We Should All Be Concerned About the Future Because We Will Have To Spend the Rest of Our Lives There

Charles F. Kettering? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Charles F. Kettering was a prolific inventor and the head of research for General Motors for many years. During an interview he apparently uttered a line about the future that was simultaneously humorous and insightful:

We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.

I am having trouble finding a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Charles F. Kettering discussed this theme several times, and his remarks were refined over time. In 1938 he addressed a testimonial dinner of the Chamber of Commerce held in Lansing, Michigan. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Tomorrow will be exactly what you think it ought to be and the accomplishments of the future depend entirely on the amount of imagination we have got, the amount of industry we have got in pursuing them, and when we think they are worth while.

“I am not worried about the future at all. In fact I think it is the most wonderful future I ever had. I have got to spend all the rest of my life in that future, and I don’t want to run it down. It is going to be a wonderful place to live, I think,” Mr. Kettering concluded.

In July 1939 Kettering spoke at a joint luncheon held by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Advertising Club. He employed a compact version of the saying based on “I” instead of “we”: 2

“You know,” the speaker remarked with a serious face, “I am interested in the future because I expect to spend the rest of my life in the future.”

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Notes:

  1. 1938 December 2, The State Journal (Lansing State Journal), Technological Lag Blamed By Kettering for Slumps, Start Page 1, Quote Page 11, Column 2 and 3, Lansing, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1939 July 19, Los Angeles Times, Future Hailed by Kettering, Part 2, Quote Page 3, Column 1, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)

I Am Always Doing What I Can’t Do Yet in Order To Learn How To Do It

Pablo Picasso? Vincent van Gogh? Fred Beerstein?

Dear Quote Investigator: You have the following inspirational saying on the website:

Only one who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.

The above remark reminded me of a statement that has been attributed to two very different painters: Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh:

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

Can you tell me which artist really deserves the credit?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in a letter sent in 1885 to painter Anthon van Rappard from Vincent van Gogh who was immersed in the creation of the landmark canvas “The Potato Eaters”. The following English text based on the Dutch original was provided by the Van Gogh Museum. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The work in question, painting the peasants, is such laborious work that the extremely weak would never even embark on it. And I have at least embarked on it and have laid certain foundations, which isn’t exactly the easiest part of the job! And I’ve grasped some solid and useful things in drawing and in painting, more firmly than you think, my dear friend. But I keep on making what I can’t do yet in order to learn to be able to do it.

A somewhat different translation of the key sentence appeared in volume three of “The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh” which was reviewed in “The New York Times” in 1979: 2

His own description of his work is best: “I am always doing what I can’t do yet in order to learn how to do it.” Getting along with people was something else he could not do yet. “Madness,” he wrote, “is salutary in that one becomes less exclusive.” Another way of saying that when the need for human contact is terrible enough, anyone will do.

An instance was attributed to Pablo Picasso by 1995, but his death had occurred more than two decades earlier in 1973.

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Notes:

  1. Website: Van Gogh Museum of Amsterdam: Vincent van Gogh Letters, Letter number: 528, Letter from: Vincent van Gogh, Location: Nuenen, Letter to: Anthon van Rappard, Date: August 18, 1885, Website description: Van Gogh Letters Project database of the Van Gogh Museum. (Accessed vangoghletters.org on March 26, 2017) link
  2. 1979 February 10, New York Times, Books of The Times: Nature Has Spoken to Me by Anatole Broyard, (Book Review of “The Complete Letters of Vincent Van Gogh” in 3 Volumes), Quote Page 17, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)

I Don’t Believe in Astrology; I’m a Sagittarian and We’re Skeptical

Arthur C. Clarke? Bob Thaves? Evan Esar? Jonah Peretti? Paul Heskett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke was once asked whether he believed in astrology, and he gave a facetious self-contradictory answer. I have not been able to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence linking the quip to Clarke known to QI appeared in the April 1997 issue of the U.K. magazine “Astronomy Now”. A letter from Paul Heskett of Somerset, England sympathetically suggested that astrology addressed social needs that were not treated by astronomy. Heskett stated that he heard the remark from Clarke. The variant spelling “sceptical” for “skeptical” was used in the magazine. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This is a point that all of us would do well to bear in mind; as perhaps, is that made by Arthur Clarke when he told me “I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarian and we’re sceptical.”

