Author Archives: garson

This Life’s Hard, But It’s Harder If You’re Stupid

John Wayne? Redd Foxx? Robert Mitchum? George V. Higgins? Steven Keats? Eddie Coyle? Jackie Brown?

Dear Quote Investigator: When someone performs a witless or laughably irritating act there is a barbed response that reflects exasperation. Here are three versions:

  • Life is hard. It’s harder when you’re stupid.
  • Life’s hard. It’s harder if you’re stupid.
  • Life is tough. It’s tougher if you’re stupid.

These words have been attributed to the famous actor John Wayne, the prominent comedian Redd Foxx, and the well-known thespian Robert Mitchum. Would you please examine the provenance of this remark?

Quote Investigator: QI and other researchers have found no substantive evidence that John Wayne crafted this saying. The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the 1971 novel “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” by George V. Higgins.

A character named Jackie Brown who specialized in acquiring guns for fellow criminals employed the line. Brown thought it would be foolish to drive into the woods to meet with two strangers armed with machineguns to perform a transaction. Instead, he told a messenger that the two men should come to him. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid. Now you go and get them, and I’ll be waiting here. When you come back I’ll tell you what to do next. Move.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1973 (Copyright 1971), The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins, Quote Page 93, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)

“But You Did That in Thirty Seconds.” “No, It Has Taken Me Forty Years To Do That.”

Pablo Picasso? Mark H. McCormack? James McNeill Whistler? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A rapidly created artwork may still be quite valuable. An anecdote illustrating this point features Pablo Picasso and a pestering art lover. Would you please explore whether this tale is authentic or apocryphal?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of the Pablo Picasso vignette located by QI appeared in the 1984 book “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School” by Mark H. McCormack who was the powerful chairman of a talent management company. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

It always reminds me of the story about the woman who approached Picasso in a restaurant, asked him to scribble something on a napkin, and said she would be happy to pay whatever he felt it was worth. Picasso complied and then said, “That will be $10,000.”

“But you did that in thirty seconds,” the astonished woman replied.

“No,” Picasso said. “It has taken me forty years to do that.”

Picasso died in 1973; hence, the above citation provides only weak evidence. Interestingly, a thematically similar remark was made by the well-known painter James McNeill Whistler during court testimony in 1878. Whistler was asked by a lawyer about the stiff price he had set for an artwork he had created in two days: 2

“Oh, two days! The labour of two days, then, is that for which you ask two hundred guineas!”

“No;—I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime.”

If the Picasso story is apocryphal then its creator may have been inspired by the Whistler anecdote. Alternatively, if the story is authentic then Picasso’s response may have been influenced by a familiarity with Whistler’s response.

More information about the Whistler quotation is available here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1984, What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark H. McCormack, Section 3: Running a Business, Chapter 11: Building a Business, Section: Charge for Your Expertise, Quote Page 169, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1890, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies by James McNeill Whistler, Chapter: The Action, Quote Page 3 thru 5, John W. Lovell Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

“The Labour of Two Days, Is That for Which You Ask Two Hundred Guineas!” “No; I Ask It for the Knowledge of a Lifetime.”

James McNeill Whistler? Pablo Picasso? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend a famous painter once created a work of art in a very rapid and seemingly slipshod fashion. Yet the price assigned to the piece was exorbitant. The artist was asked why the price of the painting was so large when the time expended in its construction was so small. The reply was something like:

I am not asking this high price for a brief amount of work. I ask it for the knowledge gained during the efforts of a lifetime.

I have heard versions of this anecdote referring to James McNeill Whistler and Pablo Picasso. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1877 James McNeill Whistler exhibited several paintings including “Nocturne in Black and Gold” at the Grosvenor Gallery in London which was operated by Sir Coutts Lindsay and his wife. The famous art critic John Ruskin’s evaluation was extraordinarily harsh; the prices were absurdly high, and the technique was crude he maintained. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

For Mr. Whistler’s own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of wilful imposture. I have seen and heard much of cockney impudence before now, but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.

