Take the First Step in Faith. You Don’t Have To See the Whole Staircase, Just Take the First Step

Martin Luther King Jr.? Marian Wright Edelman? George Sweeting? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Famous civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has received credit for a stimulating remark about faith. Here are two versions:

(1) Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

(2) Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

I haven’t been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Martin Luther King Jr. died in 1968. The earliest published evidence located by QI appeared in the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Ohio in 1986. The newspaper interviewed Marian Wright Edelman who was the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Edelman knew King and heard him deliver multiple speeches. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I was impressed by his leadership, but I think I was impressed even more by the fact that he was an adult and he was not afraid to speak about his uncertainties, his fears,” she said.

“He introduced me to the idea of taking one step, even if you can’t see the whole stairway when you start. I think because of that, I have a much greater capacity to accept failure and move on.”

The excerpt above did not include a direct quotation from King. In addition, it used the word “stairway” instead of “staircase”. The 1991 and 1999 citations presented further below which are also based on Edelman’s memory both contain direct quotations.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Take the First Step in Faith. You Don’t Have To See the Whole Staircase, Just Take the First Step

Notes:

  1. 1986 March 30, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Section: Living – Panorama – Part 3, Fighting for kids is a full-time job by Deena Mirow (Staff Writer), Quote Page 21, Column 2 thru 4, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

Sold His Soul for a Pot of Message

Critic: Max Beerbohm? G. K. Chesterton? Hugh Walpole? C. L. Edson? Piccolo? Maurice Francis Egan? John Cournos? Sara Henderson Hay? Theodore Sturgeon? Anonymous?

Person Being Criticized: H. G. Wells? John Galsworthy? William Lafayette Strong? Douglas Goldring? Margaret Halsey?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Bible tells the story of Esau who made a foolishly impulsive decision when he was hungry. His younger brother, Jacob, offered Esau a dish of lentils in exchange for his birthright, and Esau accepted. The phrase “mess of pottage” is used to describe the dish in the Geneva Bible of 1560 and other editions. 1 The following idiom refers to giving up something of great value or importance in return for something of little value:

Sell your birthright for a mess of pottage.

This statement inspired a spoonerism:

Sell your birthright for a pot of message.

This style of wordplay has been used in literary criticism. For example, barbs of the following type have been aimed at writers who employed crudely didactic themes and plots:

  • H. G. Wells sold his soul for a pot of message.
  • John Galsworthy sold his artistic birthright for a pot of message.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The phrase “pot of message” was circulating in the 1800s as discussed further below. The first evidence located by QI of the wordplay employed in the criticism of a significant literary figure occurred by 1919 in “The Sun” newspaper of New York. Novelist and lecturer Hugh Walpole aimed a jibe at science fiction author and social activist H. G. Wells; however, the attribution was anonymous. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

It is this passionate longing for a less muddled world that has reduced the Wells of the most recent period, the Wells who has “sold his soul for a pot of message,” as some one put it the other day. The war only increased and stimulated the propagandist energy that had always been there.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Sold His Soul for a Pot of Message

Notes:

  1. 2005 (2006 online Version), The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Second Edition), Entry: mess of pottage, Oxford University Press. (Oxford Reference Online; accessed April 15, 2019)
  2. 1919 December 28, The Sun, Section: Books and the Book World of The Sun, On Wells–Early, Mediaeval and Modern: A London Letter from Hugh Walpole in America, Quote Page 7, Column 3 and 4, New York, New York. (Newspapers_com)

The Secret of Business Is To Know Something That No One Else Knows

Aristotle Onassis? Lester David? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Aristotle Onassis became one of the wealthiest people in the word as he systematically accumulated the vessels of a massive private shipping fleet. He apparently shared the following nugget of wisdom about his triumphs:

The secret of business is to know something that no one else knows.

