The Future Has Arrived — It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed Yet

William Gibson? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I work at Google, and a colleague of mine who leads our Search Education efforts pointed out your site as a great resource for people learning to search smarter. I love the site!

There is a quotation credited to the influential and award-winning science fiction author William Gibson that we’ve used on multiple occasions. But we are not certain whether Gibson said it:

The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

If you’d care to investigate, you’d have at least a couple thankful fans here.

Quote Investigator: Gibson is a brilliant author, and this is a perceptive and piquant quotation. In 1990 he appeared in a documentary called “Cyberpunk”, and he discussed the differential access to technological developments based on wealth and location. He also stated a version of a key part of the maxim [CPWG]:

The future has already happened.

The earliest evidence for the full version of the saying was found by top quotation expert Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, who kindly shared the citation with QI. In 1992 the San Francisco Examiner published an article about the nascent technology of virtual reality, and the journalist Scott Rosenberg credited a version of the adage to Gibson [WGSF]:

Once whole worlds can be simulated for the senses, the only way to assure the integrity of the public imagination will be to get the power to create those worlds out of the hands of an elite and into general circulation. As William Gibson put it: “The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

With the help of Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired magazine and a pivotal neoteric thinker, QI was able to obtain a comment from William Gibson about the genesis of this saying and where it might have appeared initially. Kelly relayed that “Gibson does not remember when he first said it, but it was not something he wrote.” Gibson stated [KKGO]:

The problem is that the idea would have preceded its first recorded public utterance by quite some time, in the way of these things. I would assume I thought it, then eventually said it to friends, and that by the time I said it in an interview (the most likely scenario) it had become an idea I took for granted. It wasn’t something generated to give a talk, nor was it in some essay or article.

Gibson can be heard employing a version of the maxim during a 1999 interview on National Public Radio. He was complimented for the accuracy of his predictions by the interviewer and was asked if he read the technical literature. Gibson said that he “read very little technical literature at all” and then he downplayed his predictive skills [NRTN]:

…actually I spend a lot of my time, a lot of my media time trying to disown my prescience…

… as I’ve said many times the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Future Has Arrived — It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed Yet

None of This Nonsense about Women and Children First

Noël Coward? Winston Churchill? W. Somerset Maugham? Joe Drum? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: After major news events people often start exchanging jokes related to the subject matter. The recent tragic cruise ship accident has caused two versions of a comical anecdote to enter circulation. The punch line has been attributed to the statesman Winston Churchill and to the playwright Noel Coward. Examples of this joke are visible now [on January 21, 2012]  when one searches for the phrase “women and children” on Twitter. Here is an example credited to Coward:

I only travel on Italian ships. In the event of sinking, there’s none of that ‘women and children first’ nonsense!

Could you explore this quotation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this joke found by QI appeared in a Missouri newspaper in 1917. A travel writer, Henry J. Allen, described leaving a Paris railroad station and attempting to obtain transport in a taxicab; however, the number of taxicabs available was inadequate. The writer was reminded of a joke that he attributed to a “New York traveler” [KCNY]:

When we reached the outside our trouble began. There were some thirty or forty women from the train and as we watched the scramble for the very small number of taxicabs and 1-horse vehicles we were reminded of the reason a New York traveler once gave for traveling on a French liner: He said, “there is no foolishness about women and children first.”

Early instances of this barb were aimed at French vessels and crew and not Italian vessels. In March 1932 the name Joe Drum was attached to the tale by the syndicated gossip columnist O. O. McIntyre. But the fame of Joe Drum has faded with time, and today he is largely unknown [OOJD]:

Drum was sailing one day on a French ship. “I choose to cross with the gallant chevaliers of France,” he said, “where there is no hanky-panky about women and children first.”

