Author Archives: garson

Life Is a Sexually Transmitted Terminal Disease

Margaret Atwood? Posy Simmonds? Guy Bellamy? Marilyn Duckworth? R. D. Laing? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following quotation may be morbid, but I still consider it cleverly humorous:

Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease.

Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Tracing this statement is difficult because it emerged from a family of related sayings. Here is a summary snapshot showing quotations with dates:

1656: Life is an Incurable Disease. —Abraham Cowley
1943: Some people think of life as a fatal disease. —Francis T. Cunningham
1968: Life is a hereditary disease. —Anonymous Graffito
1971: Life is a terminal disease. —Anonymous Graffito
1980: Life is a sexually transmitted disease. —Anonymous Graffito
1981: Life is just another sexually transmitted social disease. —Margaret Atwood
1982: Life is a sexually transmitted disease. — attributed to Posy Simmonds
1982: Life is a sexually transmitted disease. —Guy Bellamy
1984: Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease. —Marilyn Duckworth
1985: Life is a sexually transmitted disease & there’s a 100% mortality rate. —R. D. Laing

The prominent New Zealand author Marilyn Duckworth combined expressions about transmission and mortality to yield the target quotation by 1984.

Below are selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

The Three Most Famous Names in History Are Jesus Christ, Sherlock Holmes, and Harry Houdini

George Bernard Shaw? Otto Penzler? James Thurber? Harold Ross? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Reportedly, George Bernard Shaw once presented an idiosyncratic list of the three most famous individuals: Jesus Christ, Sherlock Holmes, and Harry Houdini. Did Shaw really put forward this triptych?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the 1976 biography “Houdini: His Life and Art” by James Randi and Bert Randolph Sugar. The pertinent passage occurred in the foreword written by Sugar alone: 1

At a time when national heroes have passed from the American landscape, it is difficult to fathom Houdini’s full impact. People who couldn’t care less about magic know his name. George Bernard Shaw once said that as one of the three most famous people in the history of the world, real or imagined, Houdini took his place beside Jesus Christ and Sherlock Holmes.

QI does not know were Sugar obtained support for his claim about Shaw, and 1976 is more than 25 years after the death of the famous intellectual; hence, this evidence is weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1978 (1976 Copyright), Houdini: His Life and Art by The Amazing Randi (James Randi) and Bert Randolph Sugar, Section: Foreword by Sugar, Quote Page 9, Column 1, Grosset & Dunlap, New York. (Verified with scans)

Do Not Allow Idleness to Deceive You, for While You Give Him Today He Steals Tomorrow from You

H. Croccoquill? Alfred Crowquill? Alfred Henry Forrester?

Dear Quote Investigator: I recently encountered an insightful quotation that begins:

Don’t allow idleness to deceive you. . .

Someone with the unusual name “H. Croccoquill” was credited, but I have been unable to learn anything about him or her. Is this ascription accurate?

Quote Investigator: No. The earliest instance located by QI appeared in an 1856 book for children written and illustrated by Alfred Crowquill. That name was a pseudonym shared by two brothers: Alfred Henry Forrester and Charles Robert Forrester. However, Charles died in 1850, and the 1856 book was crafted by Alfred alone. 1

The quotation occurred in a story titled “The Dwarf and the Woodcutter” which included a scene of a child observing a dozen ants moving a single grain of corn to an underground storehouse. The child addressed the ants and suggested that they should save their labor and simple eat the grain. The leading ant replied with a lecture on industriousness. Emphasis added by QI: 2

Did we seek only to devour on the spot, all we found, we should be gluttons, and get lazy, and, surprised by the winter, die in our homes, for the want of that which we ought to have gathered by our industry in the proper season. Ah, my little man, do not allow Idleness to deceive you, for while you give him to-day he steals to-morrow from you.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1989 Copyright, The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction by John Sutherland, Entry: Alfred Crowquill, Quote Page 164, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. (Google Books Preview)
  2. 1856, Tales of Magic and Meaning, Written and Illustrated by Alfred Crowquill (Alfred Henry Forrester), Story: The Dwarf and the Woodcutter, Start Page 88, Quote Page 104, Grant and Griffith, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Planet “Earth”: We Should Have Called It “Sea”

