Author Archives: garson

That’s the Trouble, a Sex Symbol Becomes a Thing. I Just Hate To Be a Thing

Marilyn Monroe? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Glamourous movie icon Marilyn Monroe apparently expressed misgivings about her sex symbol status because she did not want to be viewed simply as a thing. Would you please help me to find a citation for her remarks on this topic?

Quote Investigator: “LIFE” magazine Associate Editor Richard Meryman and Marilyn Monroe engaged in a series of conversations, and the transcripts were edited into the form of a lengthy monologue which was published in “LIFE” in August 1962 shortly before the death of Monroe. The following passage includes a pun on cymbals versus symbols. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I never quite understood it — this sex symbol — I always thought symbols were those things you clash together! That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing. But if I’m going to be a symbol of something I’d rather have it sex than some other things they’ve got symbols of!

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  1. 1962 August 3, LIFE, Volume 53, Number 5, Marilyn Monroe lets her hair down about being famous: “Fame will go by and—so long, I’ve had you”, (Monroe spoke with LIFE Associate Editor Richard Meryman in a series of conversations), Start Page 31, Quote Page 36, Column 3, Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

Never Disregard a Book Because the Author of It Is a Ridiculous Fellow

Lord Melbourne? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I once saw a proverb stating that one should not ignore a book simply because the author is a foolish person. Are you familiar with this proverb of encouragement for many writers?

Quote Investigator: Lord Melbourne (William Lamb) served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 1830s. He wrote notes about his life and his thoughts in a commonplace book he kept from about 1809 until 1832. Decades later an editor selected material from the commonplace book and included it within the 1889 book “Lord Melbourne’s Papers”. Here were two statements penned by the statesman. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Never disregard a book because the author of it is a ridiculous fellow.

Nothing injures poetry so much as over-consideration and cold and critical correction.

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  1. 1889, Lord Melbourne’s Papers (Viscount William Lamb Melbourne), Edited by Lloyd C. Sanders, Preface by The Earl Cowper, Chapter 3: Married Life and Literature: 1805-1828, Quote Page 86, Longmans, Green, and Co., London. (Google Books Full View) link

I Guess There Are Enough of Them in the Country So They’re Entitled To Representation

Calvin Coolidge? E. E. Whiting? Harold Schoelkopf? Styles Bridges? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: President Calvin Coolidge was once told that a U.S. Senator was an S.O.B. He replied with comical and wistful statement about group representation within a democracy. Would you please explore this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a Michigan newspaper in March 1944 within a column titled “Between You and Me” written by an author with the initials “L. A. W.”. The bowdlerization in the following occurred in the original text. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Here’s a President Coolidge story I like about a Southern senator who bitterly attacked Coolidge on the floor of the senate. One of the President’s friends rushed over to the White House and excitedly explained to Coolidge what was going on.

“The dirty so-and-so.” exclaimed Coolidge’s friend. “He’s nothing but a son-of-a- —–!”

Coolidge never lost his composure for a second

“Well,” he quietly remarked, as was characteristic of him. “I guess after all there are enough of them in the country so that they are entitled to representation in the senate.”

Coolidge was the U.S. President between 1923 and 1929, so this tale is somewhat late, and future researchers may discover earlier evidence.

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  1. 1944 March 19, Port Huron Times Herald, Between You and Me, Quote Page 4, Column 6, Port Huron, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)

We Ceased To Be the Lunatic Fringe. We’re Now the Lunatic Core

Creator: Geoffrey Hinton, leading researcher in machine learning and artificial neural networks

Context: In 2014 “Wired” magazine published a profile of Hinton titled “Meet the Man Google Hired to Make AI a Reality”. AI means artificial intelligence. The article discussed the recent sea change in AI research. The term “deep learning” refers to techniques using artificial neural networks: 1

Students at universities are turning away from more traditional machine learning projects to work on deep learning, says Max Welling, a computer scientist at the University of Amsterdam. “This information has trickled down all the way to the students who are sitting in the Netherlands, far away from where all this happens. They have all picked up on it. They all know about it,” he says. “That to me is the ultimate evidence that this has propagated everywhere.”

In other words, deep learning is now mainstream. “We ceased to be the lunatic fringe,” Hinton says. “We’re now the lunatic core.”

