Twenty Years From Now You Will Be More Disappointed By The Things You Didn’t Do Than By The Ones You Did Do

Mark Twain? H. Jackson Brown? Sarah Frances Brown? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Virgin Galactic company of Richard Branson plans to offer suborbital spaceflights for tourists. The organization put together a beautiful brochure containing the following quotation credited to Mark Twain: 1

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Can you tell me where this was written by Mark Twain? I have not been able to locate this astute piece of advice in his novels or essays.

Quote Investigator: QI will be unable to tell you where to find this passage in the works of Twain because he never wrote it. Yet, the words are regularly credited to him. For example, the April 20, 1998 issue of The New Yorker magazine printed a vibrant full page advertisement depicting an ocean scene that prominently featured a version of this saying with the label “attributed to Mark Twain”. 2

The website TwainQuotes.com edited by Barbara Schmidt is a key resource for checking quotations attributed to Twain, and Schmidt states that “the attribution cannot be verified. The quote should not be regarded as authentic”. 3

The earliest appearance that QI has located is relatively recent, 1990. The bestselling author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. published the work containing the quotation, but he did not take credit for it. The book “P.S. I Love You” contained a collection of wise aphorisms from Brown’s mother, Sarah Frances Brown. Each page contained one thought, and the advice under investigation was printed on page 13. Each remark was prefaced with “P.S.” and ended with “I love you, Mom”. 4

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Spoiler Warning: This post contains a spoiler for a version of the popular game Minecraft.

Continue reading Twenty Years From Now You Will Be More Disappointed By The Things You Didn’t Do Than By The Ones You Did Do

Notes:

  1. Virgin Galactic website at virgingalactic.com, Link on homepage for Downloadable Brochure describing suborbital space flights. Quotation ascribed to Mark Twain is on the first page. (Accessed 2011 September 29) link
  2. 1998 April 20, New Yorker magazine, Page 25, Advertisement with title “Warming Trends in the Caribbean”, F. R. Publishing Corporation, New York. (Online New Yorker archive of digital scans)
  3. TwainQuotes.com website edited by Barbara Schmidt, Comment at bottom of webpage titled Discovery. (Accessed 2011 September 29) link
  4. 1990, “P.S. I Love You” by H Jackson Brown, Page 13, Rutledge Hill Press, a Thomas Nelson Company, Nashville, Tennessee. (Many thanks to the librarian at the Columbia County Public Library in Lake City, Florida for verifying the quotation on paper; Cross-checked using Amazon Look Inside)

You Can’t Wait for Inspiration. You Have To Go After It With a Club

Jack London? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I belong to a great group for writers in Florida, and a recent announcement message on our mailing list included a motivational quotation attributed to the author and journalist Jack London:

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

Since London died in 1916 I thought I would be able to find a citation before that date, but I am having difficulty obtaining one. Did London actually say this or something similar?

Quote Investigator: Yes, London did express this thought. But the original wording he used was more picturesque and perhaps less intelligible to the modern reader. He referred to loafing and said “light out after it” instead of “go after it”: 1

Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.

London was a prolific writer who depended on his literary skills for his livelihood. This saying is from a 1905 essay of instruction that he wrote titled “Getting Into Print” which appeared in several publications under different titles and was reprinted multiple times over the years.

Continue reading You Can’t Wait for Inspiration. You Have To Go After It With a Club

Notes:

  1. 1905, Practical Authorship, Edited by James Knapp Reeve, “Getting Into Print” by Jack London, Start Page 140, Quote Page 143, The Editor Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books full view) link

A Story Should Have a Beginning, a Muddle and an End

Peter De Vries? Philip Larkin? C. E. Lombardi? Larry Gelbart? Avi’s Young Reader? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When faced with the difficult task of writing effectively some people insist on a guaranteed formula. As a confirmed scribbler I am convinced that there is no formula, but I laughed when I heard this:

A story consists of a beginning, a muddle, and an end.

Can you figure out who first articulated this comical blueprint? It has been credited to the English poet Philip Larkin and the American humorist Peter De Vries.

