Quote Origin: There Are Two Kinds of Teachers: The Kind That Fill You With So Much Quail Shot That You Can’t Move, and . . .

Robert Frost? Mark Twain? Margaret Pepperdene? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: Prominent U.S. poet Robert Frost has received credit for a brilliantly vivid metaphor describing two types of teachers. One type fills students with so much quail shot they cannot move. The other type simply prods students a little, and they jump to the skies.

Is this figurative language really from the pen of Robert Frost? Would you please help me to find a citation with the correct phrasing?

Reply from Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence that Robert Frost employed this metaphor which is based on an incident in an 1865 short story by Mark Twain titled “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”.

Twain’s tale centers on Jim Smiley who catches a frog which he names Dan’l Webster. Smiley trains the frog to jump a long distance, and he brags that his frog can “outjump any frog in Calaveras county”. A stranger agrees to gamble on a jumping contest between Dan’l Webster and another frog. The stranger sabotages Dan’l Webster by surreptitiously feeding it quail shot so that it cannot jump. The stranger wins the bet and escapes before the deceit is uncovered.

Robert Frost was both a teacher and a poet. He once told his class to read “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”. A 1963 article in the “Agnes Scott Newsletter” described the reaction of Frost’s students. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1963 April, Agnes Scott Newsletter, Memories of Robert Frost Abound at Agnes Scott, Start Page 1, Quote Page 1, Column 1 and 2, Published by News Bureau of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. … Continue reading

“Mr. Frost said that when his class assembled the next day they were somewhat mystified; they didn’t understand what this story had to do with a course in education. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I told them that this story was about teachers. There are two kinds of teachers: the kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can’t move, and the kind that just give you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.’”

This anecdote about Frost was reported by Margaret Pepperdene who was an Associate Professor of English at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. She later became a Professor of English and director of the college’s Writers’ Festival.[2]2009 November 24,  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, For 53 years, scholar nurtured students: At Agnes Scott and Paideia, she made lasting connections by Rick Badie, (Obituary of Margaret Jane … Continue reading Pepperdene heard the tale from Frost when she discussed teaching with him at his home on the Noble Farm in Ripton, Vermont.

Frost died on January 29, 1963, and the anecdote appeared in an article titled “Memories of Robert Frost Abound at Agnes Scott” in the April 1963 issue of “Agnes Scott Newsletter”.

Three more citations are included in the full version of this article which is available on the Medium website. Here is the link.

Image Notes: Public domain illustration of two frogs by F. Strothman from “The Jumping Frog” (1903) by Mark Twain.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Sue Ferrara and Joseph Pizzo whose tweets and inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Many thanks to the Archives and Special Collections of Amherst College Library in Amherst, Massachusetts for enabling access to the April 1963 issue of the “Agnes Scott Newsletter”.

References

References
1 1963 April, Agnes Scott Newsletter, Memories of Robert Frost Abound at Agnes Scott, Start Page 1, Quote Page 1, Column 1 and 2, Published by News Bureau of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. (Verified with scans from Archives and Special Collections, of Amherst College Library in Amherst, Massachusetts.)
2 2009 November 24,  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, For 53 years, scholar nurtured students: At Agnes Scott and Paideia, she made lasting connections by Rick Badie, (Obituary of Margaret Jane Pepperdene), Quote Page B5, Atlanta, Georgia. (ProQuest)

Before You Leave the House, Look in the Mirror and Remove One Piece of Jewelry

Coco Chanel? Gracie Allen? Joan Rivers? The McGuire Sisters? Polly Bergen? Nancy Abraham? Maggie Daly? Helen Hennessy? John Robert Powers? Beatrice Molinsky? George Burns? Anonymous?
Picture of jewelry circa A.D. 250-400Question for Quote Investigator: Fashion sense is always subjective, but many agree that wearing too much jewelry looks gaudy and ostentatious. The style maven Coco Chanel supposedly gave the following advice about adornments. Here are two versions:

(1) Always remove one piece of jewelry before you go out.

(2) Before you leave the house, look at yourself in the mirror and take one thing off.

Thus, this difficult choice requires second-guessing yourself. This adage has also been attributed to two comedians: Gracie Allen and Joan Rivers. I have been unable to find solid evidence. Would you please explore this saying’s provenance?