Image Notes: Illustration of an artificial neural network by Cburnett; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. Picture of Geoffrey Hinton by Eviatar Bach; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. Images have been resized, retouched, and cropped.


  1. Website: Wired, Article title: Meet the Man Google Hired to Make AI a Reality, Article author: Daniela Hernandez, Date on website: January 16, 2014, Website description: A magazine and website that reports on technological developments and societal changes. (Accessed on May 18, 2018) link

Faced With the Choice Between Changing One’s Mind and Proving That There Is No Need To Do So, Almost Everyone Gets Busy On the Proof

Quotation 01: Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone opts for the latter.

Quotation 02: Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

Creator: John Kenneth Galbraith, Professor of Economics, Harvard University

Context: In 1965 Galbraith penned a book review for “The New York Times” of John Maynard Keynes’s famous work “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”. Galbraith discussed the slow acceptance in the U.S. of Keynes’s economic theories, and he highlighted the changing perspective of economist Alvin H. Hansen who had criticized Keynes’s previous book “A Treatise on Money”. Ultimately, Hansen embraced the ideas in “The General Theory”, and he became an influential advocate. Emphasis added: 1

The economists of established reputation had not taken to Keynes. Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone opts for the latter. So it was then. Hansen had an established reputation, and he did change his mind.

A revised version of Galbraith’s article was published in the 1971 collection “A Contemporary Guide to Economics, Peace, and Laughter” under the title “How Keynes Came to America”. Galbraith slightly modified his quotation: 2

Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

Related Article: When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?

Image Notes: Depiction of a new idea from TeroVesalainen at Pixabay.


  1. 1965 May 16, New York Times, Section: Book Review, Came the Revolution by John Kenneth Galbraith, (Book review of “The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money” by John Maynard Keynes), Start Page BR1, Quote Page BR34, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1971, A Contemporary Guide to Economics, Peace, and Laughter by John Kenneth Galbraith, Essays edited by Andrea D. Williams, Chapter 3: How Keynes Came to America, Quote Page 50, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with hardcopy)

All the Couples Were Triangles and Lived in Squares

Dorothy Parker? Margaret Irwin? Kingsley Martin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The writers, artists, and intellectuals of the Bloomsbury Group formed complex and shifting intimate relationships. A wit once said:

They lived in squares and loved in triangles.

The famous author Dorothy Parker has received credit for this quip and for a more elaborate version:

They were living in squares, painting in circles and loving in triangles.

Would you please explore the provenance of this family of sayings?

Quote investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the column “A London Diary” of “The New Statesman and Nation” magazine in 1941. The word “love” was not employed. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I wonder what people mean by “Bloomsbury”? I asked myself as I looked at the dismantled flat. Certainly it is no longer what Margaret Irwin used to describe in the ‘twenties as the place where “all the couples were triangles and lived in squares”. Whatever it was once, it is gone now.

Kingsley Martin was the long-serving editor of the periodical, and he wrote “A London Diary” under the name “Critic”. 2 Martin credited Margaret Irwin, an ambiguous identifier that probably referred to the popular English historical novelist.

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  1. 1941 March 29, New Statesman and Nation, A London Diary, Start Page 317, Quote Page 317, Column 1, London, England. (ProQuest Periodicals Archive Online)
  2. Website: New Statesman, Article title: The unconscious of the middle class: The life and times of Kingsley Martin, Article author: Norman Mackenzie, Date on website: May 22, 2013, Website description: British magazine of politics and culture based in London. (Accessed on May 15, 2018) link

A Life Spent in Making Mistakes Is Not Only More Honorable But More Useful Than a Life Spent Doing Nothing

Creator: George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and critic

Context: Shaw’s play “The Doctor’s Dilemma” was first staged in London in 1906. In 1911 Shaw published the text of drama together with a lengthy preface which included the following passage. Emphasis added: 1

Attention and activity lead to mistakes as well as to successes; but a life spent in making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. The one lesson that comes out of all our theorizing and experimenting is that there is only one really scientific progressive method and that is the method of trial and error.

Image Notes: Picture of shoe about to step on a banana from stevepb at Pixabay. George Bernard Shaw photographed circa 1909.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to the newsletter author who asked about this quotation because she wished to verify its accuracy before including it in an upcoming issue.


