Never Argue With a Fool, Onlookers May Not Be Able To Tell the Difference

Mark Twain? Biblical Proverb? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Conflict on social media is endemic. Even early online discussion participants witnessed acrimonious exchanges known as “flame wars”. Famed humorist Mark Twain has received credit for a germane cautionary remark:

Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

Unfortunately, no one has presented a good citation for Twain. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find substantive evidence crediting this remark to 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 Bible contains a thematically related passage in Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5: 3

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.
Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes.

Statements that were closer to the modern template emerged in the 1800s. Here is a sampling with dates which shows the variation in phrasing and the evolution over time. All of the earliest citations were anonymous.

1878: Don’t argue with a fool, or the listener will say there is a pair of you.

1878: Don’t argue with a fool or listeners will think there are two of you.

1896: Arguing with a fool shows that there are two.

1930: When you argue with a fool, he’s doing the same thing.

1930: When you argue with a fool be sure he isn’t similarly occupied.

1937 Never argue with a fool. But if you must, the safest way is to carry on the debate with yourself.

1939: Never argue with a fool in public lest the public not know which is which.

1943: When you argue with a fool, be sure he isn’t similarly engaged.

1951: It isn’t smart to argue with a fool; listeners can’t tell which is which.

1954: Never argue with a fool. Bystanders can’t tell which is which.

1961: Never argue with a fool because people won’t be able to tell the difference.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Never Argue With a Fool, Onlookers May Not Be Able To Tell the Difference

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched February 19, 2019) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. Website: BibleHub, Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5, Translation: New American Standard Bible. (Accessed BibleHub.com on February 18, 2019) link

Love Is a Promise. Love Is a Souvenir

John Lennon? Roland Orzabal? Nicky Holland? Tears for Fears?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous songwriter and musician John Lennon has received credit for the following lines:

Love is a promise
Love is a souvenir
Once given
Never forgotten, never let it disappear

My mother who is very knowledgeable about the Beatles says that these are not the words of John Lennon. Are these lines from a poem or a song lyric? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1989 the British band “Tears for Fears” released the album “The Seeds of Love”. The lines above were written by Roland Orzabal and Nicky Holland for the song “Advice for the Young At Heart”.

Readers can visit the YouTube website and see a music video of the song here. The total duration is 4 minutes and 42 seconds, and the words are spoken at 1 minute 58 seconds. 1

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Love Is a Promise. Love Is a Souvenir

Notes:

  1. YouTube video, Title: Tears For Fears – Advice For The Young At Heart, Uploaded on October 8, 2009, Uploaded by: TearsForFearsVEVO, (Quotation starts at 1 minute 58 seconds of 4 minutes 42 seconds) Song: Advice for the Young At Heart, Authors: Roland Orzabal and Nicky Holland, Album: The Seeds of Love, Group: Tears for Fears. (Accessed YouTube.com on February 17, 2019) link

If You Marry the Spirit of Your Own Generation You Will Be a Widow in the Next

William Ralph Inge? Fulton J. Sheen? Leonard Cohen? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? E. Luccock? Joseph R. Sizoo?

Dear Quote Investigator: Any organization that aspires to multi-generational longevity must not become enmeshed in evanescent enthusiasms and fashions. Long-term steadiness and perspective are required. Here are two pertinent sayings:

  1. If you marry the spirit of your age, you will be a widow in the next.
  2. If you marry the spirit of your generation, you will be a widower in the next.

This notion has been credited to two prominent religious figures: William Ralph Inge who was Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London and U.S. Catholic Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who was a popular broadcaster. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: William Ralph Inge known as Dean Inge or “The Gloomy Dean” delivered a series of lectures at Sion College in 1911 titled “Co-operation of the Church with the Spirit of the Age”. He cautioned that the church must not be caught up in transient worldly affairs: 1

. . . the Church must not be identified with any particular institution or denomination, or any tendencies which seemed to be dominant in our generation. The Church was a Divine idea which required tens of thousands of years to reach its full development. They must not secularise its message and endeavour to reach men’s souls through their stomachs.

