Category Archives: Bill Vaughan

Youth Is When You’re Allowed to Stay Up Late on New Year’s Eve. Middle Age Is When You’re Forced To

Bill Vaughan? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: I once read a humorous comment about New Year’s Eve that contrasted the experiences of the young and the middle aged. The young were joyful because they were “allowed to stay up late” while the older people held a different opinion. Are you familiar with this joke and its origin?

Quote Investigator: A long running syndicated newspaper column in the U.S. presented the remarks of a fictional politician named ‘Senator Soaper’. The author of the column changed during the decades it was published. The following quip appeared in 1958 and was written by Bill Vaughan whose full name was William Edward Vaughan: 1

Senator Soaper Says …
Youth is when you are allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. Middle age is when you are forced to.

Senator Soaper’s remark was printed in multiple newspapers in 1958. In 1959 the same statement was printed in an Ohio newspaper together with miscellaneous comical items under the title “As We Were Saying”. However, no attribution was given. 2

Here is one additional selected citation.

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  1. 1958 December 31, Oregonian, “Senator Soaper Says …”, (Column of Bill Vaughan), Quote Page 10, Column 2, Portland, Oregon. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1959 January 10, Findlay Republican Courier, As We Were Saying, Quote Page 14, Column 1, Findlay, Ohio. (NewspaperArchive)

To Err is Human; To Really Foul Things Up Requires a Computer

Paul Ehrlich? Alexander Pope? Senator Soaper? Bill Vaughan? Anonymous?

compute07Dear Quote Investigator: I am reading your blog and that shows I am not a Luddite, but computers can be very exasperating. One of my favorite quotations on this topic is the following:

To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer.

When I tried to find out who said this originally I came across the name of biologist Paul Ehrlich. He wrote an influential and controversial book “The Population Bomb” in 1968. But I cannot figure out where or when Ehrlich said this quotation. Would you delve into this and determine the specifics? I suspect that it is another anonymously authored witty remark.

Quote Investigator: The popularity of this funny maxim is indicated by its appearance in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations [OEC], the Yale Book of Quotations [YEC], and the Columbia Dictionary of Quotations [CEC]. In each of these three references the adage is presented as anonymous. The Yale Book of Quotations gives the earliest cite dated October 3, 1969.

Paul Ehrlich is credited with the quote in some places, e.g., in a listing of “101 Great Computer Programming Quotes” [HGC]. But the earliest examples of the phrase attributed to Ehrlich were published many years after the words originally appeared in print.

A comical personage is credited with the maxim in the first cite discovered by QI which is dated April 2, 1969. ‘Senator Soaper’ was the fictional alter ego of the newspaper columnist Bill Vaughan, and the words initially appeared under that name in a Virginia paper [FVEC]:

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

Current evidence suggests that William E. Vaughan crafted this phrase though it is possible he was simply repeating it. Here are selected citations in chronological order starting with the poet Alexander Pope.

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