Quote Investigator: Both of these attributions are backed by good evidence. Peter De Vries used a version of the phrase to describe his novel “Tunnel of Love” in the 1950s, and Philip Larkin called it a “classic formula” for a book in the 1970s.

Yet, the earliest instance located by QI appeared in “The Yale Literary Magazine” in 1909. The author C. E. Lombardi published a short fictional sketch in which two friends exchanged banter while attending a theatrical production in New York [LBME]:

The play made its start pleasantly enough but since it was a musical comedy Meriweather felt it incumbent to produce some slighting remark.

“This sort of thing, at least, hasn’t changed much while I’ve been away from New York,” he said.

“They keep the same form,” said Fairfield; “a beginning, a muddle, and an end.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Story Should Have a Beginning, a Muddle and an End

Writing Is Easy; You Just Open a Vein and Bleed

Thomas Wolfe? Red Smith? Paul Gallico? Friedrich Nietzsche? Ernest Hemingway? Gene Fowler? Jeff MacNelly? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Whenever I have trouble writing I am reminded of a brilliant saying that uses a horrifyingly expressive metaphor to describe the difficult process of composition:

Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.

Here is another version of the saying that I found while Googling:

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

I have seen statements like this credited to the prominent sports columnist Red Smith and to the literary figures Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway. Could you explore this quotation?

Quote Investigator: There is significant evidence that Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith used a version of this quote by 1949. In April of that year the influential and widely syndicated newspaper columnist Walter Winchell wrote. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. …”Why, no,” dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

This is the earliest known attribution to Smith and it was located by top-notch researcher Bill Mullins. But a few years earlier another novelist and highly-paid sportswriter used the same metaphor to describe the often arduous task of putting words down on paper. In the 1946 book “Confessions of a Story Writer” Paul Gallico wrote: 2

It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.

Today Gallico is perhaps best known for the novel The Poseidon Adventure which was made into a blockbuster disaster movie in 1972. The popular work was remade for television and for theatrical release in the 2000s. He also wrote the 1941 story Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees that was made into the successful film The Pride of the Yankees.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Writing Is Easy; You Just Open a Vein and Bleed

Notes:

  1. 1949 April 06, Naugatuck Daily News, Walter Winchell In New York, Page 4, Column 5, Naugatuck, Connecticut. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1946, Confessions of a Story Writer by Paul Gallico, Page 576, A Borzoi Book Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified on paper; Thanks to Stephen Goranson for checking this cite on paper) link

Computer Memory: 640K Ought to be Enough for Anyone

Bill Gates? James E. Fawcette? Nancy Andrews? Jerry Pournelle? InfoWorld? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Bill Gates is the one of the richest men in the world, but that does not mean that he correctly foresaw the future. In the early days of the personal computer industry Gates supposedly said the following about the IBM PC:

 640K ought to be enough for anyone.

The term 640K refers to 640 kilobytes of computer memory. But these days a computer often has a capacious memory that is tens of thousands of times larger, and this size continues to grow. The 640K limitation was once a real headache for programmers and users. This quote is notorious among computer enthusiasts and is typically dated to 1981, but Bill Gates has denied that he ever said it. Could you try to trace it?

Quote Investigator: During the 1990s Bill Gates wrote a syndicated newspaper column in which he answered questions from the public. When he was asked about the saying in 1996 he replied [BGLA]:

I’ve said some stupid things and some wrong things, but not that. No one involved in computers would ever say that a certain amount of memory is enough for all time.

The need for memory increases as computers get more potent and software gets more powerful. In fact, every couple of years the amount of memory address space needed to run whatever software is mainstream at the time just about doubles. This is well-known.

However, the computer periodical InfoWorld did attribute several statements to Gates that expressed acceptance or satisfaction regarding the 640K computer memory limitation. Top quotation expert Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, located the earliest version of this sentiment credited to Gates [BGNN]:

When we set the upper limit of PC-DOS at 640K, we thought nobody would ever need that much memory.  — William Gates, chairman of Microsoft

These words appeared at the beginning of an editorial written by James E. Fawcette published in the April 29, 1985 issue of InfoWorld. But no precise reference was given, and the words did not occur as part of an interview.

