Author Archives: garson

The Most Beautiful Word in the English Language Is Benign

Erma Bombeck? Woody Allen? L. M. Boyd? Mark Hatfield? David B. Whitlock? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: If you or a loved one has faced cancer then the following assertion would be understandable:

The most beautiful word in the English language is ‘benign’.

This notion has been attributed to two well-known humorists Erma Bombeck and Woody Allen. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Erma Bombeck included this remark in a newspaper column she wrote in 1991. Woody Allen used this idea in a movie he wrote and directed in 1997. Details are presented further below.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the widely-syndicated column of L. M. Boyd in 1968, but he credited a correspondent named Erna. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I have always maintained (and always will) that the most beautiful word in English is ‘benign’ and the ugliest word is ‘malignant,'” writes a San Francisco girl named Erna.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1968 November 12, The Robesonian, Checking Up by L. M. Boyd, Quote Page 6, Column 6, Lumberton, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)

We First Make Our Habits and Then Our Habits Make Us

John Dryden? Frederick Langbridge? Tryon Edwards? Nathanael Emmons? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A remarkably insightful statement about patterns of behavior is usually credited to the famous English poet John Dryden who died in 1700:

We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.

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

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that John Dryden said or wrote the statement above, and QI believes that the misattribution resulted from a misreading that occurred more than one hundred years ago; details are supplied further below.

Dryden did pen a vivid statement about poor habits that appeared in a collection published in 1700 titled “Fables Ancient and Modern Translated into Verse from Homer, Ovid, Boccace, & Chaucer, with Original Poems by Mr. Dryden”. The following lines are from Dryden’s translation of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

To kill Man-killers, Man has lawful Pow’r,
But not th’extended Licence, to devour.

Ill Habits gather by unseen degrees,
As Brooks make Rivers, Rivers run to Seas.

In 1884 a partial match for the expression under examination appeared in “The Central News” of Perkasie, Pennsylvania: 2

We are all what our habits make us, and what better work can we do for those committed to us than to see that these right habits are formed? A little decision will bring this about.

In 1888 the religious writer Frederick Langbridge authored “The Happiest Half-Hour: Sunday Talks with Children” which contained a strong match for the quotation. Langbridge employed the metaphorical domain of pottery while discussing human growth and moral character: 3

Every time you go to bed your clay is so many hours nearer to its final mould. A few years of such days—a long time to look forward, but a short time to look back upon—and there you will be: a beautiful goodly vase, or a cracked, misshapen vessel, fit only for base and vulgar uses. We are our own potters; for our habits make us, and we make our habits.

Langbridge used antimetabole, but the two phrases of the adage were reversed when compared to the popular modern version. Also, he suggested that the two activities actually occurred in parallel.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1700, Title: Fables ancient and modern translated into verse from Homer, Ovid, Boccace, & Chaucer, with original poems by Mr. Dryden, Author: John Dryden (1631-1700), Section: Of the Pythagorean Philosophy: From Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Book XV, Quote Page 509, Publication Information: Printed for Jacob Tonson, London. (Early English Books Online)
  2. 1884 December 4, The Central News, Regard for Order, Quote Page 1, Column 3, Perkasie, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1888, The Happiest Half-Hour: Sunday Talks with Children by Frederick Langbridge, Chapter IX: Twigs and Trees, Start Page 63, Quote Page 65, The Religious Tract Society, London. (Google Books Full View) link

It Is Wiser To Find Out Than To Suppose

Mark Twain? Merle Johnson? Apocryphal?

twain07Dear Quote Investigator: I would like to use the following adage during a presentation to a large group:

It is wiser to find out than to suppose.

I plan to credit Mark Twain, but I know that if I am wrong it will be very embarrassing because the entire point of the remark will be undermined. Would you please help me to replace a supposition with a fact? Can you find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a small compilation titled “More Maxims of Mark” containing quotations ascribed to Twain that was privately printed as a limited edition in November 1927 by Merle Johnson who was a rare book collector. Johnson published the first careful bibliography of Twain’s works in 1910 shortly after the writer’s death. Twain scholars believe that the sayings compiled by Johnson in this book are genuine.