Reply from Quote Investigator: This saying is difficult to trace because it can be expressed in many ways. The earliest match known to QI appeared in “The American University Eagle” newspaper of Washington D.C. in 1949 which reprinted fashion advice from the “Daily Lass-o” of the Texas State College for Women. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1949 February 16, The American University Eagle, Texas Tips For Ladies, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Washington D.C. (Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections at idnc.library.illinois.edu; accessed February … Continue reading

“Lastly, never wear too much jewelry, no matter how well it all matches. An old policy, but still a very good one, is after you have completely finished dressing, step away from the mirror and get a good full length view of yourself, then remove one piece of jewelry and you will look much smarter.”

The phrase “old policy” signaled that this advice was a preexisting adage. The originator remains anonymous. Several famous people have referenced this saying, but QI has found no substantive support for the ascription to Coco Chanel. Comedian George Burns stated that his wife, Gracie Allen, adhered to the adage. Also, Joan Rivers referred to the saying, but she attributed it to her mother.

Additional detailed information about this fashion proverb is available on the Medium website which is available here.

Image Notes: Picture of jewelry from unknown maker circa A.D. 250-400. Public domain image from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. Image has been resized and cropped.

Acknowledgements: Great thanks to Noah Brier, Craig Good, and Flip Phillips whose inquiries and comments led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Many thanks to Simon Koppel who located the important 1949 citation and shared it with QI.

References

References
1 1949 February 16, The American University Eagle, Texas Tips For Ladies, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Washington D.C. (Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections at idnc.library.illinois.edu; accessed February 2, 2023)

When a Man Loves Cats, I Am His Friend and Comrade

Mark Twain? Robert H. Hirst? Susy Clemens? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: Several books about cats contain a quotation credited to humorist Mark Twain stating that Twain was a friend and comrade to people who love cats. I am skeptical of this  attribution, and I haven’t seen a citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: In 2009 Robert H. Hirst who is the general editor of the scholarly Mark Twain Project edited a book titled “Who is Mark Twain?” containing a collection of sketches and essays by Twain that were unpublished (or rarely published) previously.

A vignette dated September 1887 and titled “An Incident” described a meeting between Twain and a young man who was carrying a gun. Twain initially feared the youth was a “lunatic out gunning for men”. Next, he worried that a group of “four sorry-looking cats” were the target. But Twain learned that the youth was hoping to provide a meal for the cats. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]2010, Who is Mark Twain? by Mark Twain, Edited by Robert H. Hirst (General Editor of Mark Twain Project), Title of manuscript: An Incident, Editor’s date of manuscript: September 1887, Start … Continue reading

Aha!—so far from being a madman, he was saner, you see, than the average of our race; for he had a warm spot in him for cats. When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.

A couple more citations for this quotation are listed in the full article on the Medium website which is available here.

Image Notes: Public domain image of painting titled “Wild Cat” by Rosa Bonheur who died in 1899.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Karen__Rico whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.

References

References
1 2010, Who is Mark Twain? by Mark Twain, Edited by Robert H. Hirst (General Editor of Mark Twain Project), Title of manuscript: An Incident, Editor’s date of manuscript: September 1887, Start Page 165, Quote Page 166, HarperStudio: Imprint of HarperCollins, New York. (Verified with scans of paperback edition; hardcover was published in 2009)

Never Argue With Stupid People. They Will Drag You Down To Their Level and Then Beat You With Experience

Mark Twain? George Carlin? Yul Brynner? Jean Cocteau? Bob Gray? Dilbert? Scott Adams? Anonymous?

Illustration of a jester's hat from OpenClipart-Vectors at Pixabay.Question for Quote Investigator: Logic and careful reasoning are the ingredients of a constructive argument. Acrimony and irrationality are the elements of a fruitless argument. The celebrated humorist Mark Twain supposedly formulated the following cautionary remark. Here are two versions:

(1) Never argue with idiots. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience!

(2) Never argue with stupid people because they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

Comedian George Carlin has also received credit. I am skeptical of both of these attributions, and I have never seen solid citations. Would you please examine this saying?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The full version of this article with additional detailed information is available on the Medium website which is available by clicking here. The abbreviated article appears below.