In 1932 the saying was also credited to a more prominent individual, Noël Coward. Over the decades the attributions and embellishments have changed. By 1946 a more elaborate variant that mentioned food and drink was credited to an American Rear-Admiral. By 1985 the quip was ascribed to W. Somerset Maugham, and by 1993 an ornate version was credited to Winston Churchill.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading None of This Nonsense about Women and Children First

I Take My Only Exercise Acting as a Pallbearer to My Friends Who Exercise

Mark Twain? Chauncey Depew? Ring Lardner? William Allen White? Big Jim Watson? Joseph Hodges Choate? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: New Year’s resolutions often feature plans for more exercise. Mark Twain was once asked if he engaged in exercise, and he supposedly said:

I take my only exercise acting as a pallbearer at the funerals of my friends who exercise regularly.

But this same joke is also credited to Chauncey Depew, a United States Senator and renowned after-dinner speaker, who reportedly said:

I get my exercise acting as a pallbearer to my friends who exercise.

While searching I found that this quip was phrased in many other different ways. Could you determine if Twain, Depew, or someone else originated this funny saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Mark Twain made this remark. In 1905 Harper’s Weekly reprinted a speech given by Twain at his 70th Birthday party. In the passage below Twain expressed his dislike of exercise. But he did not employ the expression under investigation. Nevertheless, the hostility he evinced may have caused later individuals to assume that clever statements on this topic should be reassigned to Twain: 1

I have never taken any exercise, except sleeping and resting, and I never intend to take any. Exercise is loathsome. And it cannot be any benefit when you are tired; I was always tired. (Laughter.) But let another person try my way, and see where he will come out.

I desire now to repeat and emphasize that maxim: We can’t reach old age by another man’s road. My habits protect my life, but they would assassinate you.

A precursor of the quip appeared in 1922 in an article by the popular humorist Ring Lardner titled “My Week In Cuba” that was published in the magazine Cosmopolitan. Lardner’s remark included the notion of obtaining exercise by acting as a pallbearer, and his words were used in the caption of an illustration for the article which is shown below. In the following passage taxis are referred to as Flivingos: 2

We also visited the new country club and golf course which is patronized chiefly by Americans. As yet golf has not been generally took up by the natives who get plenty of exercise dodging Flivingos and acting as pall bearers.


In 1925 a version of the joke was printed in a syndicated news article about William Allen White who was a prominent American newspaper editor. White told the quip to his interviewer, but the phrasing he used differed from the common modern version. This key citation was located by Andrew Steinberg: 3

“You see in me the rocking chair expert of the Neosho Valley,” White says. “I have won every cup offered for long distance rocking chair prowess, and I get my exercise by acting as pallbearer for golfers who exercise to prolong useless lives.”

In 1926 another version of the joke appeared in a syndicated column about health titled “Play Safe in Taking Physical Exercise” written by a medical doctor named Royal S. Copeland. This instance was closer to the modern version. Copeland was recounting the remarks of an anonymous “old man”, and it is possible that he was reformulating the comments of William Allen White given above: 4

Somebody told a story about an old man so remarkably well that a newspaper reporter asked why he had lived so long and kept so strong. “I suppose it is because you take systematic exercise,” said the reporter.

The startling reply of the old gentleman was, “The only exercise I take is acting as pall-bearer to my friends who have indulged in strenuous exercise!”

This is a ridiculous yarn, but it has in it a suggestion of value. Exercise is useful so long as it really is exercise and not violent and difficult work.

Too many athletes die of heart or blood vessel trouble. Too much strain on the organs of circulation will do real and lasting harm.

By 1930 the humorous remark was credited to Chauncey Depew, and by 1950 the jest was assigned to Mark Twain.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Take My Only Exercise Acting as a Pallbearer to My Friends Who Exercise


  1. 1905 December 23, Harper’s Weekly, [Supplement to Harper’s Weekly], Mark Twain’s 70th Birthday: Record of a Dinner given in Celebration thereof at Delmonico’s on the Evening of December 5, 1905, Start Page 1884, Quote Page 1885, Column 2, Volume 49, Number 2557, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1922 August, Cosmopolitan, Volume 73, Number 2, My Week In Cuba by Ring W. Lardner, Start Page 48, Quote Page 51, International Magazine Company, New York, President: William Randolph Hearst. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1925 January 14, Evening Republican, “Thank Heaven It Was Sally” Says White: Kansan Admits He Was Ready to Wed Anyone, Page 1, Column 1, Mitchell, South Dakota. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1926 June 26, Chester Times, Play Safe in Taking Physical Exercise by Royal S. Copeland, M.D., Page 7, Column 7, Chester, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)

Cooking Is Like Love. It Should Be Entered Into with Abandon or Not At All

Julia Child? Harriet Van Horne? Sydney Smith? Margaret Grade? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading a cookbook I encountered an amusing quotation about cooking:

Cooking is like love — it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.