  1. 1911, The Doctor’s Dilemma, with Preface on Doctors by Bernard Shaw, Section: Preface on Doctors, Quote Page lxxxv and lxxxvi, Brentano’s, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

A Good Teacher Is Like a Candle that Consumes Itself While Lighting the Way for Others

Giovanni Ruffini? Mustafa Kemal Atatürk? Charles Wiseman? Edward Bulwer-Lytton? Emir Abdelkader? Henry Ward Beecher? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Being a teacher is wonderfully fulfilling, but it is also exhausting. The following astute simile reflects this tension:

A teacher is like a candle that consumes itself to light the way for others.

This saying has been credited to the Italian poet Giovanni Ruffini and the Turkish statesman Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: This saying is difficult to trace because it can be expressed in many ways. The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a 1764 book titled “A Complete English Grammar on a New Plan” by Charles Wiseman. While discussing figurative language Wiseman presented a collection of example similes; four are shown below. Interestingly, a candle was likened to an “author” instead of a “teacher”; both may serve an educational role. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

  • Like snow that melts away on the ground as it falls, i.e. words
  • Like a candle which lights others, and burns out itself, i.e. an author, or
  • Like a dog in a wheel that toils to roast meat for others eating, i.e. an author
  • Like a bucket at the bottom of a deep well, he must labour hard that will draw it up, i.e. truth

Wiseman presented thirty-two similes in this textbook section, and QI conjectures that most of them were already in circulation; thus, he may be credited with popularizing the candle simile but not constructing it.

Giovanni Ruffini was born in 1807, and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born in 1881; hence, neither crafted this simile.

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  1. 1764, A Complete English Grammar on a New Plan: For the Use of Foreigners and Such Natives as would acquire a Scientifical Knowledge of their own Tongue by Charles Wiseman, Quote Page 383, Printed for W. Nicol, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Genius: Seeing Things Others Don’t See. Or Rather the Invisible Links Between Things

Quotation: “What do you call ‘genius’?”
“Well, seeing things others don’t see. Or rather the invisible links between things.”

Creator: Vladimir Nabokov, author of “Pale Fire”, “Lolita”, and “Speak, Memory”

Context: The lines excerpted above show two characters talking from the 1974 novel “Look at the Harlequins!” by Nabokov. 1 These two lines are often compressed to yield the following statement: Genius is finding the invisible link between things. However, assigning this compressed remark to Nabokov is inaccurate.

Related Article: Research Is to See What Everybody Else Has Seen and Think What Nobody Has Thought

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Brad Davies who asked about this quotation. Thanks also to Athel Cornish-Bowden who led QI to add the link to the “Related Article” when he pointed out the conceptual connection.

Image Notes: Picture of Harlequin and Columbine from the mime theater at Tivoli,
Denmark; author: Malene Thyssen; CC BY-SA 3.0. Portrait of Vladimir Nabokov circa 1973; author: Walter Mori; public domain image accessed via Wikimedia.


  1. 1990 (1974 Copyright), Look at the Harlequins! by Vladimir Nabokov, Quote Page 40, (Originally published in 1974 by McGraw-Hill International) Vintage international: A Division of Random House, New York. (Google Books Preview)

If Anything Can Go Wrong, Fix It! (To Hell With Murphy!)

Quotation: If anything can go wrong, fix it! (To hell with Murphy!)

Creator: Peter H. Diamandis, founder and chairman of the X Prize Foundation; bestselling author; cofounder of Singularity University

Context: In 2015 Diamandis published “Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World”. He described an episode that occurred shortly after he founded and began working at the International Space University. He shared an office with a colleague who placed a copy of Murphy’s Law on the wall which stated: “If anything can go wrong, it will”. Diamandis greatly disliked the sign. Boldface has been added to this excerpt: 1

There’s an old saying in business: You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. The same is true for ideas. . . Thus, a week into Murphy’s mental assault, I went to the whiteboard behind my desk and wrote: “If anything can go wrong, fix it! (To hell with Murphy!)” Then above the quote I wrote, “Peter’s Law.”

Image Notes: Still image from NASA animated sequence depicting the servicing of the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph during Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 4.


  1. 2015, Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Quote Page 108, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Google Books Preview)