I Am a Lie That Always Tells the Truth

Jean Cocteau? Pablo Picasso?  Herbert V. Prochnow? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The life mission of an artist is paradoxical. Masterpieces are not subservient to narrow facticity. Representing truths and insights requires the imaginative transformation of raw materials. Here are two versions of an energizing maxim for artists:

  • I am a lie that always speaks the truth.
  • I am a lie that always tells the truth.

The saying above has been attributed to the French poet Jean Cocteau who has also been credited with this variant statement:

  • The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: An important precursor of this remark appeared in 1922 within “Le Secret Professionnel” (“Professional Secrets”) by Jean Cocteau. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

On a coutume de représenter la poésie comme une dame voilée, langoureuse, étendue sur un nuage. Cette dame a une voix musicale et ne dit que des mensonges.

Here is one possible rendering into English:

It is customary to portray poetry as a veiled, languid woman reclining on a cloud. This lady has a musical voice and says nothing but lies.

Another interesting precursor was crafted by the prominent painter Pablo Picasso when he was interviewed by the New York City periodical “The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine” in 1923. His responses in Spanish were translated into English:

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.

A QI article about Picasso’s statement is available here.

Between 1925 and 1927 Cocteau composed a collection of poems published as “Opéra”. The disease of leprosy was used metaphorically to depict mental disintegration and despair within the poem “Le Paquet Rouge” (“The Red Package”) which included a line that matched the quotation under examination. An excerpt from the poem appeared in the Paris newspaper “Comœdia” in 1927: 2

J’ai lâché le paquet. Qu’on m’enferme. Qu’on me lynche. Comprenne qui pourra : je suis un mensonge qui dit toujours la vérité.

Here is one possible rendering into English:

I dropped the package. That shut me up. Let me be lynched. Understand who can: I am a lie who always tells the truth.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am a Lie That Always Tells the Truth

Notes:

  1. 1922, Book Title: Le Secret Professionnel, Author: Jean Cocteau, Quote Page 57, Publisher: Librairie Stock, Place du Théatre Français, Paris. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. Date: Novembre 1, 1927, Newspaper: Comœdia, Article: Jeune Poésie: II. L’autre royaume: En marge de Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, André Salmon, Author: Eugene Marsan, Quote Page 2, Column 6, Location: Paris, France. (Gallica)

A Facility for Quotation Covers the Absence of Original Thought

Dorothy L. Sayers? Lord Peter Wimsey? Harriet Vane? Philip Broadley? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have found the perfect sardonic motto for the QI website:

A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.

According to the “Encarta Book of Quotations” 1 these words were spoken by the character Lord Peter Wimsey in the 1935 novel “Gaudy Night” by the acclaimed mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers.

Prepare for the twist ending of this message. I have “Gaudy Night” on my bookshelf, but I have been unable to find this quotation. Would you please help to solve this vexatious mystery?

Quote Investigator: QI has examined two editions 2 of “Gaudy Night” 3
and has been unable to find this quip; hence, QI believes that the “Encarta” reference book is mistaken.

Interestingly, a different novel by Sayers contains a very similar remark by Lord Peter Wimsey. He delivered the following line in the 1932 novel “Have His Carcase”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 4

“I always have a quotation for everything—it saves original thinking.”

“Blast the man!” said Harriet, left abruptly alone in the blue-plush lounge.

Below are additional selected citations that assist in the resolution of this whodunit.

Continue reading A Facility for Quotation Covers the Absence of Original Thought

Notes:

  1. 2000, Encarta Book of Quotations, Edited by Bill Swainson, Entry: Dorothy L. Sayers, Quote Page 826, St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1958 (1935 Copyright), Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, (Quotation was absent), Victor Gollancz Ltd, London. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1968 (1936 Copyright), Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, (Quotation was absent), Avon Books: A Division of The Hearst Corporation, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1975 (Copyright 1932), Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers, Series: A Lord Peter Wimsey Novel, Quote Page 53, Avon Books: A Division of The Hearst Corporation, New York. (Verified with scans)

Art Is a Lie That Makes Us Realize Truth

Pablo Picasso? Jean Cocteau? Dorothy Allison? Henry A. Murray? Peter De Vries? Albert Camus? Julie Burchill? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Art works such as novels, paintings, and sculptures embody a stylized and distorted representation of the world. Yet, deep truths can best be expressed by deviating from the straitjacket of verisimilitude. Here are four versions of a paradoxical adage:

  1. Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.
  2. Art is a lie which allows us to approach truth
  3. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth
  4. Art is the lie that reveals truth.