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Notes:

  1. 1997 April, Astronomy Now, Volume 11, Number 4, Section: Your Views, (Letter from Paul Heskett, Somerset, England), Quote Page 10, Column 1, Intra Press, London. (Now published by Pole Star, Tonbridge, Kent) (Verified with scans; thanks to Space Telescope Science Institute Library, Baltimore, Maryland)

Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results

Albert Einstein? Narcotics Anonymous? Max Nordau? George Bernard Shaw? George A. Kelly? Rita Mae Brown? John Larroquette? Jessie Potter? Werner Erhard?

Dear Quote Investigator: It’s foolish to repeat ineffective actions. One popular formulation presents this point harshly:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

These words are usually credited to the acclaimed genius Albert Einstein. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke the statement above. It is listed within a section called “Misattributed to Einstein” in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a pamphlet printed by the Narcotics Anonymous organization in 1981. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

The price may seem higher for the addict who prostitutes for a fix than it is for the addict who merely lies to a doctor, but ultimately both pay with their lives. Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

QI acquired a PDF of the document with the quotation above on the website amonymifoundation.org back in February 2011. The document stated that is was printed in November 1981, and it had a 1981 copyright notice. The website was subsequently reorganized, but the document remains available via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine database.

Instances of the saying have been employed by other twelve-step organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Misattributed to Einstein, Quote Page 474, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1981, Narcotics Anonymous Pamphlet, (Basic Text Approval Form, Unpublished Literary Work), Chapter Four: How It Works, Step Two, Page 11, Printed November 1981, Copyright 1981, W.S.C.-Literature Sub-Committee of Narcotics Anonymous], World Service Conference of Narcotics Anonymous. (Accessed at amonymifoundation.org on October 3, 2011; website has been restructured; text is available via Internet Archive Wayback Machine Snapshot January 1, 2013 link PDF of pamphlet link

Better to Light a Candle Than to Curse the Darkness

Eleanor Roosevelt? Confucius? Chinese Proverb? William L. Watkinson? E. Pomeroy Cutler? James Keller? Oliver Wendell Holmes? Adlai Stevenson? John F. Kennedy?

Dear Quote Investigator: I love the emphasis on constructive action in the following saying:

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

These words have been attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, Confucius, and several other people. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest appearance located by QI occurred in a 1907 collection titled “The Supreme Conquest and Other Sermons Preached in America” by William L. Watkinson. A sermon titled “The Invincible Strategy” downplayed the value of verbal attacks on undesirable behaviors and championed the importance of performing good works. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

But denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than good works, and proves a popular temptation. Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.

In September 1907 Watkinson’s sermon “The Invincible Strategy” was reprinted in a periodical called “China’s Millions” which was published by a Protestant Christian missionary society based in China. 2

Thus, the expression was disseminated to a group of people in China. Nowadays, the words are sometimes ascribed to Confucius or labeled a Chinese proverb, but QI has not found compelling evidence to support that assignment.

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Notes:

  1. 1907 Copyright, The Supreme Conquest and Other Sermons Preached in America by W. L. Watkinson (William Lonsdale Watkinson), Sermon XIV: The Invincible Strategy, (Romans: xii, 21), Start Page 206, Quote Page 217 and 218, Fleming H. Revell Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1907 September, China’s Millions, The Invincible Strategy by Rev. Wm. L. Watkinson, (Sermon printed by special permission of the Methodist Publishing House from the book “The Supreme Conquest” by W. L. Watkinson), Start Page 135, Quote Page 137, Column 2, Morgan and Scott, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Never Forget To Remember Those That Have Stuck By You

Irish Saying? Levi Furbush? Harold Keating? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following expression was mentioned in the news recently:

Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue,
but never forget to remember those that have stuck by you.