Arthur C. Clarke? Carleton Ray? Ann Henderson-Sellers? James E. Lovelock? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The water covering our planet makes it look like a blue marble in pictures taken from outer space. Roughly three-quarters of the surface is enveloped in H₂O in liquid or frozen form. The science fiction luminary Arthur C. Clarke suggested that the name “Earth” should be changed to “Ocean” or “Sea”. Would you please help to find a citation for this remark?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this recommendation located by QI appeared in the proceedings of a conference held in 1963. The prominent oceanographer Carleton Ray was then working at the New York Aquarium, and during the meeting he spoke about “The Scientific Need for Shallow-Water Marine Sanctuaries “. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We still view the sea as a limitless wilderness, which of course, it is not. We view the sea apart from the earth. We call this planet Earth, yet this is the only planet that has a sea. I think we should have called it “sea”, of course, but the naming is already done.

There was also evidence that Arthur C. Clarke suggested the name “Ocean”. See below for additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1965, Scientific Use of Natural Areas, edited by Julia and Henry Field, (XVI International Congress of Zoology, Washington, August 20-27, 1963) Article VI: The Scientific Need for Shallow-Water Marine Sanctuaries by Carleton Ray of the New York Aquarium, Section: Remarks Delivered at Symposium, Quote Page 92, Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida. (Verified with scans; thanks to Thomas Fuller and the University of Maryland library system)

We Shall Escape the Absurdity of Growing a Whole Chicken in Order To Eat the Breast or Wing

Winston Churchill? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Scientists have successfully produced meat in culture without the need to grow an entire animal. Apparently, long ago Winston Churchill envisioned this possibility, and he predicted that chicken wings would be created without growing a full chicken. Would you please locate Churchill’s remarks on this topic?

Quote Investigator: The December 1931 issue of “The Strand Magazine” published an article by Churchill titled “Fifty Years Hence” that presented many speculations about the future including a remark about growing chicken parts. 1 “Popular Mechanics Magazine” reprinted the essay in March 1932. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

With a greater knowledge of what are called hormones, i.e., the chemical messengers in our blood, it will be possible to control growth. We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 2013 December 12 (Kindle Edition Date), Churchill By Himself (Winston Churchill’s In His Own Words Collection), Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, Biotechnology: We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken. (This reference cites “The Strand Magazine”, Dec. 1931)(Kindle Location 17039)
  2. 1932 March, Popular Mechanics Magazine, Volume 57, Number 3, Fifty Years Hence by Winston Churchill (Former British Chancellor of the Exchequer), Start Page 390, Quote Page 397, Popular Mechanics Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

There Is No God, and Harriet Martineau Is His Prophet

Prophet: Harriet Martineau? William Tweed? John Tyndall? Auguste Comte? Robert G. Ingersoll? Karl Marx? Charles Darwin? Herbert Spencer? Henry George Atkinson? Paul Dirac? Felix Adler?
Critic: Mark Twain? Douglas William Jerrold? George Grote? J. P. Jacobsen? Isaac M. Wise? Wolfgang Pauli?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent physicist Paul Dirac was hostile toward religion, and sometimes he would lecture his colleagues on the topic. One fellow scientist responded with a humorous summary of Dirac’s metaphysical position:

There is no God and Dirac is His prophet.

Do you know who crafted this expression? Would you please explore its history?

Quote Investigator: Substantive evidence indicates that physicist Wolfgang Pauli coined the statement above, but this template has an extensive history, and many different names have appeared in analogous phrases in the past.