A slightly different version of this quotation uses the word “nobody” instead of “no one”. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1964 within the Sunday newspaper supplement “This Week” which published an article by Lester David titled “How money-minded are you?”. David included a brief discussion of Aristotle Onassis. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Of course, other factors in addition to attitudes about money play a major and decisive role in the struggle to acquire wealth. One of the most important was summed up by Aristotle Onassis, whose huge fortune has been estimated at close to a billion dollars. “The secret of business,” he said, “is to know something that no one else knows.”

According to the article, as a teenager Onassis achieved a valuable business insight. Tobacco in Argentina was overpriced because it was being imported from the U.S. and Cuba. Onassis was able to create a tobacco importing business with direct access to the superior prices and products of the Middle East, and this was the beginning of his business empire.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Secret of Business Is To Know Something That No One Else Knows

Notes:

  1. 1964 May 10, The Kansas City Star, Section: This Week Magazine, How money-minded are you? by Lester David, Start Page 4, Quote Page 8, Kansas City, Missouri. (NewsBank Access World News)

The Very First Thing They Do Is Matriculate Together

Ralph M. Hiner? Tammany Hall politician? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to a legislative legend, a naïve politician with a limited vocabulary wished to provide funding for a state college; however, an adversary wanted to spend the money on a different project. The verb “matriculate” means to enroll at a college or university, but this definition was not properly grasped by the politician. Thus, the adversary decided to cleverly besmirch the college using sexual innuendo. Here are two examples:

  • Students matriculate in broad daylight.
  • Boys and girls matriculate together.

The scandalized politician repudiated the college. Would you please explore this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this tale located by QI appeared in “The Charleston Daily Mail” of Charleston, West Virginia in 1933. The anecdote was presented by a West Virginian politician Ralph M. Hiner. He described an unnamed farmer with little experience who was elected to the New York State Senate and wished to pass a bill providing $500,000 to an educational institution. His opponents were members of the Tammany Hall political machine. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Well, senator,” the other tried to confuse him, “don’t you know they have a curriculum at that school?”

“No, I didn’t know it.”

“And did you know that they have two semesters?”

“No, but I don’t care. I want my bill passed.”

“Senator” the pleader continued, almost desperate, “do you know that boys and girls matriculate at that school?”

“Well, I won’t stand for that!” the senator stormed “Give me my bill.” Whereupon he tore it to bits.

Brilliant researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake has published an entertaining piece titled “Dirty Politics: Smathers, Pepper, and Quasi Malediction in American Political Folklore” presenting several humorous examples of phrases that have reportedly been used to attack politicians and their relatives, e.g., “a shameless extrovert”, “a thespian in Greenwich Village” and “a sexagenarian”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Very First Thing They Do Is Matriculate Together

Notes:

  1. 1933 February 26, The Charleston Daily Mail, As Told In Our Town, Quote Page 6, Column 7, Charleston, West Virginia. (Newspapers_com)

Can’t Somebody Bring Me a One-Handed Economist?

Harry Truman? David Boyd Chase? Ben Turner? Charles E. Wilson? Charles Frederick Carter? Edwin C. Johnson? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Economists, lawyers, scientists, and other experts often provide tentative and inconclusive advice to clients. These wily advisers avoid definitive statements and employ locutions such as: on the one hand, but on the other hand. Here are four comical phrases describing the decisive advisers desired by clients:

  • One-handed economist
  • One-armed lawyer
  • One-armed tax man
  • An expert with only one hand

U.S. President Harry Truman apparently wished for a one-handed economist. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence of this family of quips located by QI appeared in the “Pittsburgh Post-Gazette” of Pennsylvania in 1951. The joke was told by a tax expert who was relaying the words of an anonymous businessman. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

David Boyd Chase, the New York tax consultant, told the Pittsburgh Advertising Club about an executive who was interviewing a number of tax experts for a job with his company. He informed Mr. Chase: “We want a one-armed tax man. Every time we ask one of these experts if an item is deductible, he says, ‘Oh, sure, but on the other hand—’ We want one who has no other hand.”