Whistler believed that Ruskin’s remarks were libelous, and he initiated a court case against the critic. In 1878 “The Times” of London wrote about the trial and described Whistler’s testimony. The painter admitted that “Nocturne in Black and Gold” was completed quickly, but he believed it was still quite valuable: 2

Of course, he expected that his pictures would be criticized. The “Nocturne in Black and Gold” he knocked off in a couple of days. He painted the picture one day and finished it off the next. He did not give his pictures time to mellow, but he exposed them in the open air, as he went on with his work, to dry. He did not ask 200 guineas for two days’ work; he asked it for the knowledge he had gained in the work of a lifetime.

Whistler prevailed at trial, but the jury awarded him only the nominal sum of one farthing. In addition, the judge did not allow Whistler to recover the costs he incurred while arguing the lawsuit.

Whistler published a transcript of his remarks during the trial within his 1890 book “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”. See further below to read that text.

A thematically similar anecdote about Pablo Picasso is also circulating, and information about that topic is available here. Another pertinent tale called “Knowing where to tap” is examined here.

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Notes:

  1. 1879, The Annual Register: A Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad for the Year 1878, Part II, Remarkable Trials: Whistler v. Ruskin, Start Page 215, Quote Page 216 and 217, Rivingtons, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1878 November 26, The Times, Whistler v. Ruskin: Before Baron Huddleston and a Special Jury, Quote Page 9, Column 2, London, England. (The Times Digital Archive of Gale Cengage)

The More I Know About People, the Better I Like Dogs

Mark Twain? Madame de Sévigné? Madame Roland? Alphonse de Lamartine? Alphonse Toussenel? Louise de la Rameé? Alfred D’Orsay? Thomas Carlyle? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular expression combines disappointment with humanity together with praise for canines. Here are four versions:

  • The more I see of men, the more I like dogs.
  • The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.
  • The more I know about people, the better I like my dog.
  • The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.

These words have been attributed to Mark Twain and Alphonse Toussenel. Would you please explore the statement’s provenance?

Quote Investigator: Top quotation researcher Ralph Keyes remarked on the long history of ascriptions to a variety of famous French figures: 1

They include the inimitable letter-writer Madame de Sévigné (Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné, 1626-1696), the revolutionary writer Madame Roland (Marie-Jeanne Philipon, 1754-1793), author-politician Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), author Alphonse Toussenel (1803-1885), and author Louise de la Rameé (1839-1908).

Yet, QI and other researchers have not yet found any published evidence in the 1600s or 1700s; hence, the linkage to Madame de Sévigné and Madame Roland is currently unsupported.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in “Tablettes Historiques et Littéraires” in 1822, and the attribution was anonymous. Passages in French are followed by English translations. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Nous venons de recevoir le Miroir de la Somme, il contient les niaiseries suivantes: Une dame disait l’autre jour: plus je connais les hommes, mieux j’aime les chiens.

We just received the Mirror of the Somme, it contains the following nonsense: A lady said the other day: the more I know men, the better I like dogs.

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Notes:

  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Quote Page 47, 48 and 283, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1822 November 13, Tablettes Historiques et Littéraires: Journal de l’industrie, des mœurs, des théâtres et des beaux arts, Supplément, Mélanges, Start Page 37, Quote Page 38, Lyons, France. (Google Books Full View) link

The Stone Age Did Not End Because the World Ran Out of Stones, and the Oil Age Will Not End Because We Run Out of Oil

Ahmed Zaki Yamani? Don Huberts? Nader H. Sultan? Andrew Hoskinson? Jeroen van der Veer? Thomas Friedman? William McDonough?

Dear Quote Investigator: A recent presentation about advances in renewable energy emphasized the dramatic cost reductions occurring in solar and wind power. The speaker argued that reliance on fossil fuels would decrease substantially in the future. The following cogent remark exemplified the thesis:

The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.

The words were credited to Ahmed Zaki Yamani who was the Minister of Oil for Saudi Arabia for more than twenty years. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: This statement is difficult to trace because it can be phrased in many ways. The earliest close match located by QI appeared in July 1999 in the London periodical “The Economist” within an article about fuel cell technology. Don Huberts who worked for the oil company Royal Dutch/Shell as the head of a division called Shell Hydrogen delivered the line. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“The stone age did not end because the world ran out of stones, and the oil age will not end because we run out of oil.” Thus Don Huberts, who is convinced that fuel cells, which generate clean energy from hydrogen, will soon begin replacing power stations and cars that mostly burn coal, oil or natural gas.

