I Don’t Know, Probably Made My Usual C

Frederick W. Smith? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: During the holidays I often spot FedEx vehicles delivering packages. While the business is very successful today it faced considerable skepticism initially. According to company legend the founder Frederick W. Smith described his plans for creating the company in a paper when he was an undergraduate, but the professor who evaluated the idea deemed it infeasible and gave him a low grade. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 2004 a journalist at “Bloomberg Businessweek” asked Frederick W. Smith about this tale, and Smith expressed uncertainty. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Q: Part of the lore of FedEx is that you wrote a term paper while a grad student at Yale that first explored the idea of an overnight-delivery service — and that you received a C from a skeptical professor. Was that term paper truly the genesis of FedEx?

A: The question is prescient because there wasn’t a single “eureka” moment. The original idea for FedEx came when I wrote a term paper as an undergraduate — not as a graduate student, because I never went to graduate school . . .

That was the paper, and the whole issue about the C on the grade, came from naivete on my part when I was talking to a reporter years and years ago, and he asked what I made. I said, “I don’t know, probably made my usual C.”

The Bloomberg journalist attempted a second time to obtain a more definitive answer:

Q: So did you, or did you not make the infamous C on the term paper?

A: I don’t know. It was so long ago, even when that question was asked 20 years ago, I didn’t know. I’ve tried to correct it many times, and usually when a journalist like you listens to the story and realizes how complex the story is, you realize it would take your whole profile to explain it.

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  1. 2004 September 20, Bloomberg Businessweek, Online Extra: Fred Smith on the Birth of FedEx, Description in article: “Smith recently sat down with BusinessWeek Atlanta Bureau Chief Dean Foust”. (Online Bloomberg Businessweek; accessed bloomberg.com on December 12, 2017) link

In God We Trust; All Others Cash

Pennsylvanian Merchant? New York Merchant? Portland Merchant?

Dear Quote Investigator: Today credit cards are commonplace in the U.S., but in the past many shopkeepers hesitated to extend credit to customers. Occasionally, reluctant businesses displayed a humorous sign:

In God We Trust. All Others Pay Cash

The phrase “In God We Trust” has a long history. Its prominence grew when it appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864. The sign twisted this well-known expression. Would you please examine the history of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in “The Philadelphia Inquirer” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 4, 1877: 1

Dull Times have driven many merchants to the cash system, and they are now ornamenting their stores with mottoes such as: “Pay to-day, trust to-morrow;” “If I trust, I bust;” “In God we trust; all others cash.”

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  1. 1877 April 4, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Gleanings by Late Mails, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

The Player Is Listed As Day-to-Day. Aren’t We all?

Vin Scully? Keith Olbermann? Dan Patrick? Satchel Paige?

Dear Quote Investigator: In the world of competitive sports an injured athlete often is placed on a list indicating that his or her health and readiness will be reevaluated each day. All of us can experience dramatic swings in well-being within twenty-four hours. One philosophical commentator stated:

The player is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?

These words have been attributed to long-time Los Angeles Dodgers sportscaster Vin Scully, ESPN SportsCenter personality Keith Olbermann, and SportsCenter colleague Dan Patrick. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in the “Los Angeles Times” on June 9th, 1991. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Quotebook: Vin Scully, during Friday’s Cub-Dodger game: “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. (Pause.) Aren’t we all?”

June 9th was Sunday; hence, the game occurred on Friday June 7th, 1991. The quotation was also reported in “The Sunday Star-Bulletin & Advertiser” of Honolulu, Hawaii. 2

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  1. 1991 June 9, Los Angeles Times, Morning Briefing by Julie Cart, Quote Page C2, Column 1, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1991 June 9, The Sunday Star-Bulletin & Advertiser (The Honolulu Advertiser), Morning Briefing: Trevino right on course by Advertiser News Services, Quote Page C3, Column 6, Honolulu, Hawaii. (Newspapers_com)

If Matches Had Been Invented After Lighters They’d Be the Sensation of the Twentieth Century

George S. Kaufman? Ray Bradbury? Charles Norris? Bennett Cerf? Malcolm Bradbury?

Dear Quote Investigator: A cigarette lighter is an impressive invention, but in some ways it is inferior to a simple match that is ignited by friction. A lighter requires fuel and a spark source; it can malfunction in myriad ways. The following point has been attributed to the prominent playwright George S. Kaufman and to the famous science fiction author Ray Bradbury:

If matches had been invented after the cigarette lighter, they would have been hailed as a huge advance.

A new gadget may supersede an old one despite serious drawbacks. Would you please trace the above expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a long-running column called “Trade Winds” in “The Saturday Review”. The columnist, publisher, and anecdote collector Bennett Cerf relayed the following in 1944. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

In Dunhill’s, Charles Norris upset clerks by remarking, “If matches had been invented after your confounded lighters, can you imagine the excitement they would have caused?”