QI has located the earliest instance of a close match to the saying specified by the questioner. This is the version that is often attributed to Gates today. It appeared in InfoWorld magazine in January 1990 in an article that presented a timeline for the development of the PC industry in the 1980s. The remark ascribed to Gates was placed in quotation marks [BGSF]:

IBM introduces the PC and, with Microsoft, releases DOS (“640K ought to be enough for anyone” — Bill Gates)

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Computer Memory: 640K Ought to be Enough for Anyone

Update: Not Everything That Counts Can be Counted

Albert Einstein? William Bruce Cameron? Hilliard Jason? Stephen Ross? Lord Platt? George Pickering?

Quote Investigator: QI has updated the entry about a popular quotation attributed to Einstein. The saying combines two distinct but related phrases:

Not everything that can be counted counts.

Not everything that counts can be counted.

The entry now presents earlier evidence concerning these phrases. In addition, citations from medical journals point to a new contender for authorship of the adage named Stephen Ross. Here is a link to the updated article.

The Only Time an Aircraft Has Too Much Fuel On Board Is When It Is On Fire

Charles Kingsford-Smith? Ernest K. Gann? TWA Captain? Yachtsman? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: In the aviation world there is an axiom that avers:

The only time an aircraft has too much fuel on board is when it is on fire.

This pearl of wisdom is commonly attributed to the pioneer Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, but a bit of Google-diving turns up no definitive sourcing. Would the QI be motivated to have a go?

Quote Investigator: Charles Kingsford-Smith was a top aviator, and he often had to worry about whether he had an adequate supply of fuel, but QI has been unable to trace the quotation back to him.

Instead, the maxim was used by another famous pilot who was noted for writing best-sellers that became Hollywood movies. In 1974 the book “Ernest K. Gann’s Flying Circus” was published, and it contained the earliest appearance of the saying that QI has located. In the following passage the author Gann poses and answers a rhetorical question about the DC-3 airplane (boldface added) [EGFC]:

“What happens if one engine quits?”

According to my recollection most DC-3s eventually arrived at their destination if they carried enough fuel. In my private manual I firmly believed the only time there was too much fuel aboard any aircraft was if it was on fire. As for single engine emergencies, I had enough familiarity with the proper mixture of fright, sweat, and faith to remain convinced “it can’t happen to me.”

Gann worked as a pilot for American Airlines and Matson Airlines. He wrote several popular books including “The High and the Mighty,” “Island in The Sky,” and “Fate Is the Hunter.” All three of these works were made into motion pictures with major stars such as Glenn Ford and John Wayne.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Only Time an Aircraft Has Too Much Fuel On Board Is When It Is On Fire

Military Command: Send Three and Fourpence. We’re Going to a Dance

World War I? World War II? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Years ago some military orders had to be sent via a series of radio relays. Each radio operator would listen to a command and then repeat it to the next operator in a series. If you have ever played the game “broken telephone” or “Chinese whispers” you may know the result of this process. Here is an example I heard of the initial military order and the final result:

Send reinforcements. We are going to advance.

Send three and fourpence. We are going to a dance.

Can you determine if there is any truth to this anecdote?  During which war did this happen? I think this tale may have been created before radio communication was common.

Quote Investigator: There are several interrelated stories about garbled communication during military exercises. The content of the messages varies, but the tales probably share a common ancestor because the message text overlaps. For example, the transformation of the phrase “send reinforcements” into “send three and fourpence” is a common feature of several anecdotes. The earliest version found by QI was published in 1914 under the title “Altered in Transit” in the “Temperance Caterer” periodical of London. This story may reflect the wishful thinking of hungry soldiers [HSTC]:

Whilst on manoeuvres, a brigadier commanding a certain brigade stationed in Aldershot passed the word to the nearest colonel to him :—

“Enemy advancing from the left flank. Send reinforcements.”

By the time it reached the end of the right flank the message was received :—

“Enemy advancing with ham-shanks. Send three and fourpence!”

