Ten Decimals of π Are Sufficient To Give the Circumference of the Earth To the Fraction of an Inch

Simon Newcomb? John Casey? George McC. Robson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The number π is a fundamental mathematical constant which equals the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Trillions of digits of the decimal expansion of π have been calculated using electronic computers and innovative algorithms. Yet, this precision is not needed in the realm of practical physics. Simon Newcomb, the prominent astronomer and mathematician, once said something like this:

Ten decimal places of π are sufficient to give the circumference of the earth to a fraction of an inch.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1881 Simon Newcomb published “Elements of Geometry” which was based on the foundational tome by Euclid. Here is a passage discussing the calculation of π. The word “computer” refers to a human calculator. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This number π is of such fundamental importance in geometry that mathematicians have devoted great attention to its calculation. . . . Dase, a German computer, carried the calculation to 200 places of decimals. The following are the first 36 figures of his result:

3.141 592 653 589 793 238 462 643 383 279 502 884.

The result is here carried far beyond all the wants of mathematics. Ten decimals are sufficient to give the circumference of the earth to the fraction of an inch, and thirty decimals would give the circumference of the whole visible universe to a quantity imperceptible with the most powerful microscope.

The emphasized text above differs slightly from the modern quotation because it does not repeat the term π.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Ten Decimals of π Are Sufficient To Give the Circumference of the Earth To the Fraction of an Inch

Notes:

  1. 1881, Elements of Geometry by Simon Newcomb (Professor of Mathematics, United States Navy), Book VI: Regular Polygons and the Circle, Problem VII, Quote Page 235, Henry Holt and Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Life Is a Treasure Hunt

Olivia Wyndham? Marjorie G. Hellier? Kevin J. Cook? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have been attempting to trace an uplifting proverb about adventure and discovery:

Life is a treasure hunt.

The lesson of this phrase is illustrated by the delight experienced when uncovering early instances of this adage. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In July 1924 “The Sketch”, a London periodical, published a piece by Olivia Wyndham who was a member of a society that organized treasure hunts for entertainment. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Every attempt to keep the last Treasure Hunt of the season out of the papers failed completely. The idea of avoiding publicity was a losing fight from the start; but now that it is all over honour is satisfied, and I can add my say in the matter.

I have long wanted to argue with the gentleman who wrote to the paper saying, “Does not the Society of Bright Young People realise that the whole of life is a treasure hunt, etc.,” or words to that effect. In fact, I am afraid he was trying to infer that we were wasting our time, energy, and brains, and were not good citizens.

Wyndham was paraphrasing the words of a detractor, but the elegant encapsulation was hers. Since she wrote the earliest known instance she tentatively deserves credit for coining the expression. This notion is natural, and future researchers may find earlier evidence.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life Is a Treasure Hunt

Notes:

  1. 1924 July 23, The Sketch, Society Treasure Hunts: The Trail and the Chase by Olivia Wyndham, Start Page 158, Quote Page 158, Column 1, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

“I Enjoyed Your Book. Who Wrote It for You?” “I’m So Glad You Liked It. Who Read It To You?”

Ilka Chase vs. Anonymous Actress? Ilka Chase vs. Humphrey Bogart? Sylvia Strum Bremer vs. Cynic? Liz Carpenter vs. Arthur Schlesinger Jr.? Eric Morecambe vs. Ernie Wise?

Dear Quote Investigator: For many years ghostwriters have been composing books for well-known celebrities. The following prickly repartee shows that authorship is a sensitive topic:

“I enjoyed your book. Who wrote it for you?”
“Thanks. I wrote it myself. Who read it to you?”

Would you please examine the provenance of this banter?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the syndicated gossip column of Walter Winchell in April 1942. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Meow! A catty actress visited the “Now, Voyager” set in H’wood and congratulated Ilka Chase on her recent book. “I enjoyed it,” she said. “Who wrote it?”

“Darling,” clawed Ilka, “I’m so glad you liked it. Who read it to you?”

The book referenced was Chase’s autobiography “Past Imperfect” which was released to reviewers in 1941.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “I Enjoyed Your Book. Who Wrote It for You?” “I’m So Glad You Liked It. Who Read It To You?”

Notes:

  1. 1942 April 29, Richmond Times-Dispatch, On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 11, Column 3, Richmond, Virginia. (GenealogyBank)

Be Quick To Praise. People Like To Praise Those Who Praise Them


Creator: Bernard Baruch, U.S. financier, philanthropist, and presidential adviser

Context: In 1948 Bernard M. Baruch spoke at a youth forum sponsored by “The New York Daily Mirror” newspaper and offered several rules for success to his listeners including the following. Boldface added to excerpt: 1

Be quick to praise. People like to praise those who praise them. Be sincere in doing this.

