellow teachers to create ceramics for an exhibition. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Creativity was contagious. Teachers also became interested. They were found taking a few minutes from their lunch time for work on their ceramics, too, and again at home at night.

In 1973 a syndicated horoscope column by Bernice Bede Osol included a partial match: 3

GEMINI (May 21-June 20) Your creativity’s contagious. Seek support for your ideas today. Others will appreciate their potential.

In 1977 “Creative Growth Games” by Eugene Raudsepp with George P. Hough Jr. contained a full match for the expression. The following appeared as an epigraph to a section titled “Games and Exercises”: 4

Through the process of association of ideas your imagination will find new and relevant relationships between things.
Creativity is contagious, pass it on.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Misattributed to Einstein, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (The quotation was absent)(Verified on paper)
  2. 1956 May 6, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Imagery In Ceramics, Section 3, Quote Page 1, Column 4, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1973 January 18, Dixon Evening Telegraph, Astrograph by Bernice Bede Osol, Quote Page 19, Column 3, Dixon, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1977, Creative Growth Games by Eugene Raudsepp with George P. Hough Jr., (Epigraph of part 1), Quote Page 15, Jove Publications: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York. (Verified on paper)

We Have Done So Much with So Little for So Long, that Now We Can Do Anything with Nothing

U.S. Airforce? U.S. Navy? Marines? U.S. Coastguard? Hugh S. Johnson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During a retirement party I heard the following humorous encomium:

She did so much, with so little, for so long that she is now able to do everything with nothing.

Would you please explore the history of this statement?

Quote Investigator: This expression is difficult to trace because it is highly malleable. In 1942 a precursor appeared in the syndicated newspaper column of former U.S. army officer Hugh S. Johnson. General Douglas MacArthur won praise from Johnson. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The plaudits he has so justly won by doing so much with so little have left a sort of impression that he is a military magician who can do anything with nothing.

By 1960 the expression emerged as a motto within the Tactical Air Command of the U.S. Air Force. The following passage discussed aerial refueling tankers: 2

The tankers being flown out of Langley were built in the early 1950’s, at the latest. Their refueling altitude is limited to under 30,000-feet, their refueling speed is less than 300 knots and their maintenance problems—because of age and high rate of usage — are sometimes almost more than can be met—although the tankers have a motto: “We have done so much with so little for so long, that now we can do anything with nothing.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1942 March 26, The Daily Pantagraph, MacArthur Must Be Saved From Friends by Hugh S. Johnson, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Bloomington, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1960 March 6, Daily Press, Eye on the Eagle by Howard Gibbons (Daily Press Military Editor), Quote Page 3-A, Column 5, Newport News, Virginia. (Newspapers_com)

People Think They Are Thinking When They Are Merely Rearranging Their Prejudices

Edward R. Murrow? Knute Rockne? William James? William Fitzjames Oldham? Josh Billings? George Craig Stewart? Luther Burbank? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Changing deeply help opinions is very difficult. A brilliant and forceful quotation expresses this idea:

Many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

These words have been attributed to the prominent journalist Edward R. Murrow, the famous football coach Knute Rockne, and the influential psychologist William James. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match known to QI appeared in 1906 in the religious periodical “Zion’s Herald” based in Boston, Massachusetts. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Bishop Oldham scored with his audience with a bon mot to the effect that some people “think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

The name “Bishop Oldham” was ambiguous, but his first name and middle initial were given in the August 24, 1904 issue of “Zion’s Herald”. 2 William Fitzjames Oldham served in the Methodist Episcopal Church and performed missionary work around the globe.

Knute Rockne used the expression in a newspaper column in 1926, but he disclaimed credit. William James received credit by 1946, and he did write a thematically similar passage in 1907 before his death in 1910. Yet, QI has found no direct evidence that James made a closely matching statement. Edward R. Murrow received credit by 1949, and he may have used it after it had been circulating for years.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1906 November 7, Zion’s Herald, Volume 84, Number 45, Notes (A miscellaneous collection of short items), Quote Page 1433, Column 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest American Periodicals)
  2. 1904 August 24, Zion’s Herald, Volume 82, Number 34, Personals, Start Page 1063, Quote Page 1064, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest American Periodicals)

Man Will Atrophy All His Limbs But the Push-Button Finger

Frank Lloyd Wright? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A simple finger touch can make a phone call, play music, summon a taxi, obtain a weather forecast, pay a bill, and perform countless other tasks via apps. The famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright feared that in the future all of our body parts would atrophy except the finger. Would you please help me to find a citation for the comment he made on this subject?

Quote Investigator: In 1955 when Wright was 85 years old “Newsweek” reported that he delivered a lecture to an overflow audience at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Massachusetts. He made provocative remarks on several topics. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

New York: “Prison towers and modern posters for soap and whisky.”

Pittsburgh: “Abandon it.”

Centralization: “If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1955 May 16, Newsweek, The Atomic Mr. Wright, Quote Page 98, Column 2 and 3, Newsweek, Inc., New York. (Verified with scans; thanks to Spokane Public Library, Spokane, Washington)