A friend of QI’s accessed volume number 14 of 50 in the Rubenstein Rare Book Library at Duke University and verified that the adage was printed on page number 8. Below is the saying together with the two succeeding entries. All the maxims in the work were presented in uppercase. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

IT IS WISER TO FIND OUT THAN TO SUPPOSE.
IN LITERATURE IMITATIONS DO NOT IMITATE.
IT IS BEST TO READ THE WEATHER FORECAST BEFORE WE PRAY FOR RAIN.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1927, More Maxims of Mark by Mark Twain, Compiled by Merle Johnson, Quote Page 8, First edition privately printed November 1927; Number 14 of 50 copies. (Verified on paper; thanks to the Rubenstein Library at Duke University; special thanks to Mike)

Whatever We Achieve Inwardly Will Change Outer Reality

J. K. Rowling? Anaïs Nin? Plutarch? Otto Rank?

thinking10Dear Quote Investigator: J. K. Rowling created the beloved fantasy universe of Harry Potter and the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. She delivered a humorous and touching commencement address at Harvard University in 2008. While in college she studied the classics, and her address included a quotation from a prominent ancient Greek essayist: 1

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

Did Plutarch really write this? Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI and other researchers have not yet found this statement in Plutarch’s writings.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in an essay by the prominent diarist and eroticist Anaïs Nin published in the “Journal of the Otto Rank Association” in 1973. The text was based on a talk delivered by Nin during an Association meeting in October 1972. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Just as the deep sea diver carries a tank of oxygen, we have to carry the kernel of our individual growth with us into the world in order to withstand the pressures, the shattering pressures of outer experiences. But I never lost sight of their interdependence, and now I find in Dr. Rank the following statement: “Whatever we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”

Nin credited psychoanalyst Otto Rank who was an influential early colleague of Sigmund Freud. QI has not yet found the statement in Rank’s voluminous German writings, but the search has been restricted by limited access. Nin read a French translation of Rank’s “Truth and Reality” in the 1930s. Rank was her therapist and ultimately her lover.

Based on current evidence QI would provisionally credit Otto Rank with the quotation under examination. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2008 June, Harvard Magazine, The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination (Commencement Address delivered at Harvard University by J. K. Rowling on June 5, 2008), Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Accessed harvardmagazine.com on December, 13 2016) link
  2. 1973 June, Journal of the Otto Rank Association, Volume 8, Number 1, On Truth and Reality by Anaïs Nin (From a tape recording of talk given by Anaïs Nin at the meeting of The Otto Rank Association held on October 28, 1972 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania), Start Page 51, Quote Page 56, Otto Rank Association, Doylestown, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans; thanks to the library system of University of North Carolina)

Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburger

Mark Twain? Abbie Hoffman? Roy F. Nichols? George McKinnon? Aardvark Magazine? Graffito?

cow07Dear Quote Investigator: The following has often been ascribed to the famous humorist Mark Twain and the 1960s-era political activist Abbie Hoffman:

Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburger.

Apologies for offensiveness. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said or wrote this statement. It does not appear on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2

The words were ascribed to Abbie Hoffman by a speaker at his funeral in 1989. The detailed citation is given further below.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in October 1965 in “The Daily Collegian”, a student newspaper at Pennsylvania State University. An article discussed the revivification of a student publication called “Bottom of the Birdcage” which took inspiration from another periodical. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

Birdcage’s newly-adopted theme, borrowed from Aardvark magazine, is “Sacred cows make the best hamburger.” Each issue will have something to offend each member of the family.

“Aardvark” magazine was a Chicago humor journal that started out at Roosevelt University. Based on the excerpt above, the saying probably appeared in that magazine before October 1965; however, QI has not examined issues of “Aardvark”. Also, it was conceivable that more than one humor magazine using the name “Aardvark” existed in the time period.

QI believes that the expression evolved over time, and interesting precursors appeared many years earlier.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched December 3, 2016) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1965 October 19, The Daily Collegian (Pennsylvania State University student paper), Ad Hoc Resurrects ‘Bottom of Birdcage’, Page 4, Column 6, University Park, Pennsylvania. (Google News Archive, ActivePaper Archive Full View)

Give Yourself Peace of Mind. You Deserve To Be Happy. You Deserve Delight

Hannah Arendt? Mark Victor Hansen? Anonymous?

happy07Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I read the following upbeat message embracing egoism:

Give yourself peace of mind. You deserve to be happy. You deserve delight.

I was astonished when I saw it ascribed to the political theorist Hannah Arendt who wrote about the Nazi Adolf Eichmann and popularized the phrase “the banality of evil”. The connection seemed incongruous. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Hannah Arendt wrote or said the statement above.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a 1980 book titled “Future Diary” by Mark Victor Hansen. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Dedicate yourself
to the good you deserve
and desire for yourself.
Give yourself peace of mind.
You deserve to be happy.

The phrase “You deserve delight” was later appended to this statement of affirmation by Hansen who today is best known as the co-creator with Jack Canfield of the juggernaut “Chicken Soup for the Soul” which began barreling through the publishing world in 1993. The page with the quotation included a picture of a tree and a suggestion:

Write a minutely detailed description of your primary goal.

