Author Archives: garson

The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled Was Convincing the World He Didn’t Exist

Christopher McQuarrie? Charles Baudelaire? Kevin Spacey? Verbal Kint? Keyser Söze? John Wilkinson? William Ramsey? John Fletcher Hurst? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The 1995 movie “The Usual Suspects” contains a memorable line spoken by a guileful character about the existence or non-existence of the Devil.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

Apparently, the prominent French literary figure Charles Baudelaire said something similar. Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Charles Baudelaire did write a story that appeared in the Paris newspaper “Le Figaro” in 1864 that included a comparable statement. The precise citation is given further below.

Interesting precursors occurred even earlier; for example, the 1836 book “Quakerism Examined” by John Wilkinson contained the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

One of the artifices of Satan is, to induce men to believe that he does not exist: another, perhaps equally fatal, is to make them fancy that he is obliged to stand quietly by, and not to meddle with them, if they get into true silence.

In 1856 “Spiritualism, a Satanic Delusion, and a Sign of the Times” by Pastor William Ramsey included this passage: 2

One of the most striking proofs of the personal existence of Satan, which our times afford us, is found in the fact, that he has so influenced the minds of multitudes in reference to his existence and doings, as to make them believe that he does not exist; and that the hosts of Demons or Evil Spirits, over whom Satan presides as Prince, are only the phantacies of the brain, some halucination of mind. Could we have a stronger proof of the existence of a mind so mighty as to produce such results?

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1836, Quakerism Examined: In a Reply to the Letter of Samuel Tuke by John Wilkinson, Chapter 4: Is the Sacrifice of Christ Held in Proper Estimation by the Society of Friends?, Quote Page 239 and 240, Thomas Ward and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1856, Spiritualism, a Satanic Delusion, and a Sign of the Times by William Ramsey (Pastor of the Cedar Street Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia), Chapter 2: The Case Stated, Quote Page 33, Edited by H. L. Hastings, Published by H. L. Hastings, Peace Dale, Rhode Island. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Risk Comes from Not Knowing What You’re Doing

Warren Buffett? Jim Rasmussen? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The investment record of Warren Buffett has been astonishingly successful. His reputation for sagacity means that his tongue can transform a prosaic remark into an adage of wry plainspoken wisdom such as the following:

Risk comes from not knowing what you’re going.

I have seen low quality citations in secondary sources from the 2010s. Can you help me to find a good citation for this comment?

Quote Investigator: In 1993 Warren Buffett spoke to graduate students at Columbia University’s Business School in New York City. Reporter Jim Rasmussen wrote about the event in January 1994 in the “Omaha World-Herald” of Nebraska.

A student asked Buffett how he evaluated investments and risk, and Buffett used the Washington Post Company as an example of a safe investment circa 1973. He stated that the company’s market value at that time was underestimated because it was substantially lower than the value of the properties it owned. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And it was being run by honest and able people who all had a significant part of their net worth in the business. It was ungodly safe. It wouldn’t have bothered me to put my whole net worth in it. Not in the least.

Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.

Interestingly, “The Washington Post” and other newspaper and media organizations have become riskier assets in modern times because of internet induced turmoil. Amazon leader Jeff Bezos purchased the paper in 2013.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1994 January 2, Omaha World-Herald, Section: Business, Billionaire Talks Strategy With Students Columbia University Group Hears From Famous Alumnus Berkshire Hathaway by Jim Rasmussen (Herald Staff Writer), Quote Page 17S, Omaha, Nebraska. (The article text in the database misspelled “knowing” as “knowning”) (NewsBank Access World News)

If I Call It Art, It’s Art; or If I Hang It in a Museum, It’s Art

Marcel Duchamp? Janet Malcolm? Raul Gamboa? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The artist provocateur Marcel Duchamp proclaimed that he could transform a prosaic object into an objet d’art worthy of display in a museum. He famously accomplished this feat with a urinal he dubbed “Fountain” in 1917. See the picture above. Would you please help me to find a quotation encapsulating his viewpoint?

Quote Investigator: In 1968 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented a show titled “Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage”. An article in “Newsweek” mentioned two works by Duchamp and included a remark from the creator. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

By exhibiting such things as an ordinary bottle rack, Marcel Duchamp revealed the surprising beauty hidden in simple objects. He inserted marble cubes, a cuttlebone and a thermometer into a birdcage and called the result “Why Not Sneeze?” “Everything in life is art,” says 81-year-old Duchamp. “If I call it art, it’s art; or if I hang it in a museum, it’s art.”

The phrasing suggested that the words were spoken to a “Newsweek” reporter by Duchamp at the time of the show in 1968.

Below are two additional selected citations.