QI has been unable to find substantive evidence crediting this remark to Mark Twain or George Carlin. It does not appear on the Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt,[1]Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, (QI searched the website for quotations containing the phrase “with experience” or the phrase “drag you”. No pertinent match … Continue reading nor does it appear in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger.[2]1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, (QI searched for quotations containing the phrase “with experience” or the phrase “drag you”. No pertinent … Continue reading

Scholar Matt Seybold of Elmira College and the Center for Mark Twain Studies examined this saying and concluded that “Mark Twain never said these words, nor anything resembling them”.[3]Website: Center for Mark Twain Studies, Article title: The Apocryphal Twain: “Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience”, Article author: … Continue reading George Carlin received credit many years after the quip was circulating.

QI conjectures that the quotation evolved over time. The Bible contains a thematically related passage in Proverbs 26:4. Here is the rendering from the New International Version. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[4]Website: Bible Hub, Article title: Parallel Verses of Proverbs 26:4, Translation: New International Version, Website description: Online Bible Study Suite. Bible hub is a production of the Online … Continue reading

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.

In 1878 April “The Daily Picayune” of New Orleans, Louisiana printed an adage depicting the underlying idea without attribution:[5] 1878 April 28, The Daily Picayune, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, New Orleans, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)

To argue with a fool is to make him your equal.

In May 1878 “The Rochester Evening Express” of Rochester, New York printed another precursor while acknowledging an Ohio source:[6] 1878 May 20, The Rochester Evening Express, Happy Thoughts, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Rochester, New York. (Old Fulton)

Don’t argue with a fool, or the listener will say there is a pair of you.—Cincinnati Breakfast Table.

QI has a separate article about a family of sayings incorrectly linked to Mark Twain which is available here: Never Argue With a Fool, Onlookers May Not Be Able To Tell the Difference.

In 1956 an Associated Press columnist spoke with the popular actor Yul Brynner who attributed a partially matching statement to prominent French artist Jean Cocteau:[7] 1956 November 13, The Daily Messenger, Bald, But Not Frustrated by Hal Boyle. Quote Page 8, Column 6, Canandaigua, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Yul said the greatest advice he ever received in life was given by the French writer Jean Cocteau, who told him:

“Never associate with idiots on their own level, because, being an intelligent man, you’ll try to deal with them on their level—and on their level they’ll beat you every time.”

The above statement used the word “associate” instead of “argue”, but within a few years the remark evolved toward the modern expression. In 1958 a columnist in “The Daily Tar Heel” of Chapel Hill, North Carolina used the word “argue”. The columnist also omitted Brynner’s name and attributed the words directly to Cocteau:[8] 1958 January 15, The Daily Tar Heel, A National Lottery: Is It A Revenue Source? by Frank Crowther, Quote Page 2, Column 7, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)

As Jean Cocteau once said, “Never argue with an idiot, because being an intelligent man, you will argue with them on their level, and, on their level, they’ll beat you every time.”

In 1993 an instance using the phrase “win with experience” appeared in the Usenet newsgroup comp.sys.cbm. The ellipsis occurred in the original text. The word “never” or “don’t” was omitted. No attribution was specified:[9]1993 December 12, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: comp.sys.cbm, From: Ben Dewberry @f272.n633.z3.fidonet.org, Subject: Zipcode Problem Solved. (Google Groups Search; Accessed August 8, 2020) … Continue reading

… Argue with idiots, they drag you to their level & win with experience.

In 1999 a version of the quip was attributed to Scott Adams’s Dilbert comic strip character. In 2009 Mark Twain received credit for a partially matching expression. In 2013 George Carlin received credit for a version of the quip.

The full version of this article with additional detailed information is available on the Medium website which is available by clicking here.

Image Notes: Illustration of a jester’s hat from OpenClipart-Vectors at Pixabay.

Acknowledgements: Great thanks to Marian T. Wirth, Brian Zachary Mayer, Thayne Davidson Muller, Robert McMillan, AnxiousPony, and Jane Bella whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Also, thanks to Matt Seybold for his pioneering research.

