Tag Archives: Robert Orben

If You Think Education Is Expensive, Try Ignorance

Derek Bok? Ann Landers? Char Meyers? Robert Orben? John Lubbock? P. B. de La Bruère? Rev. S. C. Morris? Charles Duncan Mclver? Albert Einstein? Barack Obama? Anonymous?

library07Dear Quote Investigator: The cost of attending college has been increasing more rapidly than the rate of inflation for decades. Students and parents have been struggling with bills and loan payments. A popular adage offers a provocative perspective:

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

These words have been attributed to Derek Bok who was a President of Harvard University and to Ann Landers who was a popular syndicated advice columnist. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest exact match known to QI appeared in an advertisement for a realty company in June 1974. A real estate agent named Char Meyers was featured in the ad which was published in a Madison, Wisconsin newspaper. The adage was displayed as an epigraph at the top of the ad, and it was not really connected to the content. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

NEVER PAINT AGAIN Newly listed west 3 bedroom, family room, all aluminum exterior. Beautifully wooded rear yard.

QI believes that Char Meyers was an unlikely candidate for authorship of the saying. But a set of citations that appeared shortly afterward in July 1974 did point to a likely contender. A newspaper supplement called “Family Weekly” was incorporated into the Saturday issues of multiple papers around the U.S.A. The supplement included a column titled “Quips & Quotes” which contained miscellaneous sayings. The adage was printed in the column and credited Robert Orben: 2 3

Prices are increasing so fast that you need that “double-your-money-back guarantee” just to break even. —Anna Herbert

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. —Robert Orben

Orben was a very successful comedy writer who supplied jokes to others via books and a newsletter. He also wrote material contractually for other comedians, business executives and politicians. QI conjectures that Orben constructed this precise formulation; however, the remark was not particularly novel.

A variety of statements using the same keywords and expressing the same idea have been circulating since the early 1900s. For example, in 1902 an advertisement for a Conservatory of Music in Ottumwa, Iowa contained the following: 4

“Education is expensive but ignorance is more so.”

The saying was linked to Derek Bok because Ann Landers published a column in 1978 that credited him. However, in 1998 she wrote a follow-up column stating that Bok had contacted her directly and disclaimed authorship of the quotation. Detailed citations are given further below.

Great thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who examined this topic and located key citations. QI and Popik shared research results.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1974 June 18, Capital Times, Section: Classified Advertisements, (Advertisement for Parkwood Realty). On the House by Char Meyers, Quote Page 1, Column 5, Madison, Wisconsin. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1974 July 28, The Gallup Independent, Section: Family Weekly (Newspaper Supplement), Quips & Quotes, Quote Page 15, Column 2, Gallup, New Mexico. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1974 July 28, The Progress, Section: Family Weekly (Newspaper Supplement), Quips & Quotes, Quote Page 19, Column 2, Clearfield, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1902 August 28, Ottumwa Semi-Weekly Courier, (Advertisement for the Ottumwa Conservatory of Music), Quote Page 8, Column 6, Ottumwa, Iowa. (Chronicling America) link

Nobody Will Ever Win the Battle of the Sexes. There’s Too Much Fraternizing with the Enemy

Henry Kissinger? M. Z. Remsburg? James Thurber? Ann Landers? Robert Orben? Anonymous?

together09Dear Quote Investigator: There is a joke about the uneasy relationship between the sexes that has been told for decades:

Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.

In the 1970s this statement was attributed to the U.S. foreign policy specialist Henry Kissinger, but I suspect that the quip existed before the 1970s. Would you explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: A version of this jest was circulating by the 1940s. In February 1944 a newspaper in Lubbock, Texas printed the following as a short filler item. No specific attribution or acknowledgement was given: 1

“One war that will never be won by either side is the continual war between the sexes,” declares a columnist. That’s true, mainly because there is so much fraternizing with the enemy on the part of both sides.

Only part of the text was placed between quotation marks because there were two participants in the joke. The quoted words of the columnist were followed by the humorous reaction of a second unidentified person. The common modern versions of the joke simplify the presentation so that there is only one speaker.

In August 1945 a newspaper in Covina, California printed an instance of the quip and named an editor as the source, but QI suspects that the editor was simply relaying a pre-existing joke. The semantically redundant phrase “on the part of both sides” in the 1944 version has been omitted from most later instances: 2

FRATERNIZATION AGAIN

According to word from editor M. Z. Remsburg of the Vista Press, the reason the war between the sexes will never be ended is that there is too much fraternizing with the enemy!

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1944 February 16, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, (Short untitled item), Quote Page 8, Column 1, Lubbock, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1945 August 24, Covina Argus-Citizen, ‘Round the State by Leone Baxter, Quote Page 9, Column 6, Covina, California. (Newspaper Archive)

I’ve Never Been Hired by a Poor Person

Robert Orben? Milton Berle? Ronald Reagan? Phil Gramm? Michael Dolan? Roger Ross? Sean Hannity? Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Quote Investigator: Years ago I heard a quotation that was credited to Ronald Reagan about the creation of jobs. I do not remember the precise wording, but here are two versions that express the gist of the quote:

No poor man ever gave me a job.

Have you ever been hired by a poor person?

Recently, I’ve seen the saying credited to former Senator Phil Gramm. Can you determine who made this remark?

Quote Investigator: The top etymological researcher Barry Popik has explored this saying, and the results given here build on his valuable work.

The earliest evidence for this expression located by QI was published in a 1977 profile of a professional comedy writer named Robert Orben. The New York Times article noted that Orben supplied humorous material to business men and women who were planning to deliver speeches. The story listed some of lines suggested by Orben. For example, here is an introductory remark and a retort aimed at a heckler [ORNY]:

The program director really wasn’t sure how I’d do tonight. I asked him the capacity of this room. He said, ‘It sleeps 300’.

Sir, to have an open mind doesn’t mean you have to have an open mouth.

The article also contained a statement similar to the one under investigation:

Don’t knock the rich. When was the last time you were hired by somebody poor?

In March 1978 the same quip appeared in a newspaper advertisement for a shop called “Ross Jewelers” of Nashua, New Hampshire.

In December 1981 a South Carolina newspaper column titled “The Stroller” printed a version of the joke [SRSC]:

Here’s something to think about: Don’t knock the rich. When were you ever hired by a poor person?

In 1989 the famous comedian Milton Berle published a collection of his jokes that included a modified version of the quip. The second half was changed to an exclamation instead of a rhetorical question [MBPJ]:

I don’t knock the rich. I never got a job from a poor person!

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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