Continue reading


  1. 1968 April 8, Newsweek, Dada at MOMA, Start Page 132, Quote Page 132, Column 2, Newsweek, New York. (Verified with scans)

“Where Should One Use Perfume?” “Wherever One Wants To Be Kissed”

Coco Chanel? Arlene Dahl? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The brilliant fashion luminary Coco Chanel was once asked about the proper application of fragrance to the body, and she gave an entertaining reply about osculation. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared as a short item from a columnist in “The Boston Globe” of Massachusetts in 1962. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“A woman should use perfume wherever she wants to be kissed” . . . Mlle. Chanel.

Marcel Haedrich, the editor in chief of a popular French women’s magazine called “Marie-Claire”, encouraged Chanel to use a tape recorder to describe her life story. In 1971 Haedrich published “Coco Chanel Secrète” based on Chanel’s recollections. The book included the following passage: 2

Où faut-il se parfumer ? demanda une jeune femme.
Là où vous voulez vous faire embrasser, répondit Coco.

« Ces journalistes américains sont des enfants, disait-elle, j’ai vu celte réponse cela m’a valu l’amitié des journalistes américains, je leur avais dit quelque chose qui faisait rire tout le monde ».

In 1972 an English translation appeared under the title “Coco Chanel: Her Life, Her Secrets”. The text above was rendered as follows: 3

‘Where should one use perfume?’ a young woman asked.
‘Wherever one wants to be kissed,’ I said.

“Those American reporters are children. I saw this answer printed everywhere. It was a bore; but I think it earned me the friendship of the American reporters: I’d told them something that made everyone laugh.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1962 December 27, The Boston Globe, Crossing the River Changed His Figure? by Joe Harrington, Quote Page 19, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  2. 1971, Coco Chanel Secrète by Marcel Haedrich, Chapter 14: Sixième victoire: le « come-back », Quote Page 201, Éditions Robert Laffont, Paris. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1972, Coco Chanel: Her Life, Her Secrets by Marcel Haedrich, Translated from the French by Charles Lam Markmann, Chapter 14: The Sixth Victory: The Comeback, Quote Page 165, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with hardcopy)

That Common Cold of the Male Psyche, Fear of Commitment

Richard Schickel? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The film historian and critic Richard Schickel asserted that men’s refusal to commit to relationships is as prevalent as the common cold. Would you please help me to find the exact phrasing and a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1983 Richard Schickel reviewed the movie “Terms of Endearment” in “Time” magazine. The matriarch Aurora Greenway played by Shirley MacLaine eventually commenced a relationship with retired astronaut Garrett Breedlove played by Jack Nicholson. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He has been living next door to Aurora for ten years before she hints that she might entertain a luncheon invitation from him. Five years later she actually accepts it. Thereupon a woman who once told an admirer not to worship her unless she deserved it plunges giddily into a relationship with a man she knows suffers that common cold of the male psyche, fear of commitment.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1983 November 28, Time, Cinema: Sisters Under the Skin by Richard Schickel, Time Inc., New York. (Time magazine archive at; accessed March 12, 2018)

It’s Not Quite True I Had Nothing On: The Radio Was On

Marilyn Monroe? Sheilah Graham? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Beauty icon Marilyn Monroe’s film career was jeopardized in the 1950s when scandal-mongers reported on her past as a risqué calendar model. Interestingly, her popularity and fame actually grew. When she was questioned about the calendar she responded with a clever and hilarious remark about a radio. Is this tale authentic or apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the gossip column of Sheilah Graham in June 1952. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A pompous visitor asked Marilyn Monroe at Niagara—”Is it true that when you posed for that famous calendar photograph, Miss Monroe, you had nothing on?” “No,” said our Marilyn, “I had the radio on.”

Monroe was one of the stars of the film “Niagara” which was filmed in 1952 and released in 1953. It is conceivable that this tale was crafted by a humorist on behalf of Monroe and her studio; the zinger was then given to Graham for publication. Nevertheless, Monroe definitely employed the quip when she was interviewed for a 1953 profile published in “Esquire” magazine as shown further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1952 June 23, The Evening Star, Hollywood Diary by Sheilah Graham (North American Newspaper Alliance), Quote Page A13, Column 4, Washington D.C. (GenealogyBank)

Information Wants To Be Expensive. Information Wants To Be Free

Stewart Brand? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Revenues in the recorded music industry and the advertiser-supported newspaper business have collapsed in the past twenty years. I am reminded of the following provocative remark:

Information wants to be free.

Apparently, this is only part of a larger quotation. Would you please explore the provenance of these words?

Quote Investigator: The influential publisher, editor, and writer Stewart Brand helped organize the first Hackers Conference in 1984. The list of attendees was based on Steven Levy’s recently released book “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution”.

In this time period the development of commercial programs for personal computers faced the problem of unauthorized copying which was reducing income. One response was experimentation with new business models such as freeware and shareware. The word processor PC-Write and the communications program PC-TALK were distributed using these models which attempted to elicit voluntary payments.