But the authors apparently did not know where it came from and labeled the words:  graffiti on a kitchen wall. Later I saw the phrase credited to the famous chef Julia Child and to the newspaper columnist Harriet Van Horne. Any ideas about its origin?

Quote Investigator: In 1956 Harriet Van Horne wrote an article for Vogue magazine titled “Not for Jiffy Cooks” and subtitled “Six recipes, simple, honest, and sometimes unconventional.” She began her article with the following counsel [HVVN]:

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.

This, then, is not a document for jiffy cooks. Nor for those devotees of those premixed, prewhipped, pre-stewed foods that crowd the grocer’s shelf.

This passage is the earliest evidence of the saying identified by QI. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Cooking Is Like Love. It Should Be Entered Into with Abandon or Not At All

Be at War with Your Vices, at Peace with Your Neighbours, and Let Every New Year Find You a Better Man

Benjamin Franklin? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: This is the season for New Year’s resolutions and toasts, and I have found a quotation credited to Benjamin Franklin that fits this theme:

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every New Year find you a better man (or woman).

However, there are so many fake quotes attributed to Franklin that I have no idea if this one is authentic. Could you tell me if this one is real? Also, if these are Franklin’s words where did they appear?

Quote Investigator: Franklin published a series of almanacs in the 1700s that were very popular, and many of the proverbs that are credited to him today were printed in these almanacs.  This sentence did appear in the 1755 edition of “Poor Richard’s  Almanac” whose more complete title is: “Poor Richard improved: Being an Almanack and Ephemeris of the Motions of the Sun and Moon; the True Places and Aspects of the Planets; the Rising and Setting of the Sun, And The Rising Setting and Southing of the Moon.”

The words of the expression were interleaved with astronomical facts concerning December 1755, and the salient terms in the phrase were capitalized. The word neighbors was spelled with a “u”, and New Year was hyphenated: 1

Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New-Year find you a better Man.

Many of the sayings that Franklin presented in his almanacs were obtained from other sources, and QI does not know if this advice originated with Franklin.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order together with a digital image showing how the saying was  printed within the almanac. Continue reading Be at War with Your Vices, at Peace with Your Neighbours, and Let Every New Year Find You a Better Man


  1. 1755, Poor Richard improved: Being an Almanack and Ephemeris of the Motions of the Sun and Moon; The True Places and Aspects of the Planets [Poor Richard’s Almanac], Benjamin Franklin, Month: December, Column: Aspects, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Images from volume at Rosenbach Museum & Library; Accessed at on 2011 December 17)

I Spent a Week in Philadelphia One Sunday

W. C. Fields? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Humorous remarks about Philadelphia are often credited to the well-known actor and comic W. C. Fields. In the past the activities and nightlife in Philadelphia were limited because of strict laws. Hence, time seemed to move slowly, and someone created the following quip:

I spent a week in Philadelphia one day.

Was W. C. Fields responsible for this joke?

Quote Investigator:  The earliest evidence for this jest located by QI appeared in 1908 in a magazine called “Life”. The cartoon containing the joke had an elaborate signature affixed, but QI does not know who drew this comical illustration. Two men in bowler hats discussing the city were depicted [LPCB]:


The quip appeared many times in the following decades but the earliest evidence found by QI of a connection to W. C. Fields did not appear until the 1970s. In 1972 an article in the Washington Post described a social event celebrating the birth date of W. C. Fields [WPWF]

A group of Philadelphia businessmen are throwing a 92d birthday party for the late comedian at a local “Y,” which has a no-liquor rule. They’ll show old Fields films, give guests a chance to kick a stuffed dog and insult a live child—all in an effort to keep alive Philadelphia’s heritage. But ginger ale? It makes it easy to understand what Fields meant when he said that in one night he spent a week in Philadelphia.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading I Spent a Week in Philadelphia One Sunday

Prayer Credited to St. Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi? La Clochette magazine? Friends’ Intelligencer? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a very popular prayer that is usually credited to St. Francis of Assisi. It begins:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

What is known about this attribution? Is it correct?