For several decades Dean Inge kept a diary, and in 1911 he wrote a contemporaneous entry about the lecture series. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

I was moved to tell them that there are many spirits of the age, most of them evil; that we were not agreed what the Church means; and that it is not certain that religious bodies ought to co-operate with secular movements at all. Also, if you marry the Spirit of your own generation you will be a widow in the next.

This diary entry serves as evidence that Inge originated the saying under analysis; however, the entry only appeared publicly many years after its 1911 composition in the 1949 book “The Diary of a Dean”. The text above is from “The Manchester Guardian” which printed extracts from the book shortly before its publication.

Inge’s lecture series was discussed and quoted in 1911, but QI has not yet found a close match for the saying in periodicals of that period.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Marry the Spirit of Your Own Generation You Will Be a Widow in the Next

Notes:

  1. 1911 December 14, The Wells Journal, Christian Ministers and Politics, Quote Page 6, Column 2, County: Somerset, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  2. 1949 December 3, The Manchester Guardian, The Diary of a Dean by the Very Rev. W. R. Inge, (Extracts from “The Diary of a Dean” which is to be published by Messrs. Hutchinson on December 8, 1949), Date of entry: November 10, 1911, Quote Page 6, Column 6 and 7, London, England. (Newspapers_com)

Give the Gentleman One White Chip

Wilson Mizner? Samuel Thomas Hauser? Edward O. Wolcott? Silver Dick? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A self-satisfied gambler once approached a poker table and asked to join the game. The dealer shook his head while saying, “This game is probably too big for you”.

The irritated gambler placed ten large denomination bills on the table. There was a silence. The gambler said haughtily, “Is something wrong with my money?” The dealer counted the bills and said, “You may join us. Please give the gentleman one blue chip.”

There are many variations of this anecdote. Different quantities of money are mentioned, and sometimes the chip is white. The punchline is typically delivered by adventurer, playwright, and rogue Wilson Mizner. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This tale is difficult to trace because the phrasing is highly variable. The earliest instance located by QI appeared in “The Minneapolis Tribune” of Minnesota in January 1890. The setting was the Silver Bow Club of Butte, Montana. The high-rolling millionaire participants were named Daly, Clark, Hogan, and Hauser. In this version, the eager individual was naïve and not arrogant. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Give me a hundred dollars worth of chips,” said he, slapping a crisp $100 bill upon the table.

Daly was running the bank. He sized up the bill and looked surprised, then looked across at Clark. Clark glanced at Hogan and Hogan took a side peep at Hauser. “Well, what’s the matter gentlemen,” said my friend, the tourist, with a bland smile, “ain’t I in the game?”

There was a silent moment. “He wants to know if he’s in the game,” at length said Daly, turning helplessly to Hauser, who sat on his right.

“In the game,” repeated the great mining king, “why of course he’s in the game. Daly, give the gentleman a white chip.

After that you could not have kept that travelling man in the house with a lasso. In fact he left the town that night on the east bound freight, but he did not join the game.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Give the Gentleman One White Chip

Notes:

  1. 1890 January 10, The Minneapolis Tribune, Heard About Town, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com)

Giving Birth Is Like Pushing a Piano Through a Transom

Fanny Brice? Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Beatrice Lillie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Giving birth to a child is an intense physical ordeal. A witty woman employed the following simile:

Having a baby is like trying to push a grand piano through a transom.

This remark has been attributed to the prominent Washington socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth and to the popular comedienne and actress Fanny Brice. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote investigator: In 1919 Fanny Brice gave birth to her first child Frances. A pregnant friend contacted Brice to learn about her experience. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A few days after Frances was born, Irene Castle, who was expecting a baby within a few weeks, called Fanny at the hospital on Long Island. “How does it feel, Fanny?” she asked anxiously.