During a panel discussion Brand employed the rhetorical technique of personification by granting the abstract term “information” dual contradictory desires. He asserted that “information” wished to be both expensive and free. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

STEWART BRAND: It seems like there’s a couple of interesting paradoxes that we’re working here. That’s why I’m especially interested in what Bob Wallace has done with PC-WRITE and what Andrew Fluegelman did before that with PC-TALK. On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

The passage above appeared in Brand’s magazine “Whole Earth Review” in May 1985 although the words were spoken in November 1984. Brand articulated a nuanced modern conundrum, and the phrase “Information wants to be free” by itself is an amputated distortion of his viewpoint.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1985 May, Whole Earth Review, ‘Keep designing’; how the information economy is being created and shaped by the hacker ethic by Stewart Brand and Matt Herron, (Discussions from the Hackers’ Conference, November 1984), Start Page 44, Point Foundation, San Francisco. (Academic OneFile Gale)

Those Who Are Good at Making Excuses Are Seldom Good at Anything Else

Benjamin Franklin? Theodore Edward Hook? Maria Edgeworth? Arthur Wellesley? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The statesman Benjamin Franklin is often credited with the following aphorism. Here are two versions:

  • A person good at making excuses is seldom good for anything else.
  • A man who is good at making excuses is good for nothing else.

I have never seen a precise citation which makes me suspicious. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Benjamin Franklin died in 1790, and the earliest two pertinent citations located by QI appeared in 1809. The book “Liber Facetiarum: Being a Collection of Curious and Interesting Anecdotes” included a tale ascribing the nugget of wisdom to Franklin: 1

A young American having broken an appointment with Dr Franklin, came to him the following day, and made a very handsome apology for his absence: He was proceeding, when the doctor stopped him with, “My good boy, say no more, you have said too much already; for the man who is good at making an excuse, is seldom good at any thing else.
Anecdotes of D. F.

Also, in 1809 the text of Theodore Edward Hook’s work titled “Safe and Sound: An Opera in Three Acts” was published in London. A character delivered the line while criticizing another character: 2

Lind: I assure you I did not mean——

Baron. Make no excuse—a man who is good at making excuses is seldom good at any thing else. Here come the guards—get away—get away.

Lind. Generous man

QI is unable to judge the reliability of the anecdote. Whether the opera influenced the composition of the anecdote or vice versa also remains unclear. Perhaps future researchers will identify earlier citations.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1809, Liber Facetiarum: Being a Collection of Curious and Interesting Anecdotes, Quote Page 182, Printed by and for D. Akenhead and Sons, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1810 (1809 London Edition), The English and American Stage, Volume 34, Safe and Sound: An Opera in Three Acts by Theodore Edward Hook, Performed at The Lyceum Theatre in London, Start Page 2, Quote Page 40, Published by D. Longworth, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

So What? I Paint Fakes, Too

Pablo Picasso? Leonard Lyons? Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler? Arthur Koestler? Marshall McLuhan? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The most fascinating anecdote about authenticity that I have ever heard features Pablo Picasso repudiating a painting that he apparently created. Are you familiar with this tale? Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest occurrence of this anecdote located by QI appeared in the popular syndicated column of Leonard Lyons in 1957. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

One of Picasso’s friends asked him to look at a picture he’d bought: “Is this a genuine Picasso?” The painter examined it and said, “No, it’s a fake.” The friend was crestfallen, then said: “Oh, well, I have this other one — a genuine Picasso.” The artist looked at the second picture and said: “That’s a fake, too” . . .”But that’s impossible,” said the friend, bewildered. “I saw you paint it myself”. . .“So what?” Picasso shrugged. “I paint fakes, too.”

Lyons did not identify the confused individual in this article, but ten years later in 1967 Lyons revisited the topic and pointed to Picasso’s art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler as the owner of the disavowed painting.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1957 February 22, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Picasso Can ‘Paint Fakes, Too’ by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 27, Column 1 and 2, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Every Successful Revolution Puts On In Time the Robes of the Tyrant It Has Deposed

Barbara W. Tuchman? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular historian Barbara W. Tuchman said that a successful revolution eventually reinstates the tyrannical behavior that precipitated the initial rebellion. I do not recall the precise wording she used. Would you please help me to find this quotation?

Quote Investigator: In 1971 Barbara W. Tuchman published “Stilwell and the American Experience in China: 1911-45” which included the following passage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The fervor of the Kuomintang’s youth had passed to the Communists leaving Chungking with history’s most melancholy tale: that every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.

Below are three additional selected citations.

Continue reading


  1. 1971, Stilwell and the American Experience in China: 1911-45 by Barbara W. Tuchman (Barbara Wertheim Tuchman), Chapter 8: Military Attaché: Sino-Japanese War, 1937-39, Quote Page 184 and 185, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)