If You Make People Think They’re Thinking, They’ll Love You. If You Really Make Them Think They’ll Hate You

Don Marquis? Christopher Morley? Roscoe B. Ellard? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: People readily accept thoughtful opinions that are close to their own, but they become unhappy when sharply different viewpoints are expressed forcefully. Here is a germane remark:

If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you. If you really make them think they’ll hate you.

The newspaper columnist and humorist Don Marquis has received credit for this comment, but I have been unable to find a precise citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Don Marquis wrote a daily column called “The Sun Dial” for “The Evening Sun” of New York for more than a decade. Unfortunately, QI has been unable to find a database containing digitized copies of the newspaper in the pertinent time period when Marquis was crafting memorable epigrams. He also wrote for other papers such as “The New York Herald Tribune”.

The earliest match known to QI appeared in the “New York Evening Post” in February 1923 within a column called “The Bowling Green” by journalist and literary figure Christopher Morley who credited his friend Marquis. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

As Mr. Don Marquis once wrote (or was it Apollinaris Sidonius?) “If you make people think they are thinking, they will love you. If you really make them think, they’ll hate you.”

The mention of Apollinaris Sidonius was most likely intended to be humorous. QI believes that Marquis probably did coin this saying; however, the phrasing is uncertain because many variants have been published over the years. Perhaps future researchers will locate the original statement in an issue of “The Evening Sun” after it has been digitized.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1901 the “Chicago Tribune” of Illinois noted that the phrase “make people think they think” appeared in a different humorous expression spoken by a popular lecturer. The following remark would be appropriate for a wide variety of educators: 2

“It is your aim, of course,” said his intimate friend, “to make people think.”

“No,” replied the popular lecturer, in a burst of confidence, “my business is to make people think they think—or, rather, to make them think I think they think.”

In 1923 Christopher Morley ascribed the statement under examination to Don Marquis as mentioned previously. The next year Morley wrote a book titled “Religio Journalistici” in which he credited his friend with a slightly different phrasing of the statement that did not contain the work “thinking”: 3

Half-truths to which men are accustomed are so much easier to pass than the golden mintage they rarely encounter! What was it Mr. Don Marquis has remarked: “If you make people think they think, they’ll love you. If you really make them think, they’ll hate you.”

In October 1924 “Religio Journalistici” was reviewed in a Camden, New Jersey newspaper, and the evaluator highlighted the quotation under examination: 4

There are some clever phrases in Mr. Morley’s little book, but in my opinion, the only really brilliant thought is a quotation from Don Marquis, “If you make people think they think, they’ll love you. If you really make them think, they’ll hate you.”

In 1926 Morley was chairman of a book week honoring authors that was sponsored by Wanamaker’s department store in Manhattan, New York. An attendee reported that Morley employed a version that contained the word “thinking”: 5

Morley quoted Don Marquis thusly: ‘If you make people think they are thinking, they will love you; if you make them really think, they will hate you.’

In 1932 widely-syndicated gossip columnist O. O. McIntyre published an instance with an attribution to Marquis. The term “paragraphing” meant composing stylish and entertaining paragraphs for newspapers: 6

Somebody asks me for a recipe for paragraphing. Don Marquis expressed it perfectly years ago: “Make people think they think and they’ll love you. Really make them think and they’ll hate you.”

In 1935 the humor magazine “Life” attributed the saying to a journalism professor: 7

“If you make people think that they think, they will love you; but if you really make them think, they will hate you.”—Prof. Roscoe B. Ellard, Journalism, Univ. of Mo.

The 1938 edition of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” ascribed the words to Marquis and pointed to his column in “The Evening Sun”, but “Bartlett’s” did not provide an exact citation: 8

DONALD ROBERT PERRY MARQUIS [1878-1937]

If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you. If you really make them think they’ll hate you.
The Sun Dial

In 1997 “American Heritage Dictionary of American Quotations” credited Marquis and pointed to the 1927 compilation “archy and mehitabel” by Marquis. However, QI has examined this book and did not find the target quotation: 9

If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you: but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you
—Don Marquis,
archy and mehitabel, 1927

In conclusion, Don Marquis is the leading candidate for creator of this saying. Several small variations in phrasing have appeared over the decades. QI hypothesizes that Marquis penned the expression for his column “The Sun Dial” in the “The Evening Sun” of New York at some date prior to its appearance in Christopher Morley’s 1923 column.

Image Notes: Abstract representation of a thinking mind from geralt at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Many thanks to Bill Mullins who found the February 12, 1923 citation.)

Update History: On January 2, 2020 the February 12, 1923 citation was added and some parts were rewritten.

Notes:

  1. 1923 February 12, New York Evening Post, The Bowling Green by Christopher Morley, Quote Page 8, Column 4, New York. (Old Fulton)
  2. 1901 October 13, Chicago Daily Tribune, In a Minor Key: His Mission, Quote Page 12, Column 5,Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  3. 1924, Religio Journalistici by Christopher Morley, Chapter 3, Quote Page 32, Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  4. 1924 October 8, Camden Daily Courier, The Courier Book Page, Edited by Juliet Lit Stern, (Book review of “Religio Journalistici” by Christopher Morley), Quote Page 10, Column 3, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1926 November 21, The Sioux City Sunday Journal, The Winds of Arcady by Margaret Tod Ritter, Quote Page 24, Column 3, Sioux City, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1932 September 15, The Palm Beach Post, New York Day by Day by O. O. McIntyre, Quote Page 4, Column 2, West Palm Beach, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1935 November, Life, Faculty Minds, Quote Page 41, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest American Periodicals)
  8. 1938, Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett, Eleventh Edition, Edited by Christopher Morley and Louella D. Everett, Entry: Donald Robert Perry Marquis (1878-1937), Quote Page 854, Column 1, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  9. 1997, American Heritage Dictionary of American Quotations, Selected and Annotated by Margaret Miner and Hugh Rawson, Topic: Mind, Thought, & Understanding, Quote Page 318, Penguin Reference, New York. (Verified with scans)