Dunhill sold expensive high-quality lighters. The name Charles Norris was ambiguous. It might have referred to the popular novelist Charles Gilman Norris.

Interestingly, the invention chronologies of the lighter and the match are complex because both devices required modifications and refinements to achieve practicality. Their developments overlapped.

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  1. 1944 July 1, The Saturday Review, Trade Winds by Bennett Cerf, Section: The Literary Scene, Start Page 16, Quote Page 16, Column 2, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

No Stone Unturned. No Tern Unstoned. No Stern Untoned

Ogden Nash? James Nelson Gowanloch? Frank Colby? Arthur Knight? Alfred Hitchcock? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular creator of light verse Ogden Nash once crafted a poem that playfully altered a common phrase describing a thorough search: “no stone unturned”. The comical transformation produced “no tern unstoned” and “no stern untoned”. Did Nash originate these two phrases?

Quote Investigator: In 1952 Ogden Nash published “The Private Dining Room and Other New Verses” which included a poem titled “Everybody’s Mind To Me a Kingdom Is or A Great Big Wonderful World It’s”. The following lines exhibited the wordplay. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This I shall do because I am a conscientious man, when I throw rocks at sea birds I leave no tern unstoned,

I am a meticulous man, and when I portray baboons I leave no stern untoned,

Interestingly, both of these phrases were already in circulation as shown below.

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  1. 1953 (U.S Publication 1952), The Private Dining Room and Other New Verses by Ogden Nash, Poem: Everybody’s Mind To Me a Kingdom Is or A Great Big Wonderful World It’s, Start Page 27, Quote Page 27, J. M. Dent & Sons, London. (Verified with hardcopy)

A Drama Critic Leaves No Turn Unstoned

George Bernard Shaw? Catholic Standard and Times? Ethel Watts Mumford? Oliver Herford? Addison Mizner? Arthur Wimperis? Colette d’Arville? Ogden Nash? Diana Rigg?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous playwright George Bernard Shaw has been credited with a clever bit of wordplay concerning the role of a critic. The quip transforms the following venerable idiom describing a thorough search:

Leave no stone unturned

Shaw’s challenging plays sometimes received poor reviews, and according to legend he once responded:

A dramatic critic is a man who leaves no turn unstoned.

The word “turn” refers to the performance given by an individual on the stage. Would you please help me to trace this comical phrase?

Quote Investigator: George Bernard Shaw received credit for this expression from a journalist in London in 1930. See further below. Yet, no precise source was specified, and the joke had already been circulating for many years.

In 1899 the characters “Hi Tragerdy” and “Lowe Comerdy” exchanged lines about an unsuccessful vaudeville show encountering a hostile audience. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Your experience in vaudeville, then, was not very pleasant?” Hi Tragerdy was saying.
“No,” replied Lowe Comerdy; “at Oshkosh they threw rocks at each one of us as we came on for our acts.”
“Pretty severe way of showing their disapproval.”
“Yes; in their efforts to impress us with their utter disgust they left no turn unstoned.”-Standard and Catholic Times

The above item appeared in multiple periodicals such as “The Dallas Morning News” of Dallas, Texas; “The Daily Northwestern” of Oshkosh, Wisconsin; 2 “The Record-Union” of Sacramento, California; 3 and “Puck” of New York City. 4 The Texas newspaper acknowledged the “Standard and Catholic Times”. The other three acknowledged the “Catholic Standard and Times”.

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  1. 1899 August 17, The Dallas Morning News, Light Things, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Dallas, Texas. (GenealogyBank)
  2. 1899 August 29, The Daily Northwestern (The Oshkosh Northwestern), Short Notes, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1899 September 15, The Record-Union, One Bad Turn Deserves Another (Filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 4, Sacramento, California. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1899 October 11, Puck, Volume 46, Issue 1170, One Bad Turn Deserved Another, Quote Page 15, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)

It Is Difficult to Get a Man to Understand Something When His Salary Depends Upon His Not Understanding It

Upton Sinclair? H. L. Mencken? William Jennings Bryan? C. E. M. Joad? Christopher Matthews? Paul Krugman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Financial incentives can compromise the critical faculties of an individual. Here are four versions of this insight:

  1. Never argue with a man whose job depends on not being convinced.
  2. It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
  3. It can be very hard to understand something, when misunderstanding it is essential to your paycheck.
  4. It is rather pointless to argue with a man whose paycheck depends upon not knowing the right answer.

I think either muckraker Upton Sinclair or curmudgeon H. L. Mencken employed this expression. Would you please trace it?

