People Ask You for Criticism, But They Only Want Praise

W. Somerset Maugham? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Often a request for criticism is really an appeal for approval or accolades. English playwright and novelist W. Somerset Maugham made a similar observation. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1915 W. Somerset Maugham published the popular novel “Of Human Bondage”. The main character Philip Carey wished to be a successful painter, and he asked another artist, Mr. Clutton, to evaluate his work, but Clutton declined with the following explanation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise. Besides, what’s the good of criticism? What does it matter if your picture is good or bad?”

“It matters to me.”

Clutton elaborated on his reasoning for not examining Carey’s painting:

“No. The only reason that one paints is that one can’t help it. It’s a function like any of the other functions of the body, only comparatively few people have got it. One paints for oneself: otherwise one would commit suicide.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading People Ask You for Criticism, But They Only Want Praise

Notes:

  1. 1915, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, Chapter 50, Quote Page 267, The Sun Dial Press, Garden City, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

I Love Criticism as Long as It Is Unqualified Praise

Noel Coward? Frank Sinatra? Margaret McManus? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular English playwright Noel Coward apparently once suggested that he welcomed any amount of criticism as long as it was unqualified praise. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In January 1956 Noel Coward was interviewed by journalist Margaret McManus who asked him about his recent appearance in Las Vegas. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“It was a great success, so naturally I loved it,” he said. “If I hadn’t been a success I’d probably have blamed it on the scenery. I’d have said, ‘I hate it here.’”
“I always say I love criticism as long as it is unqualified praise.”

In March 1957 a columnist writing in “The Londonderry Sentinel” of Northern Ireland credited Coward with a different phrasing of the quip. QI believes he employed both versions: 2

Said Noel Coward: “I can take any amount of criticism as long as it is unqualified praise.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Love Criticism as Long as It Is Unqualified Praise

Notes:

  1. 1956 January 8, The Des Moines Register, Section: Iowa TV Magazine, Noel Coward a ‘Blithe Spirit’–in Sunny Jamaica (Continuation title: ‘I Love Criticism, Just So It’s Unqualified Praise’) by Margaret McManus (Exclusive Dispatch to The Iowa TV Magazine), Start Page 1, Quote Page 5, Column 3 and 4, Des Moines, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1957 March 2, The Londonderry Sentinel, Limelight: The transformation of Sally Ann Howes by Thomas Wiseman, Quote Page 7, Column 5, Londonderry, Northern Ireland. (British Newspaper Archive)

The New York Review of Each Other’s Books

Alan Levy? Ron Wellburn? Richard Hofstadter? Christopher Lehmann-Haupt? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A clique can form around a cultural organization or periodical and transform it into an insular mutual admiration society. Detractors of “The New York Review of Books” have given the journal the following nickname:

The New York Review of Each Other’s Books

Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: “The New York Review of Books” published its first issue in 1963. The earliest match located by QI appeared in a 1968 book about merchandising culture titled “The Culture Vultures; or, Whatever Became of the Emperor’s New Clothes?” by Alan Levy. Boldface added to excerpt by QI: 1

The frighteningly articulate house organ of a self-promoting Manhattan coterie, it could easily be renamed the New York Review of Each Other’s Books. And like many people who have chosen to dwell intimately with the printed word, the New York Review clique maintains a love-hate relationship with the art it serves. Hate often seems to be getting the better of it.

Based on the above citation QI tentatively credits Alan Levy with coining this barbed expression.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The New York Review of Each Other’s Books

Notes:

  1. 1968, The Culture Vultures; Or, Whatever Became of the Emperor’s New Clothes? by Alan Levy, Part 2: The Careerists, Chapter 5: Corruption of the Instinct: The Critics, Quote Page 184, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans)

Where Dreams Are Born, and Time Is Never Planned

James Matthew Barrie? Peter Pan? Betty Comden? Adolph Green? Mary Martin? Apocryphal

Dear Quote Investigator: James Matthew Barrie created the famous fictional character Peter Pan. Barrie has received credit for the following statement:

So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned.

This sentiment fits the world of Peter Pan, but I have been unable to find it in Barrie’s oeuvre. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: QI conjectures that these words were derived from the lyrics of the song “Never Never Land” written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green for the 1954 Broadway musical version of “Peter Pan”. The first two lines of the song were: 1

I know a place where dreams are born,
And time is never planned.