“Like pushing a piano through a transom,” Fanny replied.

The passage above appeared in the 1953 biography “The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice” by Norman Katkov. This was the earliest published instance of the full quip known to QI. Thus, Brice received credit several decades after she reportedly made the remark. Longworth also used the saying, but she disclaimed credit by 1981.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Giving Birth Is Like Pushing a Piano Through a Transom

Notes:

  1. 1953, The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice by Norman Katkov, Chapter 7: Nick Arnstein: “Not Only to Women but to Men”, Quote Page 102, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)

Like the Feather Pillow, He Bears the Marks of the Last Person Who Has Sat on Him

Quotation Said By: David Lloyd George? Douglas Haig? Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook? Susan Riley? Alan Walters?

Barb Aimed At: Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby? John Turner? John Major?

Dear Quote Investigator: The opinions and responses of some people are easily swayed by domineering individuals with emphatic goals. Suggestable people may shift viewpoints repeatedly. Here are three pertinent expressions employing vivid similes:

(1) He’s like a feather pillow who always bears the imprint of the last person who has sat on him.

(2) She was like a cushion who bore the impress of the most recent person who sat on her.

(3) He’s like a bean-bag chair; he bears the impression of the last person who sat on him.

A statement of this type has been attributed to WWI British Field Marshal Douglas Haig and U.K. Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1918 Douglas Haig wrote a letter to his wife which included a remarkably harsh assessment of Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby 1

I am still corresponding with Derby over Trenchard. D. is a very weak-minded fellow I am afraid, and, like the feather pillow, bears the marks of the last person who has sat on him! I hear he is called in London “genial Judas”!

In 1952 the letter above was published together with other personal material in the collection “The Private Papers of Douglas Haig: 1914-1919”. The introduction to the book mentioned Haig’s caustic remark and noted that it was not publicly released until decades later: 2

He could use a cutting phrase even about someone whom he normally admired. “Lord Derby”, he once wrote in a moment of irritation, “like a feather pillow, bears the marks of the last person who has sat on him”. Such phrases were kept for the privacy of his letters or his diary. To all his guests, even those whom he knew to be enemies, he displayed the same unfailing courtesy.

Thus, the book contained two slightly different versions of the quotation. The phrase “like the feather pillow” appeared in the letter text, and the phrase “like a feather pillow” appeared in the introduction.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Like the Feather Pillow, He Bears the Marks of the Last Person Who Has Sat on Him

Notes:

  1. 1952, The Private Papers of Douglas Haig: 1914-1919, Edited by Robert Blake, Chapter 16: The Fall of Robertson, Date: January 14, 1918, Letter from: Douglas Haig, Letter to: Lady Haig, Quote Page 279, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London. England. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1952, The Private Papers of Douglas Haig: 1914-1919, Edited by Robert Blake, Chapter: Introduction, Quote Page 29, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London. England. (Verified with scans)

Every Joke Is a Tiny Revolution

George Orwell? Jan Kalina? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A joke which ridicules an oppressive institution can help to undermine it. George Orwell once wrote about the subversive capabilities of humor and stated that a trenchant quip was analogous to a “tiny revolution”. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1945 George Orwell published an essay titled “Funny, But Not Vulgar” in the “Leader Magazine” of London. He contended that English humorists who were popular at that time were too genteel and kindhearted to create the jokes with a sting that he preferred. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A thing is funny when—in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening—it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution. If you had to define humour in a single phrase, you might define it as dignity sitting on a tin-tack. Whatever destroys dignity, and brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny. And the bigger the fall, the bigger the joke.