References

References
1 Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, (QI searched the website for quotations containing the phrase “with experience” or the phrase “drag you”. No pertinent match was discovered), Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched January 28, 2023) link
2 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, (QI searched for quotations containing the phrase “with experience” or the phrase “drag you”. No pertinent match was discovered), Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
3 Website: Center for Mark Twain Studies, Article title: The Apocryphal Twain: “Never argue with stupid people. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience”, Article author: Matt Seybold, Date on website: August 7, 2020, Organization description: The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded on December 31, 1982. The Center supports Mark Twain scholarship. (Accessed marktwainstudies.com on January 28, 2023) link
4 Website: Bible Hub, Article title: Parallel Verses of Proverbs 26:4, Translation: New International Version, Website description: Online Bible Study Suite. Bible hub is a production of the Online Parallel Bible Project. (Accessed biblehub.com on January 21, 2023) link
5 1878 April 28, The Daily Picayune, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, New Orleans, Louisiana. (Newspapers_com)
6 1878 May 20, The Rochester Evening Express, Happy Thoughts, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Rochester, New York. (Old Fulton)
7 1956 November 13, The Daily Messenger, Bald, But Not Frustrated by Hal Boyle. Quote Page 8, Column 6, Canandaigua, New York. (Newspapers_com)
8 1958 January 15, The Daily Tar Heel, A National Lottery: Is It A Revenue Source? by Frank Crowther, Quote Page 2, Column 7, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Newspapers_com)
9 1993 December 12, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: comp.sys.cbm, From: Ben Dewberry @f272.n633.z3.fidonet.org, Subject: Zipcode Problem Solved. (Google Groups Search; Accessed August 8, 2020) link

I Do Not Know What I Think Until I Read What I’m Writing

Flannery O’Connor? Graham Wallas? E. M. Forster? Inger Stevens? August Heckscher? Paul Samuelson? Shirley MacLaine? Joan Didion? E. L. Doctorow? John Gregory Dunne? Edward Albee? Wendy Wasserstein? William Faulkner? Virginia Hamilton Adair? Stephen King?

Question for Quote Investigator: The process of writing helps to clarify thoughts and ideas. For example, some novelists do not outline their plots in advance; instead, they spontaneously construct story arcs while writing. Here are two versions of a pertinent comment:

(1) I write to find out what I think.
(2) I don’t know what I think until I read what I write.

This remark has a humorous edge because thoughts are usually formulated before they are written down. This notion has been attributed to prominent short story writer and novelist Flannery O’Connor and to horror master Stephen King. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The full version of this article is available on the Medium website which is available by clicking here. This article provides an overview.

In 1948 Flannery O’Connor wrote a letter to her literary agent, and she included an instance of the saying. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1979, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, Edited by Sally Fitzgerald, Part I: Up North and Getting Home 1948-1952, Letter to: Literary agent Elizabeth McKee, Letter date: July 21, … Continue reading

What you say about the novel, Rinehart, advances, etc. sounds very good to me, but I must tell you how I work. I don’t have my novel outlined and I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.

O’Connor’s mention of an “old lady” indicated that she was referencing an earlier cluster of similar remarks. Here are two of the earliest instances:

1926: How can I know what I think till I see what I say? (Attributed to unnamed little girl by educator Graham Wallas)[2]1926 Copyright, The Art of Thought by Graham Wallas (Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of London), Chapter 4: Stages of Control, Quote Page 106, Harcourt, Brace and Company, … Continue reading

1927: How can I tell what I think till I see what I say? (Attributed to an unnamed old lady by novelist E. M. Forster)[3] 1927 Copyright, Aspects Of The Novel by E. M. Forster, Chapter 5: The Plot, Quote Page 152, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

The two quotations above were about speaking instead of writing. A separate QI article about the family of sayings centered on oral expression is available here: How Can I Know What I Think Till I See What I Say?

This article will center on sayings about written expression. Below is an overview of this family of remarks.

1948 Jul 21: I don’t have my novel outlined and I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again. (Writer Flannery O’Connor)

1959 May 7: I have been writing down my thoughts about things—not for publication, but to find out what I’m thinking about. (Actress Inger Stevens)

1963: I did not really know what I thought until I read what I had written the next day. (Attributed to Journalist August Heckscher)

1969 Jan: How do I know what I really think until I read what my pen is writing? (Economist Paul Samuelson)

1976 Nov 18: Half the time I write to find out what I mean. (Actress and Author Shirley MacLaine)

1976 Dec 5: I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking. (Writer Joan Didion)

1981 Mar 31: You write to find out what it is that you’re writing. (Novelist E. L. Doctorow)

1982 May 3: I think you write to find out what you think. (Screenwriter John Gregory Dunne)

1983 Jun: I write the plays down to find out what I’m thinking about. (Playwright Edward Albee)

1985 Mar 17: I often write to find out what I’m thinking. (Playwright Wendy Wasserstein)

1989: I don’t know what I think until I read what I said. (Attributed to William Faulkner by Warren Bennis)

1994: I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it. (Attributed to William Faulkner by Tom Morris)

1995: I never know what I think until I read it in one of my poems. (Poet Virginia Hamilton Adair)

2005: I write to find out what I think. (Horror writer Stephen King)

Additional detailed information is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available by clicking here.