Keep yourself tidy. . . .

Be helpful, that is the first definition of success.

Be cheerful. There are enough crepe-hangers around, without adding to the list.

This quotation is listed in William Safire’s compilation titled “Words of Wisdom: More Good Advice”. 2

Image Notes: Thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons from ArtsyBee at Pixabay.

Notes:

  1. 1948 December 12, The Miami News, Rules For Success Listed By Baruch At Youth Forum (Associated Press), Quote Page 12A, Column 4, Miami, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1989, Words of Wisdom: More Good Advice, Compiled and edited by William Safire and Leonard Safir, Section: Praise, Quote Page 294, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified on paper)

If You Fail To Prepare You Are Preparing To Fail

Benjamin Franklin? H. K. Williams? James H. Hope? E. B. Gregory? Dalton E. Brady? Robert H. Schuller? John Wooden? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Proper planning is fundamental to success. Benjamin Franklin has been credited with an admonitory aphorism. Here are three versions using “plan” and “prepare”:

  • Failing to plan is planning to fail.
  • The person who fails to plan, plans to fail.
  • By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.

The memorability of this statement is enhanced by the use of antimetabole: a clause is repeated with key words transposed. In this case, the suffixes are also swapped. Would you please trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Benjamin Franklin employed this adage.

The first match known to QI appeared in the periodical “The Biblical World” in 1919. The Reverend H. K. Williams provided advice to people who were responsible for giving presentations to religious groups. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Be well prepared and brief in your remarks. There is positively no excuse for wasting another’s time by going to the meeting unprepared and rambling helplessly in your talk. Remember, if you fail to prepare you are preparing to fail.

This valuable citation is listed in “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” from Yale University Press. 2 QI hypothesizes that Williams was using an adage that was already in circulation although he may be credited with helping to popularize it. Future researchers will likely find earlier instances.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Fail To Prepare You Are Preparing To Fail

Notes:

  1. 1919 January, The Biblical World, Volume 53, Number 1, Religious Education,(Excerpt from “The Group Plan” by Rev. H. K. Williams in the “Young People’s Service”, Start Page 80, Quote Page 81, Column 2, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 73, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

Remember You Are Half Water. If You Can’t Go Through an Obstacle, Go Around It

Creator: Margaret Atwood, prominent Canadian novelist and essayist

Context: Atwood’s 2005 novella “The Penelopiad” re-envisioned the myth of Odysseus by re-centering the tale on Penelope who was the wife of the ancient hero. Penelope’s father was King Icarius of Sparta, and her mother was a Naiad, i.e., a water nymph. Commenting on her partially divine status, Penelope stated: 1

Water is our element, it is our birthright. Although we are not such good swimmers as our mothers, we do have a way of floating, and we’re well connected among the fish and seabirds.

Penelope’s mother attended her wedding and delivered a short speech which her daughter described as “nothing if not oblique; but then, all Naiads are oblique”. The address included the following. Emphasis added to excerpts: 2

Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.

A substantial fraction of the human body consists of water; estimates vary from 50 to 70 percent depending on age, gender, and measurement technique. Yet, Atwood was probably referring to the parentage of Penelope and not to the scientific evaluation of H2O in body tissue.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Linda Carson who pointed to a sequence of tweets one of which mentioned a water bottle in London displaying the quotation.

Image Notes: John William Waterhouse’s painting of a Naiad and Hylas. Image has been cropped and resized.

Notes:

  1. 2005 Copyright, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood, Chapter 3: My Childhood, Quote Page 9, Canongate, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 2005 Copyright, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood, Chapter 7: The Scar, Quote Page 43, Canongate, New York. (Verified with scans)

There Are Three Types of People: Those Who Make Things Happen, Those Who Watch Things Happen, and Those Who Wonder What Happened

Nicholas Murray Butler? Tommy Lasorda? John Newbern? Laurence J. Peter? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a humorous three-fold categorization of people. The first group contains those who make things happen. Are you familiar with this saying? Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: In March 1931 Nicholas Murray Butler who was the President of Columbia University in New York delivered a speech on Charter Day at the University of California. Butler split the population into thee sets, but he noted that individuals could move from one set to another. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The vast population of this earth, and indeed nations themselves, may readily be divided into three groups. There are the few who make things happen, the many more who watch things happen, and the overwhelming majority who have no notion of what happens. Every human being is born into this third and largest group; it is for himself, his environment and his education to determine whether he shall rise to the second group or even to the first.

