Lose As If You Like It, and Win As If You Are Used to It

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Eric Mark Golnik? Thomas Hitchcock, Jr.? Thomas Hitchcock, Sr.?  F. Ambrose Clark? Rosalind Russell? Jock Whitney? Desi Arnaz? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a quotation about sportsmanship that I would like to learn more about:

Win as if you were used to it, lose as if you enjoyed it for a change.

I have seen these words credited to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Eric Mark Golnik, and anonymous. Could you examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no compelling evidence linking the coinage of the saying to Emerson or Golnik. The earliest relevant citation located by QI was a precursor printed in The Times of London in 1920. An article about the Tennis Amateur Championship praised a player named E. L. Phillips [TCPH]:

Mr. Phillips has learned the most difficult thing in all games, to lose as if he liked it, and is therefore even a pleasure to play against, in spite of the fact that he often wins.

The excerpt above presented part of the saying. A more complete version appeared in a 1929 book in the domain of horse racing titled:  “Between the Flags: The Recollections of a Gentleman Rider”. The author placed the statement between quotation marks indicating that the adage was already in circulation without attribution [BFHP]:

In racing, the rough and the smooth are so quickly interchangeable that the only path safe from the ridiculous, is the one guarded by “Win as if you are used to it. Lose as if you liked it.”

In 1942 the Edwardsville Intelligencer, a newspaper in Illinois, published the maxim as a freestanding sentence without ascription, i.e., as filler material. The word “it” in the phrase “like it” was apparently accidentally omitted [LLEI]:

Lose as if you like, and win as if you were used to it.

In April 1943 a Texas newspaper assigned the adage to an individual [LRTH]:

Lose as if you like it, and win as if you were used to it — Thomas Hitchcock.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Who was Thomas Hitchcock? An article in Newsweek magazine in May 1944 titled “Ten-Goal Hitchcock” noted that Thomas Hitchcock Jr. “swung a mallet from charging ponies” and “played the greatest polo of modern times”. Junior Hitchcock ascribed the saying to senior Hitchcock [NWTH]:

He had once said: “Father always emphasized being a good sportsman. ‘Lose as if you like it, and win as if you were used to it’.” That is how Tommy Hitchcock won—and that is how he lost.

In 1946 the aphorism was printed in the mass-circulation periodical Reader’s Digest which acknowledged Newsweek’s reporting [RDTH]:

THOMAS HITCHCOCK’S advice to his sportsman son, Tommy Hitchcock, Jr.: “Lose as if you like it; win as if you were used to it.”         —Newsweek

In 1949 when the adage was published in the Los Angeles Times the senior Hitchcock was not mentioned [LTTH]:

The greatest of all of our polo stars, the late Col. Tommy Hitchcock (killed in a plane crash during World War II) had a saying that should be chiseled in granite above the door of every athletic dressing room in the country. It was:


In 1952 the New Yorker magazine printed a profile of John Hay (Jock) Whitney, a member of the prominent Whitney family. Jock Whitney operated a famous thoroughbred horse racing stable with other family members. His recorded remark showed that the prudent advice was still being propagated in the horse racing world [NYJW]:

“One of the most difficult things for me,” he said recently, “has been to follow a precept that was given to my mother, when she began racing, by an old trainer. He told her, ‘You must learn to lose as if you like it, and to win as if you’re used to it.’ I’m afraid I find myself winning very vociferously.”

In 1954 Time magazine associated the saying with another individual who worked with horses [TMFC]:

A model sportswoman, the late Mrs. F. Ambrose Clark, used to counsel new horse owners: “Win as if you were used to it and lose as if you liked it.”

In 1955 the popular entertainer and producer Desi Arnaz, husband of famed comedian Lucille Ball, wrote about his life in The American Magazine. He described a sign in his high school [AMDA]:

To me an American school is a true marvel. Mine was St. Patrick’s High of Miami. Instead of “Who are you?” it was “What can you do?” Millionaires’ kids hobnobbed with boys from the slums. Sports had been just sports where I came from. Here, a locker-room sign read: “Win as if you’re used to it. But, if you lose, then lose as if you liked it.”

In 1961 a newspaper columnist asked the movie star Rosalind Russell if she had some advice to pass on [STRR]:

“I have found it helpful to try always to be a good sport,” she said. “I like the advice that they give to athletes: ‘Win as if you were used to it, and lose as if you enjoyed it.'”