References

References
1 1979, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, Edited by Sally Fitzgerald, Part I: Up North and Getting Home 1948-1952, Letter to: Literary agent Elizabeth McKee, Letter date: July 21, 1948, Start Page 5, Quote Page 5, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York. (Verified with scans)
2 1926 Copyright, The Art of Thought by Graham Wallas (Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of London), Chapter 4: Stages of Control, Quote Page 106, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
3 1927 Copyright, Aspects Of The Novel by E. M. Forster, Chapter 5: The Plot, Quote Page 152, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

Never Explain. Your Friends Don’t Require It, and Your Enemies Won’t Believe You, Anyway

Elbert Hubbard? Victor Grayson? P. G. Wodehouse? Benjamin Jowett? E. A. Isaacs? Apocryphal?

Question for Quote Investigator: Explaining one’s beliefs and motivations is typically worthwhile, but sometimes it seems to be futile. Here are two versions of a germane remark:

(1) Never explain. Your friends don’t require it, and your enemies won’t believe you, anyway.

(2) Never explain—your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you.

U.S. aphorist Elbert Hubbard and British politician Victor Grayson have each received credit for this type of remark. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared as an epigraph on the cover of the February 1904 issue of “The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest” edited by Elbert Hubbard. Boldface added to excepts by QI:[1]1904 February, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Edited by Elbert Hubbard, Volume 18, Number 3, Quote on cover page, Published by The Society of the Philistines, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, … Continue reading

Never explain: your friends don’t require it, and your enemies won’t believe you, anyway.

QI believes that Elbert Hubbard deserves credit for this quotation; however, it was not constructed ex nihilo. The previous year Hubbard was sufficiently impressed by another related expression attributed to a prominent scholar that he placed it on the cover of the March 1903 issue of “The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest”:[2]1903 March, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Edited by Elbert Hubbard, Volume 16, Number 4, Quote on cover page, Published by The Society of the Philistines, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New … Continue reading

Never explain, never retract, never apologize—get the thing done and let them howl!
—Rev. Dr. Benjamin Jowett

A separate QI article about the saying immediately above is available here.

Additional detailed information about Hubbard’s quotation is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available here.

References

References
1 1904 February, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Edited by Elbert Hubbard, Volume 18, Number 3, Quote on cover page, Published by The Society of the Philistines, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (ProQuest Periodicals Archive)
2 1903 March, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Edited by Elbert Hubbard, Volume 16, Number 4, Quote on cover page, Published by The Society of the Philistines, The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Never Retract. Never Explain. Get It Done and Let Them Howl

Benjamin Jowett? Nellie McClung? Elbert Hubbard? Lionel Arthur Tollemache? James Kay-Shuttleworth? Ralph Lingen? George Otto Trevelyan? Wilbur F. Storey? Frederic William Farrar? Benjamin Disraeli? John Arbuthnot Fisher? Anonymous?

Question for Quote Investigator: Accomplishing a difficult task when facing strong opposition takes a forceful personality. Here are three pertinent guidelines for persevering:

(1) Never retract. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl.
(2) Don’t explain, don’t argue, get the thing done and let them howl.
(3) Never explain, never apologize. Get the thing done and let them howl.

The first statement has been attributed to scholar Benjamin Jowett who was a Master of Balliol College, Oxford. The second has been ascribed to U.S. essayist and aphorist Elbert Hubbard. The third has been credited to activist Nellie McClung who successfully campaigned for women’s suffrage in Canada. Are any of this linkages accurate? Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest full match located by QI appeared in 1895 within an article in “The Journal of Education” of London by the English writer Lionel Arthur Tollemache. The piece presented Tollemache’s memories of Benjamin Jowett who had died a couple years earlier at age 76. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1895 May, The Journal of Education: Supplement, Recollections of Jowett: A Fragment by L. A. Tollemache (Lionel A. Tollemache), Start Page 299, Quote Page 302, Column 2, Published by William Rice at … Continue reading

On another occasion he said to me: “A friend of mine of great practical ability told me that he has laid down for himself three rules of conduct. Never retract. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl.” Jowett repeated these paradoxical maxims with a characteristic laugh, which seemed at any rate not to mark disapproval.