Some periodicals and reference works identified Butler as the coiner of this expression, and researcher Barry Popik identified the pertinent speech.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Are Three Types of People: Those Who Make Things Happen, Those Who Watch Things Happen, and Those Who Wonder What Happened

Notes:

  1. 1931 March 29, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, THESE UNITED STATES–“A Nation Without Leaders or Political Parties; An Office-Seeking Class in Control” by Nicholas Murray Butler, Quote Page 6, Column 2, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)

We Sometimes Remain Faithful To a Cause Merely Because Its Opponents Never Cease To Be Insipid

Creator: Friedrich Nietzsche

Context: In 1878 Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche published “Menschliches, Allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für Freie Geister” (“Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits”). He employed an aphoristic style that explicated topics with short numbered passages and sayings. Item number 536 consisted of the following: 1

Werth abgeschmackter Gegner. — Man bleibt mitunter einer Sache nur desshalb treu, weil ihre Gegner nicht aufhören, abgeschmackt zu sein.

A translation of the volume from German to English appeared in 1915. The translator Helen Zimmern rendered item 536 as follows: 2

THE VALUE OF INSIPID OPPONENTS—We sometimes remain faithful to a cause merely because its opponents never cease to be insipid.

In 1954 “The Portable Nietzsche” by translator Walter Kaufmann presented this version: 3

The value of insipid opponents. At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Dan Dulay who inquired about the authenticity of this saying.

Image Notes: Photograph of Friedrich Nietzsche by Friedrich Hartmann; accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Painting of “The Fall of Icarus” by Peter Paul Rubens; accessed via Wikiart. Images have been cropped and resized.

Notes:

  1. 1878, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches: Ein Buch für Freie Geister (Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits) by Friedrich Nietzsche (Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche), Statement Number 536, Quote Page 340, Published by Ernst Schmeitzner, Chemnitz. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1915, Human, All-Too-Human: A Book for Free Spirits by Friedrich Nietzsche, Part I, Translated by Helen Zimmern, Statement Number 536, Quote Page 365, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Internet Archive Full View) link
  3. 1976 (1954 Copyright), The Portable Nietzsche by Friedrich Nietzsche, Translated by Walter Kaufmann, FROM: Human, All-Too-Human, Statement Number 536, Unnumbered Page, Penguin Books, New York. (Google Books Preview)

I Shall Live Bad If I Do Not Write and I Shall Write Bad If I Do Not Live

Françoise Sagan? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The French playwright and novelist Françoise Sagan whose best known novel was “Bonjour Tristesse” led a passionate and eventful life. The following remark emphasizing the duality of a literary career has been ascribed to her:

I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.

I have been unable to find a good citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: A version of this statement appeared in “The New York Times” in 1956. The poet and book reviewer Harvey Breit asked an intermediary to inquire whether Françoise Sagan would be willing to write an article for the newspaper. The potential topics included: Paris, youth, or herself. Breit employed dialectical spelling to represent the accent and speech of Sagan’s response. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

What could I say about Parees that as not been said before? And youth? I feel forty years removed from youth. About myself? I can tell in one sentence: I shall live bad if I do not write and I shall write bad if I do not live.”

A native speaker of English would have used the word “badly” instead of “bad”, but the sentence reflects Sagan’s command of English in 1956.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Shall Live Bad If I Do Not Write and I Shall Write Bad If I Do Not Live

Notes:

  1. 1956 November 11, New York Times, Section: The New York Times Book Review, In and Out of Books by Harvey Breit, Quote Page 8, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)

When Audiences Come To See Authors Lecture, It Is Largely in the Hope That We’ll Be Funnier To Look at Than To Read

Sinclair Lewis? Max Herzberg? Bennett Cerf? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The American writer, social activist, and noble laureate Sinclair Lewis wondered why big audiences came to hear lectures given by authors. He humorously suggested that attendees might be hoping to see funny looking authors. Is Lewis’s self-deprecating observation genuine?

Quote Investigator: In 1938 Sinclair Lewis wrote an essay in “Newsweek” magazine titled “That Was a Good Lecture” which discussed speeches delivered by book authors. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI 1

I can understand why lecture addicts go to look at British explorers, Russian princesses, and Balinese dancers, because they have pretty lantern slides or tiaras or legs. But it is incomprehensible why in fairly large numbers they flock out to view a novelist or a poet. Is it because they hope he will be even funnier to look at than to read?

The joke was not presented in an easily quotable form. Lewis employed a prefatory comment followed by a rhetorical question.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When Audiences Come To See Authors Lecture, It Is Largely in the Hope That We’ll Be Funnier To Look at Than To Read

Notes:

  1. 1938 March 28, Newsweek, Book Week: That Was a Good Lecture by Sinclair Lewis, Start Page 30, Quote Page 30, Published by Weekly Publications Inc., New York. (Verified with scans)