Arthur C. Clarke? Bob Thaves? Evan Esar? Jonah Peretti? Paul Heskett? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The famous science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke was once asked whether he believed in astrology, and he gave a facetious self-contradictory answer. I have not been able to find a solid citation. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence linking the quip to Clarke known to QI appeared in the April 1997 issue of the U.K. magazine “Astronomy Now”. A letter from Paul Heskett of Somerset, England sympathetically suggested that astrology addressed social needs that were not treated by astronomy. Heskett stated that he heard the remark from Clarke. The variant spelling “sceptical” for “skeptical” was used in the magazine. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
This is a point that all of us would do well to bear in mind; as perhaps, is that made by Arthur Clarke when he told me “I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarian and we’re sceptical.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1978 a similar joke schema based on a different sign of the zodiac appeared in the “The Comic Encyclopedia” by Evan Esar: 2
A woman said she wasn’t superstitious because she was afraid it might bring her bad luck. She may have been the same woman who said she didn’t believe in astrology at all, and that everyone else born under the sign of Aquarius felt the same way.
On March 2, 1978 the comic strip “Frank and Ernest” by Bob Thaves depicted two men looking at a sign advertising an astrology shop. The taller man, Frank, said the following: 3
I don’t believe in astrology — we Scorpios are too scientific for that sort of thing.
In 1997 “The Friars Club Encyclopedia of Jokes” included an instance of the joke: 4
I don’t believe in astrology. But then I’m an Aquarius and Aquarians don’t believe in astrology.
Also in 1997 “Astronomy Now” published a letter that ascribed a version of the jest to Arthur C. Clarke as noted previously.
In 2001 “Cassell’s Humorous Quotations” edited by top expert Nigel Rees printed the remark ascribed to A. C. Clarke and cited Paul Heskett in “Astronomy Now” magazine. 5
In 2008 the “Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations” included a slightly altered version of the remark attributed to Clarke and cited the book by Nigel Rees for support: 6
I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re sceptical.
In 2014 Elle published an interview that Chelsea Peretti had conducted with her brother Jonah Peretti who was a co-founder of the media company BuzzFeed. The first line below was a question posed by Chelsea and the second line was the reply by Jonah: 7
You’re a Capricorn, right? How does astrology guide you?
Yes, I’m a typical Capricorn. I’m hardworking, loyal, sometimes stubborn, and I don’t believe in astrology.
In conclusion, this type of joke was circulating anonymously by 1978. Bob Thaves employed an instance in March 1978 in his comic strip “Frank and Ernest. The ascription to Arthur C. Clarke depends on the veracity of Paul Heskett’s testimony. Jonah Peretti did employ an instance in 2014.
Image Notes: Illustration of Sagittarius the Archer scanned from medieval book of astrology. Photograph of the constellation Sagittarius, the archer; author: Till Credner; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Public domain portrait of Arthur C. Clarke from Amazing Stories, June 1953. All three images were accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been retouched, resized, and cropped.
(Great Thanks to Terri of The Quote Garden at quotegarden.com which listed the “Frank and Ernest” joke together with its precise date within a section of Scorpio-themed jokes. Thanks to Molly Bell for pointing out that the atypical spelling of “sceptical” for “skeptical” will be unfamiliar to some readers.)
- 1997 April, Astronomy Now, Volume 11, Number 4, Section: Your Views, (Letter from Paul Heskett, Somerset, England), Quote Page 10, Column 1, Intra Press, London. (Now published by Pole Star, Tonbridge, Kent) (Verified with scans; thanks to Space Telescope Science Institute Library, Baltimore, Maryland) ↩
- 1978, The Comic Encyclopedia by Evan Esar, Topic: Self-Contradiction, Quote Page 679, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1978 March 2, Alexandria Daily Town Talk, “Frank and Ernest” comic strip by Bob Thaves, Quote Page D2, Column 1, Alexandria, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1997, The Friars Club Encyclopedia of Jokes, Compiled by H. Aaron Cohl, Topic: Cynicism, Quote Page 107, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, New York; Distributed by Workman Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 2001, Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, Compiled by Nigel Rees, Section: Astrology, Quote Page 41, Cassell, London; Sterling Pub. Co., New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 2008, Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations, Edited by Ned Sherrin, Topic: Certainty and Doubt, Quote Page 46, Oxford University Press, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- Website: Elle, Article title: 13 Reasons Why Being a Peretti Is Better Than Being Most Anybody, Article author: Chelsea Peretti, Date on website: February 19, 2014, Website description: Fashion and style; part of Hearst Digital Media. (Accessed elle.com on March 24, 2017) link ↩