Yamani employed the saying the following year in June 2000 (see further below). The influential “New York Times” columnist Thomas L. Friedman has stated that Yamani used the expression in the 1970s, but QI has not yet found published evidence to support that assertion.

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Notes:

  1. 1999 July 24, The Economist, Section Business, Article: Fuel cells meet big business, Start Page 59, Quote Page 59, Economist Group, London, England. (ProQuest; also accessible via economist.com; article date on economist.com is July 22, 1999) link

The Stupid Person’s Idea of the Clever Person

Speaker: Julie Burchill? Elizabeth Bowen? Ezra Klein? Paul Krugman? Andrew Sullivan? Hermione Eyre? William Donaldson?

Target: Stephen Fry? Aldous Huxley? Dick Armey? Newt Gingrich?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I heard an uncomplimentary quip applied to an intellectual. Here are three versions:

  • The stupid person’s idea of a clever person
  • The dumb person’s idea of a smart person
  • The stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like

Would you please help me to trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: In 1936 Irish author Elizabeth Bowen published a review in the London periodical “The Spectator” of a book by Aldous Huxley. She began her piece with a pointed remark about Huxley: 1

Mr. Huxley has been the alarming young man for a long time, a sort of perpetual clever nephew who can be relied on to flutter the lunch-party.

Interestingly, Bowen employed the saying under analysis, but she did not imply that Huxley was stupid; instead, she reiterated that he was clever. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

He is at once the truly clever person and the stupid person’s idea of the clever person; he is expected to be relentless, to administer intellectual shocks.

Many others have used similar constructs, but Elizabeth Bowen’s remark is currently the earliest known instance.

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Notes:

  1. 1936 December 11, The Spectator, Mr. Huxley’s Essays by Elizabeth Bowen (Review of The Olive Tree and Other Essays by Aldous Huxley), Quote Page 24, London, England. (Online archive at archive.spectator.co.uk; accessed January 3, 2018)

Never Continue in a Job You Don’t Enjoy

Johnny Carson? Kenneth Tynan? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The late-night talk-show host Johnny Carson was one of the most successful entertainers in U.S. history. He spent thirty years as the star of “The Tonight Show” on the NBC television network. Before he embraced the celebrated nocturnal hosting duties he held nine different jobs. That fact might help to explain the following guidance attributed to him:

Never continue in a job you don’t enjoy.

His widely-distributed career advice quotation includes the above remark together with comments about inner peace and physical health. Would you kindly help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Johnny Carson attended high school in Norfolk, Nebraska, and a few decades later he was pleased to receive an invitation to deliver the 1976 commencement address. His speech was described by drama critic Kenneth Tynan who wrote a lengthy profile of Carson in “The New Yorker” in 1978. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Having picked a profession, feel no compulsion to stick to it: “If you don’t like it, stop doing it. Never continue in a job you don’t enjoy.”

After Carson’s prepared remarks he engaged in a question-and-answer session. He also highlighted the pride engendered by the opportunity to talk at his former school:

The applause at the end was so clamorous that Carson felt compelled to improvise a postscript. “If you’re happy in what you’re doing, you’ll like yourself,” he said. “And if you like yourself, you’ll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined. I thank you all very much.”

Over the years the passages above have been combined and streamlined to generate a popular quotation.

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Notes:

  1. 1978 February 20, The New Yorker, Profiles: Fifteen Years of the Salto Mortale by Kenneth Tynan, Start Page 47, Quote Page 85, Published by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc., New York. (Accessed Online Archive of Page Scans at archives.newyorker.com on November 4, 2017) link

Pohl’s Law: Nothing Is So Good that Somebody Somewhere Won’t Hate It

Frederik Pohl? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Frederik Pohl was an influential award-winning science-fiction author and editor. Apparently, Pohl’s Law states:

Nothing is so good that somebody somewhere won’t hate it.

Would you please examine this linkage?

