Author Archives: garson

The Smartest People in the World Don’t All Work for Us. Most of Them Work for Someone Else

Bill Joy? George Gilder? Bill Gates? Dan Gillmor? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Bill Joy is a top computer scientist who helped to develop the UNIX operating system and co-founded Sun Microsystems. He formulated an important insight now called “Joy’s Law” about the distribution of expertise in organizations. Here are three versions:

  • No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.
  • The smartest people in every field are never in your own company.
  • The smartest people in the world don’t all work for us. Most of them work for someone else.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match within a direct quotation located by QI occurred in “Fortune” magazine in 1995. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Says Joy: “The idea behind our Java strategy was that the smartest people in the world don’t all work for us. Most of them work for someone else. The trick is to make it worthwhile for the great people outside your company to support your technology. Innovation moves faster when the people elsewhere are working on the problem with you.”

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  1. 1995 December 11, Fortune, Volume 132, Number 12, Section: Information Technology, Article: Whose Internet Is It, Anyway? Author: Brent Schlender, Start Page 120, Quote Page 130, Column 2, Time Inc., New York. (Verified with scans)

If I Cannot Swear in Heaven I Shall Not Stay There

Mark Twain? Albert Bigelow Paine? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There are a set of statements attributed to the famous humorist Mark Twain about allowable behaviors in heaven:

  • If I cannot swear in heaven I shall not stay there.
  • If I cannot drink bourbon in heaven, then I shall not go.
  • If I can’t smoke cigars in heaven, I won’t stay there long.

Did Twain really make any of these remarks?

Quote Investigator: After Mark Twain’s death in 1910 Albert Bigelow Paine who was his friend became his literary executor with access to his papers and notebooks. In 1912 Paine published an important multi-volume biography of Twain.

In 1935 Paine published “Mark Twain’s Notebook” which included observations, ideas, and diary-like material from Twain’s collection of notebooks. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

If all men were rich, all men would be poor.

Let us swear while we may, for in heaven it will not be allowed.

Familiarity breeds contempt. How accurate that is. The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it.

If I cannot swear in heaven I shall not stay there.

Twain wrote down notions such as those above in his notebooks because he felt they might be useful later while composing a speech, essay, or story. Paine selected items from the notebooks for the 1935 publication.

QI has not yet found comments about smoking or drinking that match the template of the remark about swearing.

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  1. 1935, Mark Twain’s Notebook by Mark Twain, Edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, Chapter 31: In Vienna, Quote Page 345, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified on paper)

Software Is Eating the World

Marc Andreessen? Ben Horowitz?

Dear Quote Investigator: The companies Uber and Lyft are worth billions of dollars and are juggernauts in the transportation sector. Yet, neither company owns a fleet of vehicles. The multibillion dollar company Airbnb has revolutionized the hospitality sector, yet it owns no hotels or motels. These companies control pivotal software systems connecting buyers and sellers. I am reminded of the following adage:

Software is eating the world.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: Marc Andreessen was the co-author of the first widely used Web browser. He is now an influential venture capitalist. He popularized the adage when he published an essay in “The Wall Street Journal” in 2011. Interestingly, he employed the statement more than a decade earlier.

In October 2000 Marc Andreessen and his business partner Ben Horowitz were interviewed in “CRN: The Newsweekly for Builders of Technology Solutions”. The pair had recently founded the company Loudcloud, a pioneering endeavor in the cloud computing sector. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

HOROWITZ_ As we thought about the new business that we might start, the big barrier to doing any of them was how do we get to technological critical mass? It’s critical, and we really wanted to buy that from somebody. As we were going through that [process], we were like, maybe we should just provide it.

ANDREESSEN_ It dovetails with what we saw at Netscape. The complexity curve of software on major Internet properties like Yahoo and everybody else is growing exponentially. Software is eating the world.

[At Netscape], we were churning out a lot of software products that contributed to that complexity.

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  1. 2000 October 9, CRN: The Newsweekly for Builders of Technology Solutions, Issue 915, CRN interview: Marc Andreessen & Ben Horowitz–Web enablers by Amy Rogers, Start Page 30. End Page 34, CMP Media Inc., Jericho, New York. (ProQuest)

The Doodle Is the Brooding of the Hand

Saul Steinberg? Harold Rosenberg? Robert Motherwell?

Dear Quote Investigator: A cartoonist once spoke eloquently about the product of absentminded scribbling. Here are three versions:

  • The doodle is the brooding of the hand.
  • Doodling is the brooding of the hand.
  • Doodling is the brooding of the mind.

Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: The leading illustrator and cartoonist Saul Steinberg was often featured in the pages of “The New Yorker”. In 1978 a collection of his artworks was published in an eponymous book together with commentary by Harold Rosenberg. The saying appeared as a quotation from Steinberg presented by Rosenberg. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

While retaining the cartoon as the nucleus of his art, Steinberg has vastly enlarged its scope with ideas, techniques, approaches derived from the history of art and from twentieth-century art in particular: automatic drawing (“the doodle is the brooding of the hand”), drawings by children and the mentally disturbed, naïve art, scrawls on walls and latrines, facsimiles, transferred images (drawings on photographs), parodies of modern and old masters.

The artwork above is not by Saul Steinberg; it is from pencilparker at Pixabay.

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  1. 1978, Saul Steinberg by Harold Rosenberg, (Pictures by Saul Steinberg; commentary by Harold Rosenberg), Quote Page 34, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

“What Made You a Star?” “I Started Out in a Gaseous State, and Then I Cooled”

Johnny Carson? Kenneth Tynan? David Letterman? Ed McMahon?

Dear Quote Investigator: A prominent show business personality was once asked how he or she became a star. The reply was a very funny absurdist remark about astrophysical star formation. Do you know who made this response?

Quote Investigator: In 1968 English theatre critic Kenneth Tynan wrote about U.S. television host Johnny Carson in the pages of “The Observer” of London. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This complicated man has total aplomb. He was once asked, not without aggression: “What made you a star?” Blandly, he replied, “I started out in a gaseous state, and then I cooled.”

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  1. 1968 May 26, The Observer, Shouts and Murmurs by Kenneth Tynan, Quote Page 30, Column 3, London, Greater London, England. (Newspapers_com)

Everywhere I Go I’m Asked If I Think Universities Stifle Writers. I Think They Don’t Stifle Enough of Them

Flannery O’Connor? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Flannery O’Connor, the novelist and famous crafter of short stories, was once asked whether she believed that college courses discouraged or stifled budding writers. She gave an answer I found found acerbically entertaining. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1960 “The Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution” published an interview with Flannery O’Connor. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think universities stifle writers,” she said. “I think they don’t stifle enough of them. The kind of writing that can be taught is the kind you then have to teach people not to read. . . .”

Yet, O’Connor’s criticism of teaching was not universal. She felt her own academic training was worthwhile:

She explained that what she had at the University of Iowa was valuable, “but it wasn’t training to write as such; it was training to read with critical attention–my own work and other people’s.”

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  1. 1960 May 20, The Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution, Visit to Flannery O’Connor Proves a Novel Experience by Margaret Turner, Quote Page 2G, Column 2, Atlanta, Georgia. (ProQuest)

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.

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  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.

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  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? John Ruskin? 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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  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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  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