Quote Investigator: Upton Sinclair ran for Governor of California in the 1930s, and the coverage he received from newspapers was unsympathetic. Yet, in 1934 some California papers published installments from his forthcoming book about the ill-fated campaign titled “I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I used to say to our audiences: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

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  1. 1934 December 11, Oakland Tribune, I, Candidate for Governor and How I Got Licked by Upton Sinclair, Quote Page 19, Column 3, Oakland, California. (Newspapers_com)

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men. . . Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing

Muhammad Ali? Laila Ali? David Beckham? Aimee Lehto? Boyd Coyner? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A forceful statement about overcoming obstacles and adversity begins with the following statement:

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men . . .

These words are usually attributed to the famous U.S. boxer Muhammad Ali, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 2004 the athletic shoe and sportswear company Adidas ran a global advertising campaign. Aspirational sports figures such as Muhammad Ali, Laila Ali (his daughter), and David Beckham were featured in the blitz. The ad copy included the following striking passage which appeared in uppercase text superimposed on pictures of these sports heroes. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1



The header picture for this article shows images of Muhammad Ali and Laila Ali with the superimposed text. Further below is a picture of David Beckham with the text adjacent. Yet, none of these athletes crafted the passage.

The campaign was created for Adidas by the advertising organization TBWA. The manifesto was written by creative professional Aimee Lehto, and the keystone line “Impossible is nothing” was crafted by fellow creative Boyd Coyner. They both deserve credit for the memorable words as indicated in the “Advertising Age” citation presented together with other information below.

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  1. 2004 February 9, Sports Illustrated, Volume 100, Number 5, (Multipage advertisement inserted after the Letters section), Start Page 15, Time Inc., New York. (Verified with microfilm and scans)

When You Hear Hoofbeats Look for Horses Not Zebras

Hilton Read? Theodore E. Woodward? Ele and Walt Dulaney? Harley S. Smyth? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: In medicine the symptoms of a patient are often compatible with a variety of ailments. A skilled diagnostician will use probabilistic reasoning when deciding which ailment is the most likely. Bayesian inference first highlights common maladies instead of rare ones. Here are three versions of a germane saying:

  • When you hear hoofbeats look for horses not zebras.
  • If you hear hoof beats in the distance don’t expect a zebra.
  • When you hear hooves think of horses before zebras.

Admittedly, these adages work best outside of a zoo and on a non-African continent. Would you please examine the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence located by QI appeared in the “Arkansas Gazette” of Little Rock, Arkansas in October 1962. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The father of a young man who was there reports that at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine this week a doctor surrounded himself with about a dozen students and sought to go to the heart of proper diagnostic procedure.

In the end he summed up good diagnosis this way: “When you hear hoofbeats in the night, look for horses — not zebras.”

The passage above occurred in a column called “Our Town” by Charles Allbright, but the participants were unidentified.

An earlier origin for the saying has been suggested. However, the claim is weakened by a multi-decade delay. For example, a variant statement has been ascribed to Dr. Theodore E. Woodward circa 1940s. Evidentiary support appeared in the 1980s. See the citations further below.

This article presents a snapshot of current knowledge, and future researchers may discover material that alters the ascription.

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  1. 1962 October 5, Arkansas Gazette, Section: Sports and Markets, Our Town by Charles Allbright, At First, Anyway, Quote Page 1B, Column 1, Little Rock, Arkansas. (GenealogyBank)

Read In Order To Live

Gustave Flaubert? Edward Bulwer-Lytton? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent French literary figure Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, placed great value on reading. The following statement is often attributed to him:

Read in order to live.

Would you please determine whether these words are apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: In 1867 Gustave Flaubert wrote a letter containing advice to Mademoiselle Leroyer de Chantepie. An English translation appeared in 1895. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

You ask me what books to read. Read Montaigne; read him slowly, steadily. He will calm you. And do not listen to people who talk of his egotism. You will like him, you will see. But do not read, as the children read, to amuse yourself, nor as ambitious people read, to get instruction. No! read to live!

Make an intellectual atmosphere for your soul, which shall be composed of the emanation of all the great minds. Study Shakespeare and Goethe thoroughly. Read translations of the Greek and Roman authors,—Homer, Petronius, Plautus, Apuleius, etc.

The phrasing above differs slightly from the version specified by the questioner; however, some other translations provide an exact match.

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  1. 1895, Gustave Flaubert As Seen in His Works and Correspondence by John Charles Tarver, Letter from Gustave Flaubert to Mademoiselle Leroyer de Chantepie, Date: June 16, 1867, Start Page 232, Quote Page 233 and 234, Archibald Constable and Company, Westminster, U.K. (HathiTrust Full View) link