Tag Archives: Lao Tzu

Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime

Chinese Proverb? Maimonides? Lao-Tzu? Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie? Italian Adage? Native American Saying? Mao Zedong?

fishing08Dear Quote Investigator: The following piece of proverbial wisdom is remarkably astute:

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

The origin of this thought is highly contested. I have seen claims that that the adage is Chinese, Native American, Italian, Indian, or Biblical. Sometimes it is linked to Lao-Tzu, Maimonides, or Mao Zedong. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The general principle of alleviating poverty by facilitating self-sufficiency has a long history. The 12th-century philosopher Maimonides wrote about eight degrees in the duty of charity. In 1826 an explication of the eighth degree was published in a journal called “The Religious Intelligencer”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Lastly, the eighth and the most meritorious of all, is to anticipate charity by preventing poverty, namely, to assist the reduced brother, either by a considerable gift or loan of money, or by teaching him a trade, or by putting him in the way of business, so that he may earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding up his hand for charity. . .

The passage above provided a conceptual match, but it did not mention the vivid task of fishing as an illustrative and archetypal endeavor. In 1885 a statement that did refer to fishing and partially matched the modern adage appeared in the novel “Mrs. Dymond” by the popular novelist Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie. As the daughter of the prominent writer William Makepeace Thackeray she was continuing the family tradition of a life of letters. The second half of Ritchie’s statement did not directly refer to consuming fish: 2

‘He certainly doesn’t practise his precepts, but I suppose the Patron meant that if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn. But these very elementary principles are apt to clash with the leisure of the cultivated classes.’

The above passage from Ritchie achieved wide dissemination because the novel was serialized in the leading periodicals “Macmillan’s Magazine” of London and “Littell’s Living Age” of Boston, Massachusetts in 1885. 3 4 This important citation in “Mrs. Dymond” was mentioned by top researcher Ralph Keyes in the reference work “The Quote Verifier”. 5

The adage continued to evolve for decades. In 1911 an instance used the following phrase in the second half: “he will be richer all his life”. Finally, in 1961 an instance employed the phrase “that will feed him for a lifetime” which was similar to modern versions.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1826 March 25, The Religious Intelligencer, Volume 10, Number 43, Ladder of Benevolence, Quote Page 681, Column 1, Published by Nathan Whiting, New Haven, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1885, Mrs. Dymond by Miss Thackeray (Mrs. Richmond Ritchie) aka Anne Isabella Ritchie, Quote Page 342, Published by Smith, Elder, & Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1885 August, Macmillan’s Magazine, Mrs. Dymond, (Serialized version of the novel), Start Page 241, Quote Page 246, Volume 52, Macmillan and Co, London and New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1885 September 5, Littell’s Living Age, Mrs. Dymond by Mrs Ritchie (Serialized with acknowledgement to Macmillan’s Magazine), Start Page 602, Quote Page 606, Published by Littell & Co., Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  5. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 65, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)

“To Be Is To Do” “To Do Is To Be” “Do Be Do Be Do”

Kurt Vonnegut? Frank Sinatra? Jean-Paul Sartre? Dale Carnegie? Bud Crew? Socrates? Anonymous?

socrates08Dear Quote Investigator: The 1982 novel “Deadeye Dick” by the popular author Kurt Vonnegut mentioned the following piece of graffiti:

“To be is to do”—Socrates.
“To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.

I think this tripartite list first appeared in bathroom stalls in the 1960s or 1970s, but sometimes different authors were specified. Could you explore the history of this humorous scrawled message?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published description located by QI of a graffito that conformed to this template appeared in the “Dallas Morning News” of Dallas, Texas in January 1968. According to the columnist Paul Crume the graffito was created in an incremental process by three different people. The initiator was a local businessman in Richardson, Texas: 1

Bud Crew says that a month ago he wrote this on the warehouse wall at Bud’s Tool Cribs in Richardson: “‘The way to do is to be.’—Leo-tzu, Chinese philosopher.”

