There Are Two Types of Speakers: Those Who Are Nervous and Those Who Are Liars

Mark Twain? Richard Branson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following comical remark reassures neophyte speakers that their anxious feelings are universal:

There are only two types of speakers: (1) the nervous (2) the liars.

This quip is usually attributed to the famous humorist Mark Twain, but I cannot find a solid citation, and I have become skeptical. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find this statement in the writings, dictations, or speeches of Mark Twain. It does not appear on the Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2 The ascription to Mark Twain is currently unsupported.

Twain died in 1910, and the earliest close match located by QI appeared many years later in a posting to the Usenet newsgroup alt.business.seminars in 1998, Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 3

Some of the world’s most famous presenters have freely admitted to nervousness and stage fright. Mark Twain said it best, “There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1999 the saying appeared without attribution in the signature block of a message posted to the newsgroup alt.org.toastmasters: 4

There are two types of speakers: those who are nervous and those who are liars.

In October 2000 the saying appeared as an epigraph to an article about stage fright in a Waterloo, Iowa newspaper: 5

“There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” Mark Twain

In 2010 a newspaper in Franklin, Indiana employed the saying: 6

Mark Twain contended that it was normal to be nervous in front of crowds. He said it happened to everybody. “There are two types of speakers in the world,” he said. “Those that are nervous and those that are liars.”

In 2014 the British entrepreneur Richard Branson published “The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership”, and he included the saying: 7

Twain’s other statement on the subject of speaking that made me feel a lot better about my qualms was, ‘There are only two types of speakers in the world: 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.’

The strange fact is that nervousness is good. The best and most experienced public speakers still get nervous, so don’t fret about it.

In conclusion, the creator of this saying is anonymous. Mark Twain implausibly received credit by 1998. The long delay means that this attribution is not substantive. This article presents a snapshot of current research. Perhaps future researchers may learn more about this saying. The phrasing may have evolved over time which makes tracing the origin difficult.

(Great thanks to Vikki DeVries whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched March 5, 2020) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. 1998 January 13, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.business.seminars, From: Pres…@LJLSeminars.com, Subject: Overcoming Speaking Anxiety. (Google Groups Search; Accessed March 4, 2020) link
  4. 1999 October 23, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.org.toastmasters, From: “Judith Nightingale” @cn-newc.com.au, Subject: Re: Table Topic Idea. (Google Groups Search; Accessed March 4, 2020) link
  5. 2000 October 13, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Stage Fright: Public speaking can be easier if you learn techniques to calm your fears by Meta Hemenway-Forbes (Courier Staff Writer), Quote Page C5, Column 2, Waterloo, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 2010 May 14, The Daily Journal, Suffering from stage fright? You’re in good company by James H. Johnson, Quote Page A4, Column 3, Franklin, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 2014, The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership by Richard Branson, Chapter 4: K-I-S-S and Tell: Simplicity wins every time, Quote on unnumbered page, Portfolio / Penguin: A Penguin Random House Company, New York. (Google Books Preview)