The earliest template matches located by QI referred to Harriet Martineau and Henry George Atkinson who together published a controversial work titled “Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development” in 1851. 1 Contemporaries believed that the duo was espousing atheism, and both faced tremendous criticism; in April 1851 a periodical about mesmerism printed a statement referring to Atkinson. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

A celebrated wit declares the great religious view of the book to be, There is no God, and Mr. Atkinson is his prophet.—Zoist.

In July 1851 a piece in “The Worcestershire Chronicle” of Worcestershire, England discussed an essay that analyzed the pair’s book. The following jest was aimed at Martineau: 3

Two valuable essays on “The History of Logic” and “Primitive Alphabets” are followed by one on “Materialism,” in which Miss Martineau and her tutor, “Henry George Atkinson, F.G.S.,” are treated to a little commonsense criticism. Her theory—so ably epitomised by a popular writer of the present day—”that there is no God, and that Miss Martineau is his prophet,” finds no quarter at the hands of the talented reviewer…

The “popular writer” was probably the dramatist Douglas William Jerrold as stated in a September 1851 newspaper item. Additional selected citations in chronological order appear below. Continue reading


  1. 1851, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development by Henry George Atkinson and Harriet Martineau, Published by Josiah P. Mendum, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1851 April, The Zoist: A Journal of Cerebral Physiology & Mesmerism and Their Applications to Human Welfare, Number 33, XVII: The Fire-away Style of Philosophy briefly Examined and Illustrated by Anti-Glorioso, Footnote, Start Page 65, Quote Page 67, Hippolyte Bailliere, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1851 July 23, Worcestershire Chronicle, Literary Notices: The Church of England Quarterly Review, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Worcestershire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

Men Marry Women with the Hope They Will Never Change. Women Marry Men with the Hope They Will Change

Albert Einstein? H. M. Harwood? R. Gore-Browne? John Conwell? Estelle Getty? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Did Albert Einstein’s genius extend from physics to psychology? The following remark has been ascribed to him:

Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.

I have not found any persuasive citations. Would you please examine the provenance of this statement?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein who died in 1955 made this statement. Indeed, it is listed in a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” within the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest ascription to Einstein located by QI appeared in 1982 in “Forbes” magazine which reported that the line was spoken by the popular comedian Mort Sahl during a performance. Perhaps Sahl concocted the linkage to the famous scientist to heighten the humor. See the detailed citation listed further below.

The earliest solid match to the statement known to QI occurred in the play “Cynara” by H. M. Harwood and R. Gore-Browne which was performed in London in 1930. The drama moved to Broadway in 1931, and it was included in a compilation of “The Best Plays of 1931-32”. The character John Tring offered the following insight about marriage. The phrasing differed from the quotation under examination, but the underlying idea was the same. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

TRING—Exactly! That’s the trouble about marriage. Women always hope it’s going to change the husband. Men always hope it won’t change their wives—and both are disappointed! (He gets up.) Never if you can help it be a woman’s first lover—unless, of course, you’ve got the explorer’s temperament.

The play was adapted from the novel “An Imperfect Lover” by R. Gore-Browne, but QI’s search did not detect the quotation within the book.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not By Einstein, Page 482, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1932, The Best Plays of 1931-32 and the Year Book of the Drama in America, Edited by Burns Mantle, Section: Cynara: A Drama in Prologue, Three Acts and an Epilogue by H. M. Harwood (Harold Marsh Harwood) and R. Gore-Browne, (Adapted from novel “An Imperfect Lover” by R. Gore-Browne), Start Page 335, Quote Page 358, Dodd, Mead and Company, New York. (Reprint Edition in 1975: Arno Press: A New York Times Company, New York) (Verified with hard copy)

On Some Great and Glorious Day the Plain Folks of the Land Will Reach Their Heart’s Desire at Last . . .