Would you please rapidly conduct an examination of its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest appearance known to QI occurred in “The Gazette and Daily” of York, Pennsylvania on March 3, 1936. The two stanzas below were contained within a three stanza poem titled “Remember” ascribed to Levi Furbush. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Always remember to forget
The things that made you sad.
But never forget to remember
The things that made you glad.

Always remember to forget
The friends that proved untrue,
But never forget to remember
Those that have stuck by you.

The words were labeled an Irish saying in a 1976 book. See further below for details.

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Notes:

  1. 1936 March 3, The Gazette and Daily, Remember, Quote Page 12, Column 1, York, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Winning Isn’t Everything; It’s the Only Thing

Vince Lombardi? Henry ‘Red’ Sanders? Joe Kuharich? Jim Tatum? Murray Warmath? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A controversial uncompromising statement about the importance of winning has been credited to two successful football coaches: Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers and Henry ‘Red’ Sanders of the UCLA Bruins:

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

Would you please determine who crafted this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the “Tallahassee Democrat” of Tallahassee, Florida on February 7, 1950. The saying emerged from a dialog recounted by the columnist Fred Pettijohn. The name “Frnka” looks odd but is correct. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Tulane football Coach Henry Frnka recently asked UCLA mentor Red Sanders. “Winning isn’t everything, is it, Red?” To which Sanders replied. “No, it isn’t everything; it’s just the ONLY thing.”

There is evidence that Vince Lombardi and other coaches employed this saying in subsequent years, but based on current knowledge Sanders achieved victory; he won the motto creation competition.

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Notes:

  1. 1950 February 7, Tallahassee Democrat, In the Pressbox With Fred Pettijohn, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Tallahassee, Florida. (Newspapers_com)

There Is Nothing Noble in Being Superior to Some Other Man. The True Nobility Is in Being Superior to Your Previous Self

Ernest Hemingway? W. L. Sheldon? Hindu Proverb? Khryter? Seneca? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A quotation about “true nobility” attributed to the Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway suggests that one should avoid comparing oneself to others. I haven’t been able to find a solid citation. Would you please trace this aphorism?

Quote Investigator: Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899, and the first strong match known to QI appeared a couple years before in 1897. A collection of “Ethical Addresses” included a piece titled “What to Believe: An Ethical Creed” by W. L. Sheldon who was a Lecturer of the Ethical Society of St. Louis. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Remember that in the struggle of life it is always possible to turn one kind of defeat into another kind of victory. Try it and see!

Remember that if you cannot realize the ends of your being in one way, you can in another. Realize something! You will have to render an account somehow.

Remember that there is nothing noble in being superior to some other man. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.

Remember that you show what you are by the way you talk about people.

Remember that, as you grow older, nature’s tendencies are laying their grip upon you. Nature may be on your side when you are young, but against you later on.

In January 1963 “Playboy” magazine published a controversial posthumous article titled “A Man’s Credo” by Ernest Hemingway which included an instance of the adage. However, Hemingway expert Peter L. Hays believes that the luminary did not write the article.

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

Notes:

  1. 1897 April, Ethical Addresses, Series 4, Number 4, What To Believe: An Ethical Creed by W. L. Sheldon (Lecturer of the Ethical Society of St. Louis), Start Page 57, Quote Page 61, S. Burns Weston, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link

The Bedbug Letter

Letter Recipient: Miles Poindexter? Frank Crane? John Phillips? Hugh Ironpants Johnson?

