It’s Easier To Ask Forgiveness Than To Get Permission

Grace Hopper? Cardinal Barberini? Earl of Peterborough? David Hernandez? Helen Pajama? St. Benedict? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: People who are eager to initiate a task often cite the following guidance. Here are two versions:

  • It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.
  • It’s easier to apologize than to get permission.

This notion has been credited to Grace Murray Hopper who was a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral and pioneering computer scientist. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Grace Hopper did employ and help to popularize the expression by 1982, but it was already in circulation.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1846 within a multivolume work called “Lives of the Queens of England” by Agnes Strickland. The ninth volume discussed marriage advice offered by a powerful church official. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

But, in truth, the cardinal Barberini … did frankly advise the duchess of Modena to conclude the marriage at once; it being less difficult to obtain forgiveness for it after it was done, than permission for doing it.

A footnote listed the source of the passage above as “Earl of Peterborough, in the Mordaunt Genealogies”. Strictly speaking, the statement was not presented as a proverb; instead, it was guidance tailored to one particular circumstance.

In 1894 a newspaper in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania printed a thematically related adage within a story about mischievous children: 2

The boys, let me add, every one had respectable parents and who would not, for an instant, have allowed such a prank had they known of its existence; but it is easier to beg forgiveness after the deed is performed.

Another match occurred in the 1903 novel “A Professional Rider” by Mrs. Edward Kennard, but the form was not proverbial: 3

Once married, it would be infinitely easier to ask her father’s forgiveness, than to beg his permission beforehand.

In 1966 “Southern Education Report” printed an instance of the proverb spoken by David Hernandez who was a project director working for the U.S. government program Head Start: 4

Hernandez began advertising for bids on the mobile classrooms even before the money to pay for them had been approved. ‘It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission,’ he explained.

The above citation appeared in “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” from Yale University Press.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It’s Easier To Ask Forgiveness Than To Get Permission

Notes:

  1. 1846, Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest with Anecdotes of Their Courts by Agnes Strickland, Volume 9, Chapter 1: Mary Beatrice of Modena, Quote Page 39, Henry Colburn Publisher, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1894 February 4, The Pittsburgh Press, Section: Press Young Folks League, The Boys’ Surprise Party, Quote Page 12, Column 6, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1903, A Professional Rider by Mrs. Edward Kennard, Chapter 2: “As You Make Your Bed, So Must You Lie”, Quote Page 31, Anthony Treherne & Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 85, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Citation provided for quotation – Date: August 29, 1966, Title: Southern Education Report 2, Number: 1, Article title: Panzer Division in the Poverty War, Article author: Keith Coulbourn)(QI has verified the text in the “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” but has not directly examined the 1966 citation)

Anger Is Like Grasping a Hot Coal To Strike Another; You Are the One Who Is Burned

Gautama Buddha? Buddhaghosa? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Feelings and actions driven by anger and resentment are self-destructive. This notion can be metaphorically illustrated by a red-hot coal which one grabs with the goal of striking another person. The poorly conceived plan causes one’s hand to suffer burns and pain. This figurative framework has been attributed to the Buddha? What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification) is an important treatise of Theravada Buddhist thought written by the scholar Buddhaghoṣa during the 5th Century (approximately) in Sri Lanka. Pe Maung Tin who was a Professor of Oriental Studies at University of Rangoon created a translation into English that was published by 1931.

The second part titled “Of Concentration” included a section on “The Developing of Love”. The text argued against performing deeds inspired by anger: 1

And he should ponder thus concerning himself: “Man, what wilt thou do getting angry with another man? Will not this angry deed which is the origin of hate lead to thy harm?”

Two vivid and complementary metaphors highlighted the unintended consequences of such anger. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Thou who dost such deeds art like a man who seizes with both hands glowing live coals or dung in order to strike another man therewith, but who first burns and befouls himself.”

Gautama Buddha did not deliver the words above; instead, they were written many years later by Buddhaghoṣa who was presenting his interpretation of Buddhist thought.

The Quote Investigator has explored an analogous expression, and the article can be read by clicking the following statement: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Anger Is Like Grasping a Hot Coal To Strike Another; You Are the One Who Is Burned

Notes:

  1. 1931 (Part III was published in 1931 and Part II was completed before this), The Path of Purity: A Translation of Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga by Pe Maung Tin (Professor of Oriental Studies, University of Rangoon), Part II: Of Concentration, Translation Series Number 17, Chapter 9: Exposition of Divine States: Section 1: The Developing of Love, Quote Page 346 and 347, Published for The Pali Text Society by Oxford University Press, London. (Verified with scans)

The Most Fun You Can Have Without Laughing

H. L. Mencken? Woody Allen? Walter Winchell? Alfred Lunt? Sarah Bernhardt? E. V. Durling? Jim Bishop? Colonel Stoopnagle? Frederick Chase Taylor? Leo Rosten? Humphrey Bogart? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following declaration of high praise has been applied to love making:

The most fun you can have without laughing.