Jowett helped to popularize the remark, but he disclaimed credit for it. Hence, the name of the creator remains uncertain. QI believes the remark evolved over time, and it was assembled from preexisting fragments. Elbert Hubbard mentioned the saying, but he credited Jowett. Nellie McClung employed the third statement during a speech in 1924, but the saying was already in circulation.

Additional detailed information about these sayings is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available here.

References

References
1 1895 May, The Journal of Education: Supplement, Recollections of Jowett: A Fragment by L. A. Tollemache (Lionel A. Tollemache), Start Page 299, Quote Page 302, Column 2, Published by William Rice at The Office the Journal, London. (Google Books Full View) link

An Expert Is a Person Who Has Made All the Mistakes Which Can Be Made in a Very Narrow Field

Niels Bohr? Edward Teller? Werner Heisenberg? W. P. Northrup? Benjamin Stolberg? Harry M. Meacham? Eugene Kane? Anonymous?

Question for Quote Investigator: Expertise is often acquired by learning from a series of errors. Here are three pertinent statements whose meanings diverge. The similarities suggest that these remarks still belong in the same family:

(1) An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.

(2) An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject and how to avoid them.

(3) I’ve made all the mistakes that are possible. The net result of that should be expert.

The first item has been attributed to nuclear scientist Edward Teller and Danish physicist Niels Bohr. The second item has been credited to German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match for the first item known to QI appeared in “LIFE” magazine in 1954 within a profile of Edward Teller who ascribed an instance to Niels Bohr. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1954 September 6, LIFE, Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession by Robert Coughlan, Quote Page 61, Quote Page 62, Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

But mistakes do not inhibit him. He likes to quote the dictum of Niels Bohr, the great Danish physicist, that, “An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.”

The earliest match for the second item known to QI appeared in a 1952 essay by Werner Heisenberg titled “Positivismus, Metaphysik und Religion” (“Positivism, Metaphysics and Religion”). Here is an excerpt translated into English:[2]1971 Copyright, Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations by Werner Heisenberg, Translator: Arnold J. Pomerans, German Title: Der Teil und das Ganze, Chapter 17: Positivism, Metaphysics and … Continue reading

Many people will tell you that an expert is someone who knows a great deal about his subject. To this I would object that no one can ever know very much about any subject. I would much prefer the following definition: an expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.

The earliest match for this general family of sayings located by QI appeared in “The Chicago Medical Recorder” in 1904 within an article by Professor of Pediatrics W. P. Northrup of New York University who had become adept at diagnosing and treating pneumonia in infants:[3]1904 November, The Chicago Medical Recorder, The Early Diagnosis and Treatment of Pneumonia in Infants by W. P. Northrup M.D. (Professor of Pediatrics in the New York University and Bellevue Hospital … Continue reading

My one admirer kindly spoke of me, he being in an amiable mood, as an expert in this diagnosis. “Yes,” I agreed, which took him aback, “I’ve made all the mistakes that are possible.” The net result of that should be expert.

Additional detailed information about these sayings is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available here.

Image Note: Detail from the painting “Das Schulexamen” (“The School Exam”) by Swiss painter and illustrator Albrecht Anker circa 1862.

References

References
1 1954 September 6, LIFE, Dr. Edward Teller’s Magnificent Obsession by Robert Coughlan, Quote Page 61, Quote Page 62, Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
2 1971 Copyright, Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations by Werner Heisenberg, Translator: Arnold J. Pomerans, German Title: Der Teil und das Ganze, Chapter 17: Positivism, Metaphysics and Religion (1952), Quote Page 210, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified in hard copy)
3 1904 November, The Chicago Medical Recorder, The Early Diagnosis and Treatment of Pneumonia in Infants by W. P. Northrup M.D. (Professor of Pediatrics in the New York University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College), Start Page 688, Quote Page 689, The Medical Recorder, Pub. Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

The Moment You Think You Understand a Great Work of Art, It’s Dead for You

Oscar Wilde? Robert Wilson? Apocryphal?
Question for Quote Investigator: Major works of art are complex, ambiguous, and difficult to interpret. The vitality of a piece is compromised when a single meaning is imposed on it. Apparently, an artist once said something like this:

The moment you understand a great work of art, it’s dead for you.