Different versions of this maxim have been applied to fiction, poetry, and drama. The saying has been attributed to the Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso, the French poet Jean Cocteau, and the French existentialist Albert Camus. Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 the New York City periodical “The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Covering All Phases of Ancient and Modern Art” interviewed Pablo Picasso. His responses in Spanish were translated into English. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over his lies, he would never accomplish any thing.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Art Is a Lie That Makes Us Realize Truth

Notes:

  1. 1923 May, The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Covering All Phases of Ancient and Modern Art, Volume 3, Number 5, Picasso Speaks: A Statement by the Artist (Note accompanying text: Picasso gave his interview to “The Arts” in Spanish, and subsequently authenticated the Spanish text which we herewith translate), Start Page 315, Quote Page 315, The Arts Publishing Corporation, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

If I Cease Becoming Better, I Shall Soon Cease To Be Good

Oliver Cromwell? John Andrewes? Earl of Chichester? Mark Antony Lower? Viscount Fauconberg? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular saying extols continuous improvement. Here are four versions:

  • He who ceases to be better ceases to be good.
  • He who ceases to improve, ceases to be good.
  • If I cease becoming better, I shall soon cease to be good.
  • If I am not better I am not good.

This saying has been credited to the controversial English military and political leader Oliver Cromwell. Would you please explore this adage?

Quote Investigator: This adage was in circulation by 1621 when it appeared in a book titled “A celestiall looking-glasse to behold the beauty of heauen” by John Andrewes. Spelling had not yet been standardized when this book was published. A section called “An Apologie of the Author to the Reader” contained a Latin version of the saying together with an English translation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Qui cessat esse melior, cessat esse bonus.
Hee that ceasseth to be better, ceasseth to be good

A contemporary formulation of this statement would be:

He that ceases to be better, ceases to be good

In 1630 the Latin expression appeared in a collection titled “Panacea: or, Select Aphorismes, Diuine and Morall”: 2

It is not enough to repent, but thou must proceed from grace to grace, if thou wouldst atchieue the Crowne of Glory:
(Nam qui cessat esse melior, cessat esse bonus.)

Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, and the earliest linkage of the saying to the famous leader located by QI appeared almost two centuries later. An article titled “Remarks on the Pocket Bible of Oliver Cromwell with His Autograph” was read at an 1848 meeting of the Sussex Archaeological Society of England, and the article was printed in a volume of the “Sussex Archaeological Collections” in 1849: 3

At the Society’s Annual Meeting, held at Lewes, 10th of August, 1848, the Earl of Chichester, one of the vice presidents of the Society, exhibited the Pocket Bible of Oliver Cromwell. It is the edition of 1645, “printed for the assignes of Robert Barker,” and is plainly bound, for portability, in four thin volumes. The autograph of the original proprietor is written at the beginning of the third volume only:

The Earl of Chichester believed that the large O and C were the authentic signature of Oliver Cromwell. The Latin statement accompanying the signature can be translated in several different ways. Here is another possible rendering:

Qui cessat esse melior cessat esse bonus
He who ceases to improve, ceases to be good

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If I Cease Becoming Better, I Shall Soon Cease To Be Good

Notes:

  1. 1621, Title: A celestiall looking-glasse to behold the beauty of heauen. Directed vnto all the elect children of God, very briefly composed, and authentically penned, that it may be effectually gained, Author: John Andrewes, Publisher: Printed by Nicholas Okes, London. (Early English Books Online) link
  2. 1630, Title: Panacea: or, Select Aphorismes, Diuine and Morall, Item Number: 197, Publisher: Printed by Augustine Mathewes, London. (Early English Books Online 2) link
  3. 1849, Sussex Archaeological Collections: Illustrating the History and Antiquities of the County, Volume 2, Article: Remarks on the Pocket Bible of Oliver Cromwell with His Autograph, Location: Read at a Quarterly Meeting at Lewes, Date: October 1848, Author: Mark Antony Lower, Start Page 78, Quote Page 78, Publisher: The Sussex Archaeological Society, Sussex, England; John Russell Smith, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Don’t Be So Humble—You’re Not That Great

Golda Meir? Simcha Dinitz? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A humble brag is a statement that on its surface appears to be modest or self-deprecating; however, the true intent is to highlight a success or achievement. The funniest response I have seen to these types of comments is the following:

Don’t act so humble; you aren’t that great.

Would you please explore the provenance of this remark?

Quote Investigator: This statement was circulating many years before the term humble brag was coined. “The New York Times” published a piece in 1969 about Golda Meir who had recently become the Prime Minister of Israel. The article was based on the memories of Simcha Dinitz who worked as a close aide to Meir from 1963 to 1966. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“There is nobody like Golda for seeing what needs doing—or saying,” Mr. Dinitz commented. “She is always telling people: ‘Don’t be so humble—you’re not that great.’

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Don’t Be So Humble—You’re Not That Great

Notes:

  1. 1969 March 18, New York Times, A Tangy Flavor in Mrs. Meir’s Views (Special to The New York Times), Quote Page 12, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest)

It Is Easy To Predict an Automobile in 1880; It Is Very Hard To Predict a Traffic Problem

Frederik Pohl? Robert Heinlein? Isaac Asimov? Connie Willis? Ed Bryant? George Zebrowski? Ben Bova? Robert J. Sawyer? Sam Moskowitz?

Dear Quote Investigator: Predicting the primary effects of a new technology is difficult but feasible. Anticipating all the secondary effects is nearly impossible. Here are two statements of a viewpoint that has achieved popularity amongst science fiction aficionados:

In the nineteenth century a machine enthusiast could have predicted the automobile, but an SF writer could have predicted the traffic jam.