Dear Quote Investigator: Would you please explore the provenance of a story called “The Bedbug Letter” about a revelatory customer relations blunder?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared on June 12, 1913 in multiple newspapers such as “The Duluth Herald” of Duluth Minnesota 1 and “The Daily Northwestern” of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 2 The columnist Fred C. Kelly recounted the anecdote. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Senator Miles Poindexter had occasion to stop at a leading hotel in a big Western city a time ago, and while there was unable to sleep because of certain vexatious conditions that existed with reference to his bed. He was obliged to toss about all night and act like a man with hives.

When he got back to his office he wrote a scathing letter to the proprietor of the hotel. The proprietor wrote back a three-page letter done in the politest of phraseology. In which he thanked Poindexter for telling him.

“Such a thing has never occurred before in this hotel,” said the proprietor, “and we trust it never will occur again. We are deeply obligated to you for telling us, because if we did not know of such things the trouble might become greatly augmented. While we are astonished that the condition you mention could exist, we are thankful that you told us before any other guest is exposed to similar annoyance.”

Thus the letter went on. But the writer had unintentionally inclosed in the envelope a small scrap of yellow memorandum paper. On it was a line written evidently for the stenographer’s eye and for no other. It said: “Write this man the bedbug letter.”

Variants of this tale have evolved over the years. A 1915 version shifted the locale to a railway sleeping car. A 1927 anecdote published in “The New Yorker” mentioned water bugs instead of bedbugs.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1913 June 12, The Duluth Herald, Statesmen, Real and Near by Fred C. Kelly, Quote Page 10, Column 6, Duluth Minnesota. (Old Fulton)
  2. 1913 June 12, The Daily Northwestern (The Oshkosh Northwestern), Statesmen, Real and Near by Fred C. Kelly, Quote Page 6, Column 4, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)

Knowing Where To Tap

A Fired Machinist? Charles R. Wiers? Hubert N. Alyea? Charles Proteus Steinmetz? Henry Ford? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular anecdote highlights the extraordinary value of properly applying specialized knowledge. A top-expert is hired to fix a gigantic complicated machine suffering from an intractable problem. The adroit practitioner repairs the contraption with a simple action such as a hammer tap or a bolt twist, but the bill for services rendered is quite large. Are you familiar with this tale? Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance located by QI appeared in “The Journal of the Society of Estate Clerks of Works” of Winchester, England in 1908. The bill below was denominated in pounds and shillings. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A MORAL WITH AN ENDING.

He was the best machinist in the district, and it was for that reason that the manager had overlooked his private delinquencies. But at last even his patience was exhausted, and he was told to go, and another man reigned in his stead at the end of the room.

And then the machine, as though in protest, refused to budge an inch, and all the factory hands were idle. Everyone who knew the difference between a machine and a turnip tried his hand at the inert mass of iron. But the machine, metaphorically speaking, laughed at them, and the manager sent for the discharged employee. And he left the comfort of the “Bull” parlour and came.

He looked at the machine for some moments, and talked to it as a man talks to a horse, and then climbed into its vitals and called for a hammer. There was the sound of a “tap-tap-tap,” and in a moment the wheels were spinning, and the man was returning to the “Bull” parlour.

And in the course of time the mill-owner had a bill:–“To mending machine, £10. 10s.” And the owner of the works, being as owners go, a poor man, sent a polite note to the man, in which he asked him if he thought tapping a machine with a hammer worth ten guineas. And then he had another bill:—“To tapping machine with hammer, 10s.; to knowing where to tap it, £10; total, £10. 10s.”

And the man was reinstated in his position, and was so grateful that he turned teetotaller and lived a great and virtuous old age. And the moral is that a little knowledge is worth a deal of labour.

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Notes:

  1. 1908 February 1, The Journal of the Society of Estate Clerks of Works, Volume 21. A Moral with an Ending, Quote Page 30, Printed and Published for the Society of Estate Clerks of Works at the “Hampshire Observer” Printing Works, Winchester, England. (Google Books Full View) link