In 1963 the aphorism reappeared in the Reader’s Digest. This time the wording was a close match to the version given by the questioner with the appended phrase “for a change” [RDLM]:

ASKED for a definition of sportsmanship, a British polo star answered, “Win as if you were used to it. Lose as if you enjoyed it for a change.”
—Lawrence & Sylvia Martin, England! An Uncommon Guide (McGraw-Hill)

In 1997 the reference “Dictionary of Quotations in Communications” attributed the saying to Eric Mark Golnik. No citation was given [DQEG]:

Win as if you were used to it, lose as if you enjoyed it for a change.
Eric Mark Golnik

In conclusion, in the earliest currently known citations the adage is anonymous. There is evidence that it was used by Tommy Hitchcock, Sr. and was relayed by his son. Jock Whitney, Desi Arnaz, Rosalind Russell and others also relayed the saying, but did not formulate it.

(Thanks to Becky Bayless of Shakespeare’s Attic who sent the query that inspired the construction of the question.)

[TCPH] 1920 April 27, The Times (UK), Issue 42395, Tennis [From Our Special Correspondent], Page 7, Column 5, London, England. (The Times Digital Archive GaleGroup)

[BFHP] 1929, Between the Flags: The Recollections of a Gentleman Rider by Harry S. Page, Page 209, The Derrydale Press, New York. (HathiTrust) (Kudos to an individual at “The Quote Yard” who found this citation before QI)   link   link

[LLEI] 1942 June 03, Edwardsville Intelligencer, [Freestanding statement], Page 8, Column 8, Edwardsville, Illinois. (NewspaperArchive)

[LRTH] 1943 April 22, Lockhart Post Register, [Freestanding quotation], Page 4, Column 5, Lockhart, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)

[NWTH] 1944 May 1, Newsweek, Sports: Ten-Goal Hitchcock, Start Page 75, Quote Page 77, Newsweek, Incorporated, New York. (Verified on paper)

[RDTH] 1946 September, Reader’s Digest, Volume 49, Ponderables, Quote Page 12, Column 1, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)

[LTTH] 1949 March 24, Los Angeles Times, Hyland Fling by Dick Hyland, Page C2, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)

[NYJW] 1951 August 18, The New Yorker, Profiles: Man of Means Part II by E. J. Kahn, [Profile of John Hay Whitney], Start Page 36, Quote Page 42, F-R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Verified on microfilm)

[TMFC] 1954 September 27, Time, THE PEOPLE: Freedom–New Style, Time, Inc. New York. (Online Time archive time.com)

[AMDA] 1955 February, American Magazine, America Has Been Good To Me by Desi Arnaz [As Told to Al Stump], Start Page 22, Quote Page 84, Column 3, Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, New York. (Verified on paper)

[STRR] 1961 December 31, Seattle Daily Times, Some Top Movie Stars Take a Look at 1962 by Lydia Lane, Quote Page 22 [GNB Page 70], Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)

[RDLM] 1963 August, Reader’s Digest, Volume 83, Gamesmanship, Quote Page 113, The Reader’s Digest Association. (Verified on paper)

[DQEG] 1997, Dictionary of Quotations in Communications, Compiled by Lilless McPherson Shilling and Linda K. Fuller, Page 54, Greenwood Press, Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, Connecticut. (Google Books Preview)

One thought on “Lose As If You Like It, and Win As If You Are Used to It”

  1. (Below is an interesting email that was sent to the Quote Investigator website about this quotation. The sender’s name was A. Sherwood Johnson)

    Wanted to provide more info on a quote I looked up the other day:
    “Win as if you’re used to it. Lose as if you liked it.”

    The QI website indicated that the earliest documented use of this was a precursor printed in the London Times in 1920. However, I looked up the quote because I saw it on a tile in the bathroom of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA. Evidently, this quote was Mrs. Gardner’s motto, and she had it placed in her personal bathroom.

    I suspect the quote’s origin is much earlier than the 1920’s, given that the building was built in 1902, and that she had a stroke in 1922 and died two years later, but travelled world-wide in the mid-late 1800’s. Where she heard the quote, I don’t know … but the curators probably do, and I suspect it is mentioned in her letters, which have been preserved in the museum’s collection.

    A. Sherwood Johnson, DVM

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