Comden and Green were inspired by Barrie’s work, but they crafted the song lyrics. Barrie has received credit for other modified lines. For example, the line “Just think of happy things” has been attributed to Barrie, but the song contains:

Just think of lovely things,
And your heart will fly on wings,

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Where Dreams Are Born, and Time Is Never Planned

Notes:

  1. 2002, Broadway Volume II: Complete Lyrics for 200 Songs From 116 Musicals, Series: The Lyric Library, Song: Never Never Land, Quote Page 144, Published by Hal Leonard. (Verified with scans)

Man’s Desires Can Be Developed So That They Will Greatly Overshadow His Needs

Paul M. Mazur? Adam Curtis? Al Gore? Robert S. Lynd? Helen Merrell Lynd? Mark Frauenfelder? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Influential societal observers have long denounced cultures that emphasize consumption. The ever growing fabrication and usage of products forces individuals to scramble on a hedonic treadmill that is ultimately unsatisfying and pointless according to critics. The misguided pursuit of materialism has been highlighted by a supposed remark from a proponent of consumer culture:

We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to verify this quotation which is usually attributed to Paul M. Mazur who was a leading investment banker at the firm of Lehman Brothers in New York. I have become skeptical. Is this quotation genuine? Would you please explore this topic.

Quote Investigator: Paul M. Mazur wrote a thematically similar passage in the 1928 book “American Prosperity: Its Causes and Consequences”, but there was a crucial difference. The quotation above was formulated as advocacy. Yet, Mazur was describing changes that he thought had already occurred in the U.S. economy by 1914. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Any community that lives on staples has relatively few wants. The community that can be trained to desire change, to want new things even before the old have been entirely consumed, yields a market to be measured more by desires than by needs. And man’s desires can be developed so that they will greatly overshadow his needs.

Mazur believed that retailers had already moved away from simple low-cost units. Instead, companies employed novelty and changing fashion to make items appear obsolete and to encourage additional purchases:

Standardization became increasingly subordinate to style; uniformity of production was subordinated to style appeal. The factors necessary for sales began to impose themselves in this manner upon manufacturing.

This condition was fairly well developed by 1914. It prepared the stage upon which the war trod during those eventful years. And the effect upon the economic drama was stupendous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Man’s Desires Can Be Developed So That They Will Greatly Overshadow His Needs

Notes:

  1. 1928, American Prosperity: Its Causes and Consequences by Paul M. Mazur, Chapter 3: Evolution of Distribution, Quote Page 24 and 25, The Viking Press, New York. (Verified with scans)

If You Torture the Data Long Enough, It Will Confess

Ronald Coase? Irving John Good? Charles D. Hendrix? Robert W. Flower? Bulent Gultekin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Collecting and interpreting data is a delicate process that is subject to conscious and unconscious biases. The selective choice of inputs and statistical tests can yield results that are misleading. Here are two versions of a comical metaphorical adage:

  • If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.
  • If you torture the data enough, nature will always confess.

Strictly speaking these statements are ambiguous. Each interpretation hinges on whether the information in the coerced confession is correct or erroneous. The usual interpretations presume that the information extracted under duress is incorrect. Thus, torturing the data is counterproductive and not revelatory.

Both of these sayings have been attributed to Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in an address delivered on April 22, 1971 by British mathematician I. J. Good (Irving John Good) at a meeting of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics. Good’s lecture was printed in “The American Statistician” in June 1972. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

As Ronald Coase says “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.” When data is tortured, it is useful when possible to reserve some of the sample for testing a hypothesis after it is formulated because there is not yet any satisfactory logic for using the whole of the sample.

Interestingly, Coase stated that he employed a different phrasing for the saying as shown in the citations presented further below dated August 1977 and 1982.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Torture the Data Long Enough, It Will Confess

Notes:

  1. 1972 June, The American Statistician, Volume 26, Number 3, Statistics and Today’s Problems by I. J. Good, (Invited lecture at the 129th Meeting of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics on April 22, 1971), Start Page 11, Quote Page 14, Taylor & Francis, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England. (JSTOR) link

Nothing But Good Should Be Said of the Dead — He’s Dead. Good

Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley? Bette Davis? Joan Crawford? Craig Russell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Two stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age were combative rivals. When one died the other said something like the following:

I was taught that you shouldn’t speak of the dead unless you have something good to say. Therefore, I will only say this, ‘She’s dead at last, good!’

This quip has been attributed to Bette Davis who supposedly was commenting on the demise of Joan Crawford. Yet, the joke may have been in circulation earlier. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in June 1971. The comedian Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley received credit for a version of the joke in the “Philadelphia Daily News” of Pennsylvania. A columnist stated that Mabley was in town to tape a syndicated television talk show. She aimed the barb at her former husband: 1

Miss Mabley thinks people should marry only for love. She says her father forced her to marry an older man when she was only a child. “It was a miserable marriage,” she said. “But he’s dead, thank goodness. I was always taught never to say anything about the dead unless it’s good. He’s dead. Good!”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Nothing But Good Should Be Said of the Dead — He’s Dead. Good

Notes:

  1. 1971 June 17, Philadelphia Daily News, Cherry Hill scene of ‘Tony rewards’ by Charles Petzold, Quote Page 29, Column 5, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

What Can Be Explained Is Not Poetry

William Butler Yeats? John Butler Yeats? Carl Sandburg? Ezra Pound? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A reader who requests clarification for a poem that is opaque is sometimes met with a rejoinder of this type: If the lines can be explained then the work is not poetry.