Quote Investigator: Multiple statements have been labeled “Pohl’s Law” over the years. In 1966 Pohl was the editor of the science fiction (SF) magazine “Worlds of IF”, and he responded to letters from readers in a section called “Hue and Cry”. Pohl crafted an adage and affixed his name to it. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Pohl’s Law: The more hysterically any entity reacts to criticism, the more you’re likely to find to criticize about it.—Editor

In 1977 SF author Spider Robinson published a review column in “Galaxy Magazine”. He printed a version of “Pohl’s Law” that matched the one specified by the questioner: 2

Although Pohl’s Law states that nothing is so good that someone somewhere won’t hate it, I can hardly imagine anyone failing to enjoy this delightful album. Oh, and the George Barr cover is lovely.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1966 December, Worlds of IF, Volume 16, Number 12, Edited by Frederik Pohl, Hue and Cry (Letters to the Editor), Start Page 160, Quote Page 162, Galaxy Publishing Corporation, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1977 September, Galaxy Magazine, Edited by James Patrick Baen, Volume 38, Number 7, Galaxy Bookshelf by Spider Robinson, Start Page 118, Quote Page 122, UPD Publishing Company: Subsidiary of Universal Publishing & Distributing Corporation, Scarsdale, New York. (Verified with scans)

Only Three People Understood It: The Prince Consort Who is Dead, a German Professor Who Has Gone Mad, and I Who Have Forgotten All About It

Lord Palmerston? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is an anecdote about a fiendishly complex diplomatic agreement. Negotiating, signing, and comprehending the pact had sent one person to the grave, sent a second to a lunatic asylum, and left a third with memory loss. Are you familiar with this tale?

Quote Investigator: This story is based on a remark ascribed to British statesman Lord Palmerston who died in 1865 about the intricate Schleswig-Holstein Question.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in an 1873 Italian book about political and military events in 1866 titled “Un Po’ Più Di Luce Sugli Eventi Politici E Militari Dell’ Anno 1866” by Alfonso La Marmora. Here is an Italian passage followed by an English translation. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

La questione danese, o per meglio dire dello Schleswig-Holstein era talmente complicata e oscura che Lord Palmerston non essendo riuscito diplomaticamente a impedire quella guerra, soleva spiritosamente raccontare, che tre soli individui conoscevano a fondo quella imbrogliata controversia. Uno era il principe Alberto, che disgraziatamente era morto; il secondo un uomo di Stato danese, che era impazzito; il terzo lui, Lord Palmerston, che l’aveva dimenticata.

The Danish question, or better put that of Schleswig-Holstein, was so utterly complicated and obscure that Lord Palmerston, not having been successful in preventing that war through diplomacy, used to quip that only three individuals knew the cause of the tangled dispute. One was Prince Albert, who unfortunately was dead; the second was a Danish official who had gone mad; and the third was he himself, Lord Palmerston, who had forgotten it.

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Notes:

  1. 1873, “Un Po’ Più Di Luce Sugli Eventi Politici E Militari Dell’ Anno 1866” by Alfonso La Marmora, Second Edition, Quote Page 30 and 31, Firenze, G. Barbe`ra. (Google Books full view) link

In God We Trust; Others Must Provide Data

W. Edwards Deming? Edwin R. Fisher? Bernard Fisher? Cecil R. Reynolds? Brian L. Joiner? Ronald D. Snee? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Would you please examine a humorous empirically-minded statement that expands upon a famous motto appearing on U.S. currency. Here are three versions:

  • In God we trust; all others must use data.
  • In God we trust; all others must bring data.
  • In God we trust; others must have data.

When do you think this quip originated?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI was spoken by Professor of Pathology Edwin R. Fisher who was addressing a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I should like to close by citing a well-recognized cliche in scientific circles. The cliche is, “In God we trust, others must provide data.” What we need is good scientific data before I am willing to accept and submit to the proposition that smoking is a hazard to the nonsmoker.

Fisher stated that the adage was already a cliché in 1978. Thus, the originator remains anonymous at this time.

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Notes:

  1. 1978, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Tobacco of the Committee on Agriculture, House of Representatives, Ninety-Fifth Congress, Second Session, Title of Hearing: Effect of Smoking on Nonsmokers, Date of Hearing: September 7, 1978, Statement of Edwin R. Fisher M.D. (Director of Laboratories, Shadyside Hospital, and Professor of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine), Start Page 2, Quote Page 5, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. (HathiTrust) link