Harry Truman was the President between 1945 and 1953; hence, this type of quip was circulating while he was in office; however, QI and other researchers have not yet found solidly-dated contemporary evidence indicating that Truman employed the joke. On the other hand, a 1974 citation and later testimony did attribute the two phrases “one-handed economist” and “one-armed economist” to Truman. See details further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Can’t Somebody Bring Me a One-Handed Economist?

Notes:

  1. 1951 November 27, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburghesque by Charles F. Danver, Quote Page 23, Column 1, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

I Ring It Whenever I Want an Hour of Uninterrupted Privacy

Dorothy Parker? Alexander Woollcott? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A patient in a modern hospital room can push a button to call for the help of a nurse; however, on occasion, the response time is long because nurses have many medical tasks to perform. The famous wit Dorothy Parker created a joke on this topic. She claimed that pushing the button enabled her to experience an extended interval of privacy. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a 1933 article by prominent critic Alexander Woollcott in “Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan” magazine. Woollcott described visiting Dorothy Parker who was being treated in a hospital. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Tiptoeing now down the hospital corridor, I found her hard at work. Because of posterity and her creditors, I was loath to intrude, but she, being entranced at any interruption, greeted me from her cot of pain, waved me to a chair, offered me a cigaret and rang a bell. I wondered if this could possibly be for drinks. “No,” she said sadly, “It is supposed to fetch the night nurse, so I ring it whenever I want an hour of uninterrupted privacy.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Ring It Whenever I Want an Hour of Uninterrupted Privacy

Notes:

  1. 1933 August, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, (Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan), “Our Mrs. Parker” by Alexander Woollcott, Start Page 70, Quote Page 88, Column 3, International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified with photocopies; thanks to local and remote librarians)

The Artist . . . Must Drive To the Heart of Every Answer and Expose the Question the Answer Hides

James Baldwin? Salim Muwakkil? Leonard Shlain? Jeff Baysa? Edgar H. Sorrells-Adewale? Tom Barone? Alva Noë? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The commonly accepted answers to questions are sometimes flawed. Deeper and more truthful discoveries are concealed by shallow and misleading explanations. A germane assertion about the objective of art has been attributed to the prominent author and social critic James Baldwin:

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been occluded by the answers.

Often the word “hidden” appears in the statement instead of “occluded”. I have been unable to find a solid citation for either statement. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The 1962 collection “Creative America” included a piece by James Baldwin titled “The Creative Process”. Baldwin discussed the mindset and intentions of an artist within a society. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Society must accept some things as real; but he must always know that the visible reality hides a deeper one, and that all our action and all our achievement rests on things unseen. A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven. One cannot possibly build a school, teach a child, or drive a car without taking some things for granted. The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.

QI conjectures that the statement under analysis evolved from the final sentence highlighted above. It is possible that Baldwin penned more than one version of this thought, but QI has not yet discovered a closer match to the target statement.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Artist . . . Must Drive To the Heart of Every Answer and Expose the Question the Answer Hides

Notes:

  1. 1962 Copyright, Creative America by John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S, Truman et al, Chapter: The Creative Process by James Baldwin, Start Page 17, Quote Page 18 and 19, Published for the National Cultural Center by The Ridge Press, New York. (Verified with scans)

The Curate’s Egg: Parts of It Are Excellent

Punch Magazine? Judy Magazine? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A famous one-panel comic shows a lowly curate who is visiting the house of a powerful bishop for breakfast. The bishop notices that the curate has unfortunately been served a spoiled egg, and the curate’s response is overly polite and deferential. Here are two versions:

  • My lord, really, some parts of it are very good.
  • My lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent.

A spoiled egg is typically thrown away and not eaten. It is viewed as entirely bad. Nevertheless, the meaning of the term “curate’s egg” has shifted over time. It is used figuratively to refer to something which has a mixture of positive and negative attributes. It is both good and bad. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This joke is usually traced to a cartoon published in the humor magazine “Punch” on November 9, 1895, and that cartoon is shown further below; however, the origin can actually be traced to an earlier time.