Influential commentator H. L. Mencken and popular comedian Woody Allen have both received credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: H. L. Mencken did place a version of this saying into his massive 1942 compendium of quotations, but he did not take credit; instead, he asserted that the author was unidentified. More than three decades later Woody Allen employed an instance in his 1977 Oscar-winning movie “Annie Hall”.

The earliest match located by QI occurred in the widely-syndicated column of Walter Winchell in January 1938. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The latest definition of necking: How you can have the most fun without laughing.

QI hypothesizes that a comparable statement referring to sex was circulating at the time. Winchell or his informant bowdlerized the remark to yield the version about “necking”. Taboos of the period restricted depictions of carnality in newspapers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Most Fun You Can Have Without Laughing

Notes:

  1. 1938 January 25, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, On Broadway Walter Winchell, Quote Page 24, Column 6, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Forgiveness Is Giving Up All Hope of a Better Past

Anne Lamott? Don Felt? John A. MacDougall? Gerald G. Jampolsky? Gina Berriault? Dorothy Bullitt? Lily Tomlin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is not possible to change the past. Yet, enduring grievances are often emotionally rooted in an irrational hope that somehow past actions can be altered, and a disheartening event can be excised. Here is a popular adage based on this insight:

Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.

The author Anne Lamott has received credit for this saying. Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Anne Lamott did include an instance in her 1999 book “Traveling Mercies”; hence, she helped to popularize the saying; however, she disclaimed credit, and the remark was already in circulation.

The earliest match located by QI occurred in a speech reported in “The Los Angeles Times” in 1991. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

As the Rev. Don Felt, pastor of the Iao Congregational Church, Maui, explained to those attending an interfaith memorial service on Nagasaki Day, Aug. 9, this year, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.”

QI does not know whether Don Felt coined this saying. The expression has been credited to others, and it also has been associated with twelve-step programs. This article presents a snapshot of current research.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Forgiveness Is Giving Up All Hope of a Better Past

Notes:

  1. 1991 December 2, The Los Angeles Times, Perspectives on Pearl Harbor: Apologies Across the Pacific by Brien Hallett, Quote Page B11, Column 4, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)

Get Your Happiness Out of Your Work, or You’ll Never Know What Happiness Is

Elbert Hubbard? Thomas Carlyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Working for a living consumes enormous amounts of time and energy. If you wish to be happy in life then it is essential to try and obtain happiness from your work. Would you please determine who created an adage expressing this idea?

Quote Investigator: Elbert Hubbard was the founder of a New York community of artisans called Roycrofters. He also collected and synthesized adages which appeared in his books and periodicals. The July 1904 issue of Hubbard’s “The Philistine” contained a pertinent saying. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

If you would be happy, do not look for happiness outside of your work.

In July 1906 “Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers” published a filler item crediting Hubbard’s periodical with a popular modern version of the adage: 2

Get your happiness out of your work or you’ll never know what happiness is.—The Philistine.

The reader must decide if this is a helpful insight or a misleading mantra for workaholics.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Get Your Happiness Out of Your Work, or You’ll Never Know What Happiness Is

Notes:

  1. 1904 July, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Volume 19, Number 2, (Filler item), Quote Page 60, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1906 July 4, Printers’ Ink: A Journal for Advertisers, Volume 56, Number 1, (Filler item), Quote Page 25 and 26, Column 2, Printers’ Ink Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Blessed Is He Who Has Found His Work; Let Him Ask No Other Blessedness

Creator: Thomas Carlyle, Scottish philosopher, historian, and satirist

Context: The book “Past and Present” by Carlyle contains the following passage which metaphorically contrasts a swamp and a meadow. Emphasis added: 1

Blessed is he who has found his work; let him ask no other blessedness. He has a work, a life-purpose; he has found it, and will follow it! How, as a free-flowing channel, dug and torn by noble force through the sour mud-swamp of one’s existence, like an ever-deepening river there, it runs and flows; — draining-off the sour festering water, gradually from the root of the remotest grass-blade; making, instead of pestilential swamp, a green fruitful meadow with its clear-flowing stream.

Related Article: Get your happiness out of your work or you’ll never know what happiness is.—Elbert Hubbard

Image Notes: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle by Helen Allingham circa 1879. Image has been cropped and resized. Portrait accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Notes:

  1. 1843, Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle, Chapter 11: Labour, Quote Page 169 and 170, Chapman and Hall, London, England. (HathiTrust Full View) link

If You Stop Telling Lies About Us We Will Stop Telling the Truth About You

Adlai Stevenson? William Randolph Hearst? Chauncey Depew? Asa W. Tenney? Harold Wilson? Michael Douglas? Gordon Gekko? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Several politicians have attacked the prevarications of opponents by employing a quip from a family of humorous sayings. Here are two examples:

  • If they will not lie about our past, we will not tell the truth about their past.
  • If they are willing to stop telling lies about us then we will stop telling the truth about them.

A statement of this type has been credited to U.S. Senator and raconteur Chauncey Depew; newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst; and U.S. Governor and diplomat Adlai Stevenson II. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Chauncey Depew did deliver a quip within this family in 1892. William Randolph Hearst employed an instance in 1906, and Adlai Stevenson used an instance during a speech in 1952. Tracing this family is difficult because of its mutability. Yet, the evidence clearly shows that the saying was in circulation before it was used by the individuals above.