A version similar to the one given by the questioner appeared by 1916. Over time the tale spinners exercised substantial creativity, and the messages started to refer to wild Italians and pressing pants. Some versions in the United States localized the currency and spoke of cents instead of pence.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Military Command: Send Three and Fourpence. We’re Going to a Dance

Creative Minds Are Rarely Tidy

Carl Gustav Jung? John William Gardner? A Wise Man? My Friend’s Pillow? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I run a daily email quote list, and I try to do a quick Google search to see if I’ve got the correct attribution.  I came across your site and thank you for the help. Here is a stumper for you:

Creative minds are rarely tidy.

This maxim is credited to Carl Gustav Jung and several other individuals. Sometimes the attribution is Anonymous. Any ideas?

Quote Investigator: There is another common version of this saying that has been put into circulation more recently:

Creative minds are seldom tidy.

QI believes that the most likely creator of the initial maxim was John William Gardner who was once the President of the Carnegie Corporation and was the founder of the prominent advocacy organization Common Cause. He also helmed the Health, Education, and Welfare department during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

In 1964 Gardner published “Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society,” and he used the adage without crediting anyone else (boldface added) [CTJG]:

It has been said that there is a stage in the life of a society (or organization or movement) in which the innovators and creative minds flower and a stage in which the connoisseurs and critics flower. Is it true that the heights of connoisseurship are achieved on the road to decadence? It is a highly debatable point, but not to be dismissed out of hand. Creative minds are rarely tidy.

Gardner also included in his book a version of the maxim that applied to larger groupings such as organizations instead of individuals [CTJG]. Both of these variants have been cited by later authors (boldface added):

Extremes of pluralism can lead to utter confusion. But creative organizations or societies are rarely tidy. Some tolerance for inconsistencies, for profusion of purposes and strategies, and for conflict is the price of freedom and vitality.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Creative Minds Are Rarely Tidy

I Feel Sure My “Woulds” And “Shoulds,” My “Wills” and “Shalls,” Are All Wrong

Oscar Wilde? Irishmen? Australian? Scot? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent English actor and author Stephen Fry once said something about Oscar Wilde that I found fascinating:

Oscar Wilde, and there have been few greater and more complete lords of language in the past thousand years, once included with a manuscript he was delivering to his publisher, a compliments slip in which he’d scribbled the injunction, “I’ll leave you to tidy up the woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whichs etc.”

This remark was made during a program about language that is available on YouTube, and Fry’s claim can be heard around 1 minute and 45 seconds into the audio [SFYV] [SFLE]. However, I have yet to find any support for this assertion. Can you?

Quote Investigator: There is evidence that Oscar Wilde asked the editor of his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, to carefully examine his use of “wills” and “shalls” in the text and change them if necessary. The novel was published in 1891 by Ward, Lock, and Company after it initially appeared in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890. Coulson Kernahan who worked for the book publisher wrote a memoir that discussed his interactions with Wilde during the preparation of the manuscript [OWCK]:

When The Picture of Dorian Grey was in the press, Wilde came in to see me one morning.

“My nerves are all to pieces,” he said, “and I’m going to Paris for a change. Here are the proofs of my novel. I have read them very carefully, and I think all is correct with one exception. Like most Irishmen, I sometimes write ‘I will be there,’ when it should be ‘I shall be there,’ and so on. Would you, like a dear good fellow, mind going through the proofs, and if you see any ‘wills’ or ‘shalls’ used wrongly, put them right and then pass for press? Of course, if you should spot anything else that strikes you as wrong, I’d be infinitely obliged if you would make the correction.”

I agreed, went through proofs, made the necessary alterations, and passed for press.

The word ‘Grey’ is used in the passage above instead of the expected ‘Gray’ because Kernahan used ‘Grey’ when he specified the title of Wilde’s work. The personal recollections of Kernahan were printed in 1917 and included anecdotes about other figures, e.g., Algernon Charles Swinburne, Theodore Watts-Dunton, and Edward Whymper.

Another piece of evidence showing Wilde’s lack of assuredness in this grammatical domain is contained in a personal letter he sent to his friend Robert Ross in 1898. Wilde asked Ross to examine and correct his “woulds” and “shoulds,” and his “wills” and “shalls.” The details are presented immediately below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Feel Sure My “Woulds” And “Shoulds,” My “Wills” and “Shalls,” Are All Wrong