The purpose was for readers to “visualize” and “feel” the goal to facilitate its eventual achievement.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1985 (1980 First Printing, 1983 Introduction), Future Diary by Mark Victor Hansen, Quote Page 70, Mark Victor Hansen Publishing Company, Newport Beach, California. (Verified with scans)

If You Are Going To Be a Bear, Be a Grizzly

Mohandas Gandhi? George Hyde Preston? Lynda Bird Johnson? Apocryphal?

gbears08Dear Quote Investigator: The Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi who famously employed nonviolent strategies has implausibly been credited with the following piece of folk wisdom:

If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Mahatma Gandhi spoke or wrote this statement.

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a short story called “An Inside Tip” by George Hyde Preston published in “Cosmopolitan Magazine” in 1908. Within the tale the leader of a brokerage firm was planning to drive down the price of a stock, and he expressed his attitude by proclaiming the adage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI. 1

“Let me see; how many points did the stock go off in the last hour yesterday?”

“Seven, and it closed very weak.”

“Quite so Blair. Now today the word is, hammer it! We have them on the run. Order our brokers to raid the stock. No half measures! If you are going to be a bear, be a grizzly! The sooner it is over the better. The Barnard & Wilkes outfit tried to deceive us, and they have brought it on themselves.”

Preston may have coined the expression; alternatively, the colorful saying may have already been circulating. QI is unsure.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1908 June, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Volume 45, Number 1, An Inside Tip by George Hyde Preston, Start Page 91, Quote Page 91, (Quotation appears in text and as a caption), International Magazine Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

What You Get By Reaching Your Goals Is Not Nearly So Important As What You Become By Reaching Them

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Henry David Thoreau? Zig Ziglar?

achieve08Dear Quote Investigator: Many self-help and inspirational books contain this guidance:

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

These words have been ascribed to three disparate individuals: German literary titan Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, famed transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, and popular motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Goethe or Thoreau employed this expression.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in the curiously titled 1974 book “Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles” by Zig Ziglar. One section of the work discussed the necessity of formulating and striving for goals. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I want to emphasize that what you get by reaching your goals is not nearly so important as what you become by reaching them. What about you? Are you sold on the necessity of having goals?

The phrasing above differed from the common modern instance, e.g., the word “reaching” appeared instead of “achieving”. Nevertheless, the statement provided a strong semantic match.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1974, Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles by Zig Ziglar, Segment 4: Goals, Chapter 4: Reaching Your Goals, Quote Page 171, Published by Update Division of Crescendo Publications, Dallas, Texas. (Verified with scans)

If You Don’t Read the Newspaper You Are Uninformed, If You Do Read the Newspaper You Are Misinformed

Mark Twain? Thomas Jefferson? Thomas Fuller? Orville Hubbard? Ezra Taft Benson? Apocryphal?

twain11Dear Quote Investigator: A cynical attitude toward the media is widespread today, but this is not a new development. Supposedly, Mark Twain made the following remark:

If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.

Are these really the words of the famous humorist?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said this. It is not listed on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt. 1 In addition, QI has been unable find an instance in key compilations like “Mark Twain Speaking” edited by Paul Fatout 2 and “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 3

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a message posted in 2000 to an international discussion system named Usenet within a newsgroup called israel.francophones. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 4

As Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched December 3, 2016) link
  2. 1976, Mark Twain Speaking, Edited by Paul Fatout, Published by University of Iowa Press, Iowa City. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. November 2, 2000, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: israel.francophones, From: tsip…@my-deja.com, Subject: Reagir/Presse. (Google Groups Search; Accessed November 28, 2016)

We Do Not Want Now and We Never Shall Want the Human Voice with Our Films

D. W Griffith? Harry Warner? Apocryphal?

griff07Dear Quote Investigator: D. W. Griffith was the most innovative and important director during the early days of cinema. However, he was unable to foresee the momentous shift away from silent movies. Apparently, he stated that audiences would never wish to hear recorded human voices in films. Is that true?

Quote Investigator: Yes. In 1924 David Wark Griffith published an article titled “The Movies 100 Years from Now” in “Collier’s: The National Weekly”. He speculated about the future of the art form that he loved, but his vision was surprisingly circumscribed. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We do not want now and we never shall want the human voice with our films. Music, as I see it within that hundred years, will be applied to the visualization of the human being’s imagination. And, as in your imagination those unseen voices are always perfect and sweet, or else magnificent and thrilling, you will find them registering upon the mind of the picture patron, in terms of lovely music, precisely what the author has intended to be registered there.

Griffith pointed to the flaws in human speech that would detract from his idealized conception of cinema:

There will never be speaking pictures. Why should there be when no voice can speak so beautifully as music? There are no dissonant r’s and twisted consonants and guttural slurs and nasal twangs in beautiful music.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1924 May 3, Collier’s: The National Weekly, The Movies 100 Years from Now by David Wark Griffith, Start Page 7, Quote Page 7, P. F. Collier and Son Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link