The passage above is from the text reprinted in volume three of “George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Every Joke Is a Tiny Revolution

Notes:

  1. 2000 (1968 Copyright), George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, Volume 3: As I Please 1943-1946, Edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, Essay: Funny, But Not Vulgar, Citation note located at end of essay: “Written [December 1944]; Leader, 28 July 1945”, Start Page 283, Quote Page 284, Nonpareil Book: David R. Godine, Jaffrey, New Hampshire. (Verified with scans)

Old Age Is Always Fifteen Years Older Than I Am

Francis Bacon? Bernard Baruch? Mary Gordon? Nina Wilcox? Walter A. Clark? John W. Carswell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: One witty and vibrant individual who maintained a youthful outlook throughout a long life uttered a statement in the following family:

  • Old age is always 15 years older than I am.
  • Old age is always ten years ahead of us.
  • Middle age is always fifteen years ahead of us.

This saying has been attributed to pioneering philosopher of science Francis Bacon and U.S. financier and political consultant Bernard Baruch. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Francis Bacon employed this saying. There is good evidence that Bernard Baruch used the expression by 1948. However, the quip was circulating decades earlier in 1909.

Bacon may have received credit because his name is close to Baruch’s name within an alphabetical ordering. See the discussion of the 1997 citation further below for an explanation of this potential error mechanism.

In 1909 Walter A. Clark published “A Lost Arcadia: Or, The Story of My Old Community”. A chapter about John W. Carswell credited him with the saying. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Over the gulf of nearly fifty vanished years I can recall today some of his terse, sententious sayings. Talking to my father one day on the matter of their accumulating years he said “old age is always ten years ahead of us.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Old Age Is Always Fifteen Years Older Than I Am

Notes:

  1. 1909, A Lost Arcadia: Or, The Story of My Old Community by Walter A. Clark, Chapter: Judge John W. Carswell, Start Page 149, Quote Page 149, Chronicde (Chronicle) Job Print, Augusta, Georgia. (Google Books Full View) link

One Writes Out of One Thing Only—One’s Own Experience

James Baldwin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to the prominent author and social critic James Baldwin the craft of writing depends fundamentally on channeling experience. He employed the metaphorical phrase “the last drop, sweet or bitter”. Would you please help me to find a citation for his statement?

Quote Investigator: In 1955 James Baldwin published “Notes of a Native Son” which began with a section titled “Autobiographical Notes” containing the following passage. Emphasis added: 1

One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.

Below are additional selected citations.

Continue reading One Writes Out of One Thing Only—One’s Own Experience

Notes:

  1. 1964 (1955 Copyright), Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin, Chapter: Autobiographical Notes, Quote Page 4 and 5, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)

The Duty of Newspapers Is To Comfort the Afflicted and To Afflict the Comfortable

Mr. Dooley? Finley Peter Dunne? William Randolph Hearst? Willmott Lewis? Frederick W. Burnham? Clare Boothe Luce? Kara V. Jackson? Lawrence Weschler? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here are four phrases describing the duty of a newspaper or religious institution:

  • Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable
  • Comfort the tormented, torment the comfortable
  • Comforting the disturbed, disturbing the comfortable
  • Comfort the troubled, trouble the comfortable

Would you please explore which phrase was crafted first and determine the identity of the creator?

Quote Investigator: Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne wrote a popular syndicated column featuring the distinctive voice of Mr. Dooley. The fictional character’s pronouncements used Irish dialectical speech and spelling. The following appeared within a 1902 column titled “Mr. Dooley on Newspaper Publicity”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, conthrols th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.

Here is a rendering using standard spelling:

The newspaper does everything for us. It runs the police force and the banks, commands the militia, controls the legislature, baptizes the young, marries the foolish, comforts the afflicted, afflicts the comfortable, buries the dead and roasts them afterward.

Finley Peter Dunne was not solemnly describing the duties of a newspaper; instead, he was comically outlining the comprehensive power of newspapers of that era.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Duty of Newspapers Is To Comfort the Afflicted and To Afflict the Comfortable

Notes:

  1. 1902 October 4, The Province, Mr. Dooley on Newspaper Publicity by F. P. Dunne, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Newspapers_com)