H. L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: For many years H. L. Mencken was an influential and acerbic commentator with a national reputation in the U.S. His sharp witted and ferocious columns appeared in either “The Evening Sun” or “The Sun” of Baltimore, Maryland. Mencken’s low opinion of the general populace led him to predict that one day a “downright moron” would be elected President of the United States. This prophecy has periodically been highlighted by individuals who supported losing candidates. Would you please locate a precise citation?

Quote Investigator: On July 26, 1920 H. L. Mencken published a column in “The Evening Sun” of Baltimore titled “Bayard vs. Lionheart”. In the final two paragraphs of his essay Mencken elaborated on his misgivings about the democratic process: 1

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by the force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

“The Evening Sun” has not yet been digitized, and QI wholeheartedly thanks the librarians of the “Enoch Pratt Free Library” who accessed Mencken’s article on microfilm.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1920 July 26, The Evening Sun (Baltimore Evening Sun), Bayard vs. Lionheart, Quote Page 8, Column 5, Baltimore, Maryland. (Verified with scans; thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library)

Work is the Curse of the Drinking Classes

Oscar Wilde? Frank Harris? Irish Barrister? Wilton Lackaye? Margaret Waters? Well-Known Young Clubman? Gustav Traub? Mike Romanoff? Samuel George Blythe? Arthur M. Binstead? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The scintillating conversationalist Oscar Wilde enjoyed modifying dusty platitudes to construct comical alternatives. For example, he permuted an old complaint about the working class to yield:

Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

Oddly, I have not found a citation for this statement dated before the death of Wilde. Would you please examine the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in November 1900. The earliest published instance of this quip located by QI occurred in the caption of a newspaper cartoon in 1902. The details are given further below.

Yet there is good evidence that Oscar Wilde did craft this statement. In 1916 the writer and outsized personality Frank Harris who was a friend of Wilde’s published a biography titled “Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions”. Harris described a party he threw during which Wilde delivered the remark. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A little later I gave a dinner at the Savoy and asked him to come. He was delightful, his vivacious gaiety as exhilarating as wine. But he was more like a Roman Emperor than ever: he had grown fat: he ate and drank too much; not that he was intoxicated, but he became flushed, and in spite of his gay and genial talk he affected me a little unpleasantly; he was gross and puffed up. But he gave one or two splendid snapshots of actors and their egregious vanity. It seemed to him a great pity that actors should be taught to read and write: they should learn their pieces from the lips of the poet.

“Just as work is the curse of the drinking classes of this country,” he said laughing, “so education is the curse of the acting classes.”

Yet even when making fun of the mummers there was a new tone in him of arrogance and disdain. He used always to be genial and kindly even to those he laughed at; now he was openly contemptuous.

The accuracy of the above ascription to Wilde depends on the veracity of Harris who was a direct witness. Harris explained the long delay before the appearance of his book in the introduction. Wilde was a controversial figure and Harris’s sympathetic work condemned the harshness of Wilde’s punishment. Harris waited more than ten years hoping that someone else would write a comparable book. He acted when he finally felt compelled to present his own viewpoint.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1916, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions by Frank Harris, Volume 1, Quote Page 166, Brentano’s, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Baby: An Alimentary Canal with a Loud Voice at One End and No Responsibility at the Other

Elizabeth I. Adamson? Ronald Knox? Ronald Reagan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a definition that refers to the two ends of a baby. One end consists of a loud voice or a big appetite, and the other end is given a comical description. Are you familiar with this joke? Would you please research its origin?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance located by QI appeared in the July 1937 issue of “The Reader’s Digest”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

BABY: An alimentary canal with a loud voice at one end and no responsibility at the other.—Elizabeth I. Adamson

QI does not have any biographical information for Adamson, but based on current evidence she was the most likely creator of this quip. In 1965 future president Ronald Reagan extended the metaphorical framework to construct a barb aimed at government.

Details are given below together with selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1937 July, Reader’s Digest, Volume 31, Patter, Quote Page 101, Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified using hardcopy)