A precursor anecdote without a cartoon illustration appeared in “The Academy” journal in 1875. The creator of the story was unidentified, and the punchline was a bit different. Also, it did not include the claim that parts of the egg were good. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Without pledging our credence, we could afford a grin to the story of the “young Levite” who at a bishop’s breakfast-table, was so ‘umble as to decline the replacement of a bad egg by a good one with a “No thank you, my Lord, it’s good enough for me;” . . .

On May 22, 1895 “Judy: The London Serio-Comic Journal” published a cartoon with a bishop and curate. This is the first close match located by QI: 2

SCENE—BISHOP’S BREAKFAST TABLE.
Bishop (to timid Curate on a visit). DEAR ME, I’M AFRAID YOUR EGG’S NOT GOOD!
Timid Curate. OH, YES, MY LORD, REALLY-ER-SOME PARTS OF IT ARE VERY GOOD.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Curate’s Egg: Parts of It Are Excellent

Notes:

  1. 1875 July 26, The Academy, Book Review of: “Our Bishops and Deans” by the Rev. F. Arnold (Late of Christ Church Oxford), Start Page 651, Quote Page 652, Column 2, Robert Scott Walker, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1895 May 22, Judy: The London Serio-Comic Journal, Scene-Bishop’s Breakfast Table (Single-panel comic showing a Bishop and Curate at a breakfast table), Quote Page 245, London, England. (Gale 19th Century UK Periodicals)

What You Read When You Don’t Have To, Determines What You Will Be When You Can’t Help It

Oscar Wilde? Charles Francis Potter? Mabel C. Wolcott? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous wit Oscar Wilde was an avid reader and an excellent classicist. The following statement has been attributed to him:

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

I am skeptical of this ascription because I haven’t been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: This remark is not listed in the valuable compendium “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde” assembled by quotation expert Ralph Keyes. 1 QI believes that the attribution to Oscar Wilde is mistaken. The discussion accompanying the 1948 citation given further below suggests one possible mechanism for the error.

QI thinks that the prominent Unitarian minister Charles Francis Potter deserves credit for the remark under analysis. In June 1927 a newspaper in Burlington, Vermont reported that Potter had spoken to members of the local Athena Club on the topic of “Books and the Home”, and he used a version of the expression. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

“What you read when you don’t have to, determines what you will be when you can’t help it,” according to Mr. Potter. Libraries must be for the people and they must be accessible. He believes as much should be spent for the libraries as is for the streets.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading What You Read When You Don’t Have To, Determines What You Will Be When You Can’t Help It

Notes:

  1. 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, (Quotation “…what you read when…” not found during search), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1927 June 7, The Burlington Free Press, Says Highbrows Are in Need of Education, Quote Page 7, Column 3, Burlington, Vermont. (Newspapers_com)

We Must Get Beyond Textbooks, Go Out Into the Bypaths and Untrodden Depths of the Wilderness of Truth

John Hope Franklin? John Hope? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Educator and activist John Hope has received credit for the following statement:

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness.

Confusingly, these words have also been attributed to historian and educator John Hope Franklin. Some versions use the phrase “get beyond” instead of “go beyond”. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The ascription to John Hope Franklin is incorrect. This error corresponds to a known misquotation mechanism. A statement is sometimes improperly reassigned to an individual with a name that is similar to the actual creator of the quotation.

John Hope died in 1936, and in 1948 the biography “The Story of John Hope” by Ridgely Torrence appeared. The book reprinted part of a speech that Hope delivered in Nashville, Tennessee on “The Need of a Liberal Education for Us”. Hope stated that black people should enter into the highest echelons of scholarship and should perform original research. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We must get beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness of truth, and explore and tell to the world the glories of our journey.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Must Get Beyond Textbooks, Go Out Into the Bypaths and Untrodden Depths of the Wilderness of Truth

Notes:

  1. 1948, The Story of John Hope by Ridgely Torrence, Chapter 7: Going Home, Quote Page 116, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Verified with scans)