It’s Easier To Fool People Than To Convince Them That They’ve Been Fooled

Mark Twain? Baltasar Gracian? John Maynard Keynes? Norman Angell? Joreth? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: An energetic liar can confuse, mislead, and deceive people. Yet, in many cases, that same liar is unable to reverse the deception. Hoodwinked people embrace their misperceptions. Here is a pertinent adage:

It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.

Mark Twain has received credit for this statement, but I have been unable to find a citation, and I have become skeptical. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) authored this remark. The earliest close match known to QI appeared in a tweet from @Joreth on January 10, 2011. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“It’s easier to fool ppl than to convince them that they’ve been fooled” ~Mark Twain #skeptic #atheist #skepticism

Thematically related statements have a long history, and Twain did express similar sentiments in 1906 as shown further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1647 Baltasar Gracián wrote “Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia” (“The Art of Worldly Wisdom”) which included a germane discussion of fools stubbornly clinging to incorrect beliefs. Here is a translation of Baltasar’s Spanish remarks into English: 2

Every blockhead is thoroughly persuaded that he is in the right, and every one who is all too firmly persuaded is a blockhead, and the more erroneous is his judgment the greater is the tenacity with which he holds it.

A separate QI article about the Baltasar Gracian quotation is available here.

In December 1906 Mark Twain dictated remarks for his autobiography which was being published in installments in “The North American Review”. Twain’s comments included the following statement which semantically aligns with the saying under investigation although it is distinct: 3

How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!

Also, in 1906 Mark Twain published “What Is Man?” which included the following prolix passage about people holding tenaciously to established beliefs: 4

We are always hearing of people who are around seeking after Truth. I have never seen a (permanent) specimen. I think he has never lived. But I have seen several entirely sincere people who thought they were (permanent) Seekers after Truth. They sought diligently, persistently, carefully, cautiously, profoundly, with perfect honesty and nicely adjusted judgment—until they believed that without doubt or question they had found the Truth. That was the end of the search. The man spent the rest of his life hunting up shingles wherewith to protect his Truth from the weather.

In 1919 the famous British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote about world leaders who bamboozled, i.e., fooled, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. They later discovered that it was difficult to debamboozle Wilson. 5

In 1927 journalist Norman Angell applied Keynes’s notion to the general population: 6

. . . it is easier to bamboozle than to debamboozle.

A separate QI article about the bamboozle saying is available here.

In January 2011 @Joreth tweeted the quotation under examination while crediting Mark Twain as mentioned previously. This tweet caught the eye of @SaraRosinsky who repeated it while expressing agreement: 7

So true! RT @Joreth: “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they’ve been fooled.” ~ Mark Twain

The saying continued to circulate via twitter during the ensuing months and years. For example, in September 2011 @HlwdBlvd tweeted the following: 8

Happy Labor Day! ‎“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled”– Mark Twain
@OTOOLEFAN @billmaher @joanwalsh

In conclusion, there is no substantive support for crediting this saying to Mark Twain. In 1906 Twain did deliver a related but distinct statement about making people believe a lie. Also, thematically related observations about human nature have a long history.

(Great thanks to Wikicitas, David A Conrad, Randolph Wagner, Aristóteles Beníci, Aanel Victoria, Kam-Yung Soh, Donna Halper, Stacy Clopton Yates, Mary-Ellen Mort, Frank Lynch, Daniel Gackle, and Dean W. Dei Cas whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Special thanks to previous researchers: Barry Popik of barrypopik.com; Barbara Schmidt of TwainQuotes.com; Dan Evon of snopes.com; and Donna Halper. Additional thanks to Cameron Gough for pointing to a typo.)

Notes:

  1. Tweet, From: Joreth @Joreth, Time: 7:47 AM, Date: January 10, 2011, Text: It’s easier to fool ppl than… (Accessed on twitter.com on December 23, 2020) link
  2. 1877 March 1, The Fortnightly Review, Volume 21, Balthasar Gracian by M. E. Grant Duff (Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff), Maxim 183, Start Page 328, Quote Page 338, Chapman and Hall, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1907 January 4, The North American Review, Volume 184, Chapters From My Autobiography—IX by Mark Twain, (Dictated December 2, 1906) Start Page 1, Quote Page 12, The North American Review Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1906, What Is Man? by Mark Twain, Chapter 4: Training, Quote Page 59, Printed at The De Vinne Press, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  5. 1919, The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes, (Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge), Chapter 3: The Conference, Quote Page 50, Macmillan and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  6. 1927 Copyright, The Public Mind: Its Disorders: Its Exploitation by Norman Angell, Part 1: A Picture of the Public Mind, Chapter 6: The Mechanism of Press Demagogy, Quote Page 132 and 133, E. P. Dutton & Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  7. Tweet, From: Sara Rosinsky @SaraRosinsky, Time: 9:23 AM, Date: January 10, 2011, Text: So true! RT @Joreth… (Accessed on twitter.com on December 23, 2020) link
  8. Tweet, From: Hlwd Blvd @HlwdBlvd, Time: 10:01 PM, Date: September 5, 2011, Text: Happy Labor Day… (Accessed on twitter.com on December 23, 2020) link