Quote Investigator: Christian Renoux, an Associate Professor at the University of Orleans, France, investigated the origin of this prayer and was able to trace it back to an appearance in French in a magazine called “La Clochette” in 1912 where it was published anonymously. This research is discussed in a short article titled “The Origin of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis” which is available at a website of “The Franciscan Archive” here [CRSF].

There is no compelling support for an attribution to St. Francis. Renoux states that around 1920 the prayer was printed on the back of an image of St. Francis with the title ‘Prière pour la paix’ (Prayer for Peace). This suggests to QI a natural mechanism for the creation of the ascription to St. Francis.

In 1927 a version of the prayer appeared in English in a periodical called “Friends’ Intelligencer” published by the Religious Society of Friends also known as the Quakers. This is the earliest instance in English that QI has located. Immediately preceding the prayer the following attribution was given: “A prayer of St, Francis of Assissi”. Note the spelling of Assisi within the periodical used the letter “s” four times [FAFI]:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; and
where there is sadness, joy.

“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love; for
it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

The text of the prayer above has been reformatted for readability. The passage in “Friends’ Intelligencer” was printed in two simple paragraphs with a break at the phrase “O Divine Master”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Prayer Credited to St. Francis of Assisi

Shirley Temple Visits a Department Store Santa Claus

Shirley Temple? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a funny anecdote about the young superstar Shirley Temple and her visit to Santa Claus when she was six. She began to question the story of toys distributed from the North Pole by Santa. Can you locate a version of this from Temple herself?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this anecdote that QI has located appeared in a newspaper in 1961. The byline indicated the source was the WNS news service [TPST]:

Shirley Temple said she stopped believing in Santa Claus when she went to visit him in a Los Angeles department store and Santa asked her for her autograph.

Temple may have been hasty in her judgment because even Santa or one of his helpers would have been awed by Shirley Temple’s box-office power in the 1930s.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Shirley Temple Visits a Department Store Santa Claus

Happiness Is Not a Matter of Intensity But of Balance, Order, Rhythm, and Harmony

Thomas Merton? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I’ve been wondering about the authenticity of a quote about happiness I came across some time ago. I’ve been unable to find a source so far.

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.

It was supposedly said by Thomas Merton.

Quote Investigator: The attribution given is correct although the wording of the quotation is slightly different. The conjunction “and” is used three times in the original text. The words appeared in a collection of essays published in 1955 titled “No Man is an Island” in a chapter called “Being and Doing” [TMHI]:

We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.

Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm.

Here is some additional information.

Continue reading Happiness Is Not a Matter of Intensity But of Balance, Order, Rhythm, and Harmony

Some Spirit is Manifest in the Laws of the Universe, One that is Vastly Superior to that of Man

Albert Einstein? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Did Albert Einstein say the following?

Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must seem humble.

When I search online for this sentence I get screen after screen of citations from people grinding religious axes, but never a source. I suspect Einstein really did say it, but I should love to be certain and to know the context.

Quote Investigator: In 1936 Albert Einstein sent a letter to a sixth-grade student named Phyllis Wright. The letter was written in Einstein’s native language of German and not in English. His note was complex, multi-layered, and difficult to translate into English. The missive did contain a section that expressed an opinion similar to the one in the text presented by the questioner. Further below QI will present three distinct translations of an excerpt from the letter corresponding to the passage above.

Einstein was replying to a query which was based on a topic of classroom discussion in a Sunday school course. Here is an excerpt from the note of Phyllis [PSAE]:

We will feel greatly honored if you will answer our question: Do scientists pray, and what do they pray for?

Einstein’s note was dated January 24, 1936 and reflected his multifaceted beliefs in the spiritual domain. Here is additional information together with a citation.

Continue reading Some Spirit is Manifest in the Laws of the Universe, One that is Vastly Superior to that of Man