This notion has been attributed to the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet William Butler Yeats and the U.S. poet and biographer Carl Sandburg. Interestingly, it has also been credited to John Butler Yeats, a painter who was the father of W. B. Yeats. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1917 a collection titled “Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats” was published in Ireland. The book’s editor, Ezra Pound, stated that he selected the excerpts from notes sent by J. B. Yeats to his son W. B. Yeats between 1911 and 1916. The following remark about poetry appeared in a message dated September 6, 1915. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

I take up some lines of poetry and say I will explain them and make the effort, always to end in giving it up. No explanation is possible. There is nothing to be done except to read out with friendliest voice the lines I started to make plain. What can be explained is not poetry. It is when the powers of explanation desert him that the poet writes verse.

Thus, John Butler Yeats deserves credit for this quotation and not William Butler Yeats. Two mechanisms help to explain this misattribution:

(1) Attributions sometimes shift between people with similar names.

(2) Attributions sometimes shift from a person of lower prominence to a person of greater prominence.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading What Can Be Explained Is Not Poetry

Notes:

  1. 1917, Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats, Selected by Ezra Pound, Note: Four hundred copies of this book have been printed, Letter date: September 6, 1915, Quote Page 15, Cuala Press, Churchtown, Dundrum, Ireland. (Verified with scans from archive.org) link

I Thought the Brain Was the Most Important Organ Until I Realized What Was Telling Me That

Emo Philips? George Carlin? Richard Saul Wurman? Dale Dauten? Daniel C. Dennett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A prominent philosopher of consciousness and the brain included a hilarious joke in a recent book. Here are three versions:

I used to think that the human brain was the most fascinating part of the body. Then I realized, ‘look what’s telling me that’.

I used to think that my brain was the most important organ in my body, but then I thought: look who’s telling me that.

I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.

This quip has been attributed to the U.S. stand-up comedians Emo Philips and George Carlin. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a comedy special starring Emo Philips broadcast in 1987 on the cable channel Home Box Office (HBO). Philips told an anecdote during which he was arrested and sent to a psychiatrist for evaluation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Do you like psychology? I don’t. I used to think that the human brain was the most fascinating part of the body. Then I realized, whoa, ‘look what’s telling me that’.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Thought the Brain Was the Most Important Organ Until I Realized What Was Telling Me That

Notes:

  1. YouTube video, Title: Emo Phillips HBO Comedy Special 1987, (“Philips” is misspelled as “Phillips” in the title), Uploaded on January 1, 2020, Uploaded by: Groovy Flicks, (Quotation starts at 35 minutes 30 seconds of 51 minutes 47 seconds), Description: Comedy special starring Emo Philips broadcast in 1987 on Home Box Office cable network), (Accessed on youtube.com on January 10, 2021)

There Is Nothing Quite So Tragic as a Young Cynic, Because It Means the Person Has Gone From Knowing Nothing To Believing Nothing

Maya Angelou? Bill Moyers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent memoirist and poet Maya Angelou suffered in her early life, but she did not become bitter. She believed that young cynics were tragic figures. Would you please help me to find her comment on this topic?

Quote Investigator: This article mentions rape, murder, and trauma-induced muteness.

In 1988 journalist Bill Moyers produced a documentary about “Facing Evil”. Maya Angelou discussed events from her childhood. She experienced sexual abuse and responded by revealing the identity of her abuser who was jailed and later killed. These harrowing incidents caused her to become mute for almost five years.

While presenting her account within the documentary, Angelou employed the term “sordida” which means dirty, soiled, sordid. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

So out of this evil, which was a dire kind of evil, because rape on the body of a young person more often than not introduces cynicism, and there is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing. In my case I was saved in that muteness, you see, in the sordida, I was saved. And I was able to draw from human thought, human disappointments and triumphs, enough to triumph myself.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is Nothing Quite So Tragic as a Young Cynic, Because It Means the Person Has Gone From Knowing Nothing To Believing Nothing

Notes:

  1. Website: TV Archive at Internet Archive, Television show: Moyers Company on PBS, Interview participant: Maya Angelou, Date on website: September 5, 2014 (Rebroadcast of 1988 documentary), Upload date: September 6, 2014, Website description: Television programs stored at Internet Archive. (Accessed archive.org on January 7, 2021) link