A few days later, a salesman wrote under that: “‘The way to be is to do.’—Dale Carnegie,”

Recently, says Crew, an anonymous sage has added still another axiom: “‘Do be, do be, do.’ — Frank Sinatra.”

The phrase ascribed to the famous vocalist Sinatra was derived from his version of the song “Strangers in the Night” which was a number-one hit in 1966. Near the end of the track Sinatra sang a sequence of nonsense syllables that could be transcribed as “do de do be do” or “do be do be do”. This distinctive and memorable stylization has sometimes been parodied. 2

In July 1968 this graffito tale was included in a syndicated series called “Weekend Chuckles” from General Features Corporation; hence, it achieved wide dissemination. Some details were omitted, e.g., Bud Crew’s name was not given, but the graffito was nearly identical. The spelling of “Leo-tzu” was changed to “Lao-tse”: 3

One fellow was inspired to write on a warehouse wall: “The way to do is to be.—Lao-tse, Chinese philosopher.”

A few days later, a salesman wrote under that: “The way to be is to do.—Dale Carnegie.”

Recently an anonymous sage has added still another message: “Do be, do be, do.—Frank Sinatra.”

In January 1969 a real-estate agent named Joe Griffith ran an advertisement in a South Carolina newspaper that included the tripartite message. The first two statements in this instance were shortened and simplified. In addition, one of the attributions was switched to Socrates: 4

Joe Griffith Sez:
“TO BE IS TO DO” Dale Carnegie
“TO DO IS TO BE” Socrates
“DO BE DO BE DO” Frank Sinatra

The message continued to evolve over the decades and many philosophers and authors have been substituted into the template including: Dale Carnegie, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, John Stuart Mill, William James, William Shakespeare, and Bertrand Russell. The punchline ascribed to Frank Sinatra, in some form, is usually preserved though a variety of other lines have been added to the joke as shown in the 1990 citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1968 January 29, Dallas Morning News, Paul Crume’s Big D, Quote Page A1, Column 6, Dallas, Texas. (The spelling “Leo-Tzu” is used in the original text instead of the more common “Lao-Tzu”) (GenealogyBank)
  2. YouTube video, Title: Strangers in The Night – Frank Sinatra, Artist: Frank Sinatra, Uploaded on July 6, 2007, Uploaded by: kumpulanvideo, (Quotation starts at 2 minute 23 seconds of 5 minutes 10 seconds) (Accessed on youtube.com on October 18, 2013) link
  3. 1968 July 28, Times-Picayune, Section 2, Weekend Chuckles, (Syndicated by General Features Corp.), Quote Page 3, Column 1, New Orleans, Louisiana, (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1969 January 31, The News and Courier (Charleston News and Courier), (Advertisement for Joe Griffith Inc., Realtor), Quote Page 15B, Column 2, Charleston, South Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

Watch Your Thoughts, They Become Words; Watch Your Words, They Become Actions

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Lao Tzu? Frank Outlaw? Gautama Buddha? Bishop Beckwaith? Father of Margaret Thatcher?

ralphbilo02Dear Quote Investigator: What do the following people have in common: Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, supermarket magnate Frank Outlaw, spiritual teacher Gautama Buddha, and the father of Margaret Thatcher? Each one of these individuals has been credited with versions of the following quote:

Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.

Can you sort out this confusing situation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of a closely matching expression located by QI was published in a Texas newspaper feature called “What They’re Saying” in May 1977. The saying was ascribed to the creator of a successful U.S. supermarket chain called Bi-Lo: 1

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

FRANK OUTLAW
Late President of the Bi-Lo Stores

QI believes that this saying evolved over many decades. One interesting property that is shared between the modern expression and several precursor sayings involves wordplay. Consider five of the key words in the saying: words, actions, thoughts, character, and habits. The initial letters can be arranged to spell the repeated focal term: w, a, t, c, h. This type of wordplay will be discussed further below.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1977 May 18, San Antonio Light, What They’re Saying, Quote Page 7-B (NArch Page 28), Column 4, San Antonio, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)