A precursor appeared in a Kansas newspaper in 1884, and QI hypothesizes that the template of this remark facilitated the emergence of the family under analysis. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The Democratic press cries out, “If you do not stop telling the truth on CLEVELAND, we will manufacture some lies about BLAINE.”

In July 1888 another precursor appeared in an Indiana newspaper: 2

If Democratic papers continue their lying about General Harrison they may finally goad Republicans into telling the truth about Cleveland.

In September 1888 Judge Asa W. Tenney of Brooklyn delivered a speech that was reported in the “Buffalo Evening News” of Buffalo, New York. The following excerpt included the first instance within the family of sayings under examination. The passage contained the misspelling “Tenny” for “Tenney”: 3

Judge Tenny rang the changes of ridicule upon the President’s message and said: “It’s too late, Father Cleveland, to talk about reform when 137 convicts have been appointed by you to offices of high trust; It’s too late; you ought to have thought about reform when you lived in Buffalo.

“But I’ll not pursue this subject. The Republicans and Democrats have made a solemn contract that if the Democrats will stop lying about Harrison the Republicans will stop telling the truth about Cleveland.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Stop Telling Lies About Us We Will Stop Telling the Truth About You

Notes:

  1. 1884 August 7, The Atchison Daily Champion, (Untitled filter item), Quote Page 2, Column 3, Atchison, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1888 July 14, The Indianapolis Journal, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1888 September 27, Buffalo Evening News, Judge Tenney’s Address, Quote Page 1, Column 2, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com)

We Turn Not Older With Years, But Newer Every Day

Creator: Emily Dickinson, prominent U.S. poet

Context: The quotation occurred within a letter from Dickinson dated 1874 that appeared in a collection of missives published posthumously in 1894. The letter was sent to a cousin who was not named. Emphasis added to this excerpt: 1

Affection is like bread, unnoticed till we starve, and then we dream of it, and sing of it, and paint it, when every urchin in the street has more than he can eat. We turn not older with years, but newer every day.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Hella Kuipers who inquired about this quotation.

Image Notes: Picture of Emily Dickinson from cover of 1894 book “Letters of Emily Dickinson”. Picture of grandmother and grandchildren from dassel at Pixabay.

Notes:

  1. 1894, Letters of Emily Dickinson, Edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, Volume 2 of 2, Chapter VI: To the Misses, Date specified for letter: 1874, Start Page 276, Quote Page 276 and 277, Roberts Brothers, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link

Everything Is About Sex Except Sex. Sex Is About Power

Oscar Wilde? Michael Cunningham? Robert Klitzman? Robert Michels? Frank Underwood? Kevin Spacey? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading about the precipitous downfall of an influential literary tastemaker and powerbroker at “The Paris Review” I encountered once again a remark attributed to Oscar Wilde. Here are three versions:

  • Everything is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.
  • Everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power.
  • Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.

The Wilde ascription is often labeled apocryphal. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Oscar Wilde wrote or said this remark. It is not listed in the valuable compendium “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde” assembled by quotation expert Ralph Keyes. 1

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in the “Provincetown Arts” journal of 1995. Author Michael Cunningham employed the saying during an interview conducted by fellow author Paul Lisicky. Cunningham is now best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Hours”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

If you’re writing about what people do to and with one another, it’s sort of crazy to leave sex out. I think Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in human life is really about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” And I think he’s got something there.

Cunningham disclaimed coinage and provided an attribution that was both tentative and implausible. Hence, the saying remains anonymous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Everything Is About Sex Except Sex. Sex Is About Power

Notes:

  1. 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, Quote (Quotation is absent), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1995, Provincetown Arts, Volume 11, Conversations: A Talk with Michael Cunningham by Paul Lisicky, Start Page 36, Quote Page 39, Column 3, Published Annually in July by Provincetown Arts Inc., Provincetown, Massachusetts. link (Internet Archive at archive.org accessed June 5, 2018)

Scratch an Actor and Underneath You’ll Find Another Actor

Laurence Olivier? Homer Fickett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The acclaimed actor Laurence Olivier performed many different roles during his long career. He said something like:

Scratch an actor, and you’ll find an actor.

Would you please help me to find a citation? Did he originate this statement?

Quote Investigator: Laurence Olivier did help to popularize this saying, but he did not craft it. In 1986 he published “On Acting” which included the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We actors stand by our present performance, not by our past. We are as immediate as the moment. We give you our feelings and hope you will return yours. We ask for acceptance; we are your servants.

Scratch an actor and underneath you’ll find another actor.

Olivier also stated that true actors felt “at any moment the laughter will stop and the rain of tomatoes will begin”. Thus, his desire to please an audience and inhabit a role erased his identity. He became an actor nested within an actor.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Scratch an Actor and Underneath You’ll Find Another Actor

Notes:

  1. 1986, On Acting by Laurence Olivier, Part One: Before the Curtain, Chapter 1: Beginnings, Quote Page 33 and 34, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)