Mark Twain? Jack Benny? Satchel Paige? Muhammad Ali? Unknown gerontology researcher?
Dear Quote Investigator: On a popular website recently I saw a slide show of quotations ascribed to Mark Twain that included the following:
Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
I thought this was said by the celebrated baseball pitcher Satchel Paige. Can you determine who should be credited?
Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain created this witticism. For example, it is not found on TwainQuotes.com, the important website of Mark Twain quotations and resources 1 nor in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips”. 2
The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an article about aging that was published in multiple newspapers in 1968. The saying was attributed to an anonymous scientific researcher. The prefatory phrase was somewhat shorter: 3
As one government researcher puts it: “Aging is a matter of mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
The quote above was printed in a North Carolina newspaper in June. The same article and saying were printed in a paper in Schenectady, New York in July. 4
The saying was memorable enough that the excerpt above was extracted from the article and printed by itself as a freestanding filler item in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana newspaper in July. 5
The adage continued to circulate and in 1970 it was ascribed to an anonymous physician in an article from the UPI news service: 6
“Aging is a matter of mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” With these words, one physician summed up one of the factors that means better health in the later years — the attitude that one has toward growing older, chronologically.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1972 the phrase “mind over matter” appeared as part of the extended saying in “The Rotarian” magazine published by the community-service club Rotary International: 7
The process of getting old is a question of mind over matter: If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. — Pep-O-Mist, Moberly, Missouri.
In 1974 the comedian Jack Benny held his eightieth-birthday party, and he released to journalists a joke for the occasion. This is the first cite connecting Benny to the quip under investigation that QI has located: 8
Benny’s only comment on his 80th birthday has been this line from his nightclub act: “Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
In 1977 the witty remark was ascribed to the humorist Mark Twain in a South Carolina newspaper. This is the earliest ascription to Twain QI has found: 9
Today’s Golden Thought — “Age is mostly a matter of mind. If you don’t mind it doesn’t matter”, Mark Twain.
By 1979 the saying was connected to baseball great Satchel Paige in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper: 10
It makes one remember other wise words on the subject of age uttered some years ago by Satchel Paige:
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”
Also in 1979 the “Book of Sports Quotes” by Bert Sugar ascribed a version of the saying to Paige as noted in The Yale Book of Quotations. 11
In 1981 famed boxer Muhammad Ali was preparing for his last fight, and he spoke to a journalist who recorded him using the expression: 12
“Age is mind over matter,” he philosophized. His eyes brightened. “As long as you don’t mind, it don’t matter” He was pleased with the phrase and repeated it three more times. “We could put that on a button,” he said.
Several different attributions for the saying continued to be disseminated. For example, in 1982 “Changing Times: The Kiplinger Magazine” attributed the words to Mark Twain: 13
The process of growing old prompted Mark Twain to declare that “age is a case of mind over matter; if you don’t mind it, it doesn’t matter!”
Also, the attribution to Satchel Paige was printed in the Miami Herald in 1985: 14
Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige once said, “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
In conclusion, based on current evidence the quip was first voiced by an anonymous government researcher by 1968. There is also good documentation that other individuals such as Jack Benny and Muhammad Ali used versions of the joke, but apparently it was already in circulation. There is no solid support that Twain made this humorous comment.
Thanks to Carl M. Cannon, a journalist who has written top-notch articles for years educating people about quotations and misquotations. Cannon recently pointed out that this saying was implausibly being credited to Mark Twain on a popular website.
- TwainQuotes.com website edited by Barbara Schmidt. (Search performed December 17, 2012) link ↩
- 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Search performed on scanned pages) ↩
- 1968 June 28, Statesville Record and Landmark, Facts Listed On Aging, Quote Page 7-A, Statesville, North Carolina. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1968 July 11, Schenectady Gazette, Researchers Say Heredity Affects Aging, Quote Page 38, Column 3, Schenectady, New York. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1968 July 18, State Times (State Times Advocate), (Freestanding quote), Page 7-C, Column 3, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1970 May 20, The Milwaukee Journal, Aging Called A Matter Of Mind Over Calendar, (UPI News), Part 2, Page 7, Column 3, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1972 October, The Rotarian, Stripped Gears, Quote Page 56, Column 1, Published by Rotary International, Evanston, Illinois. (Google Books full view) link ↩
- 1974 February 14, Lewiston Evening Journal, People in the News, (Associated Press), Quote Page 7, Column 8, Lewiston-Auburn, Maine. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1977 February 27, Spartanburg Herald-Journal, Golden Thoughts: Senior Citizens (Continuation title: Seniors), Start Page D4, Quote Page D6, Spartanburg, South Carolina. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1979 August 14, Cleveland Plain Dealer, A 2,000 Game Winner by George E. Condon, Quote Page 11-A, Column 2, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Leroy Robert ‘Satchel’ Paige, Page 574, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1981 December 10, San Diego Union, Section: Sports, Ali Thrives On Rites of Hype by Barry Lorge, (Article continuation title: Muhammad Ali). Start Page D-1, Quote Page D-2, Column 4, San Diego, California. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1982 April, Changing Times: The Kiplinger Magazine, You body and mind as the years go by, Quote Page 54, Column 1, The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc., Editors Park, Maryland. (Editorial Office: Washington, D.C.) (Google Books full view) link ↩
- 1985 January 21, Miami Herald, Section: Sports, Is ’85 Evert’s Final Chapter, by Jim Martz, Page 1C, Miami, Florida. (NewsBank Access World News) ↩