This remark has been attributed to the famous Irish wit Oscar Wilde and the prominent U.S. theater director Robert Wilson. I am skeptical of the linkage to Wilde. Would you please help me to find the correct ascription together with a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in “The New York Times” in May 1990. The article reported on a new experimental production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” in Frankfurt, Germany helmed by Robert Wilson who was described as “the P. T. Barnum of the avant-garde”. Wilson employed the quotation while discussing “King Lear”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1990 May 20, New York Times, ‘Lear’ Girds for a Remarkable Episode by Arthur Holmberg, Quote Page H7, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest)

“The work is a hall of mirrors, and the kaleidoscope of reflections intrigues me. Another reason I want to do the play is because we don’t understand it. The moment you think you understand a great work of art, it’s dead for you.”

QI has found no evidence that Oscar Wilde employed this expression. The quotation does not appear in “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde” compiled by Ralph Keyes,[2]1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Compiled by Ralph Keyes, Note: Quotation with phrase “dead for you” was absent in this reference, HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified … Continue reading nor does it occur in “Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms” compiled by Tweed Conrad.[3]2006, Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms, Topically Arranged with Attributions, Compiled and edited by Tweed Conrad, Note: Quotation with phrase “dead for … Continue reading

QI presents a conjecture about the genesis of the misattribution to Oscar Wilde in the full article which is available on the Medium website located here.

References

References
1 1990 May 20, New York Times, ‘Lear’ Girds for a Remarkable Episode by Arthur Holmberg, Quote Page H7, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest)
2 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Compiled by Ralph Keyes, Note: Quotation with phrase “dead for you” was absent in this reference, HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
3 2006, Oscar Wilde in Quotation: 3,100 Insults, Anecdotes, and Aphorisms, Topically Arranged with Attributions, Compiled and edited by Tweed Conrad, Note: Quotation with phrase “dead for you” was absent in this reference, McFarland & Company Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina. (Verified with scans)

I Don’t Care Who Writes a Nation’s Laws . . . If I Can Write Its Economic Textbooks

Paul Samuelson? Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun? Percy Bysshe Shelley? Mary Shelley? Sylvia Nasar?

Question for Quote Investigator: The cultural impact of economic thought has been enormous. Apparently, a famous economist once said something like this:

I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws if I can write its economic textbooks.

Would you please help me to identify this economist and find a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson published the perennially popular textbook “Economics” beginning in 1948. Twenty editions have appeared during subsequent decades.

In 1990 Samuelson wrote the foreword to “The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors”, and he employed the quotation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1990, The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors, Edited by Phillip Saunders and William B. Walstad, Section: Foreword by Paul A Samuelson, Date: October 1988, Quote Page ix, … Continue reading

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.” It was a poet who said that, exercising occupational license. Some sage, it may have been I, declared in similar vein: “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws—or crafts its advanced treaties—if I can write its economic textbooks.” The first lick is the privileged one, impinging on the beginner’s tabula rasa at its most impressionable state.

Paul Samuelson’s phrasing was humorously tentative, but QI believes that he deserves credit for the remark under examination. When Samuelson crafted his remark he was deliberately alluding to a family of previous remarks about the powerful cultural influence of music and poetry.

In 1704 Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun published “An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind”, and he attributed a pertinent remark about music to an anonymous wise man. This remark used the same template as Samuelson’s comment:[2]1704, An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind: In a Letter to the Marquiss of Montrose, the Earls of Rothes, Roxburg, and Hadington, … Continue reading

. . . a very wise man . . . believed if a man were permitted to make all the Ballads, he need not care who should make the Laws of a Nation. And we find that most of the antient Legislators thought they could not well reform the manners of any City without the help of a Lyric, and sometimes of a Dramatic Poet.

Additional detailed information is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available here.

References

References
1 1990, The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors, Edited by Phillip Saunders and William B. Walstad, Section: Foreword by Paul A Samuelson, Date: October 1988, Quote Page ix, McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
2 1704, An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind: In a Letter to the Marquiss of Montrose, the Earls of Rothes, Roxburg, and Hadington, from London the 1st of December, 1703, Author: Andrew Fletcher, Quote Page 10, Printed in the Year 1704 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Google Books Full View) link