It is easy to predict the automobile but difficult to predict the traffic jam.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI occurred in a 1953 essay by prolific science and SF author Isaac Asimov titled “Social Science Fiction”. Asimov discussed three different types of SF stories: 1

Let us suppose it is 1880 and we have a series of three writers who are each interested in writing a story of the future about an imaginary vehicle that can move without horses by some internal source of power; a horseless carriage, in other words.

According to Asimov, gadget SF, the first type of tale, highlights the struggle to invent such a device and climaxes with its successful demonstration. Adventure SF, the second type, presents a romantic tale that hinges on using the device during action packed scenes. Social SF, the third type, explores the complex ramifications of the device as it is deployed within a society.

Asimov remarked that automobiles catalyzed the construction of suburbs. He also observed that vast networks of busy roadways resulted in large numbers of injuries and deaths. These indirect consequences of automobile usage would not have been easy to foresee. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

It is easy to predict an automobile in 1880; it is very hard to predict a traffic problem. The former is really only an extrapolation of the railroad. The latter is something completely novel and unexpected.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Is Easy To Predict an Automobile in 1880; It Is Very Hard To Predict a Traffic Problem

Notes:

  1. 1977, Turning Points: Essays on the Art of Science Fiction, Edited by Damon Knight, Social Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov, (From Modern Science Fiction, Its Meaning and Its Future, ed. Reginald Bretnor, Coward-McCann, 1953), Start Page 29, Quote Page 40, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1977, Turning Points: Essays on the Art of Science Fiction, Edited by Damon Knight, Social Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov, (From Modern Science Fiction, Its Meaning and Its Future, ed. Reginald Bretnor, Coward-McCann, 1953), Start Page 29, Quote Page 41, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with scans)

It Is Difficult, After Knowing Opium, To Take Earth Seriously

Jean Cocteau? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent French artist Jean Cocteau crafted the most insightful remark about addiction that I have ever read. Some drugs permanently shift one’s perception of pleasure and purpose in the world. Would you please help me to find Cocteau’s comment about the difficulty of taking the world seriously after using opium?

Quote Investigator: Jean Cocteau’s work “Opium: The Diary of a Cure” was based on a set of notes he wrote in 1929 with significant additions made in 1930. A translation from the French to English by Margaret Crosland and Sinclair Road appeared in 1957. Cocteau wrote the following about opium’s power, Boldface added to excerpt by QI: 1

It is difficult to live without opium after having known it because it is difficult, after knowing opium, to take earth seriously. And unless one is a saint, it is difficult to live without taking earth seriously.

Image Notes: Picture of a field of poppies from Schwoaze at Pixabay. Image has been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1957, Opium: The Diary of a Cure by Jean Cocteau, Translated from the French by Margaret Crosland and Sinclair Road, Quote Page 93, Peter Owen Limited, London. (Verified with hardcopy)

No One Really Listens To Anyone Else, and If You Try It for a While You’ll See Why

Mignon McLaughlin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Imagine reading a constructive, entertaining, and edifying discussion thread on social media. If you travel through the looking glass you can envision six impossible things before breakfast.

Now, imagine reading an unconstructive, mind-numbing, and obscurantist exchange. This latter possibility reminds me of a rueful remark from the famous wit Mignon McLaughlin. Would you please help me to find it?

Quote Investigator: The journalist, short story author, and aphorism creator Mignon McLaughlin included the following adage in her collection titled “The Second Neurotic’s Notebook”: 1

No one really listens to anyone else, and if you try it for a while you’ll see why.

Image Notes: Variant rendition of three wise monkeys (“speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil”) from 3D_Maennchen at Pixabay.

Notes:

  1. 1966, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook by Mignon McLaughlin, Chapter 3: Men and Women, Quote Page 21, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified with scans)

An Alleged Scientific Discovery Has No Merit Unless It Can Be Explained To a Barmaid

Albert Einstein? Ernest Rutherford? Cyril Hinshelwood? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: It should be possible to explain a valid scientific theory to anybody, e.g., a nine-year-old, a grandmother, or the man in the street. This dubious assertion is challenged by the fact that few humans are able to comprehend the notion of a four-dimensional space-time manifold which is central to the breakthrough theory of special relativity in physics.

Would you please explore another debatable claim of this type? Here are three versions:

  • A good scientific theory should be explicable to a barmaid
  • It should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid.
  • No physical theory is worth much if it cannot be explained to a barmaid.

This remark has been attributed to both Albert Einstein and Ernest Rutherford, two Nobel Prize winning scientists.

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the journal “Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society” within a 1955 article about Albert Einstein who had died earlier in the year. The piece noted that some fellow scientists were initially reluctant to accept Einstein’s research results because of their complex abstract nature. While discussing this resistance the article mentioned the saying together with an ascription to Ernest Rutherford. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Some of it may have been due to the popular principle attributed to Rutherford, that an alleged scientific discovery has no merit unless it can be explained to a barmaid.

Over time Einstein’s colleagues embraced his work and performed experiments that supported his theories.

Ernest Rutherford died in 1937, so the attribution above is posthumous and rather late. Also, the phrasing has been highly variable. Over all, the supporting evidence is not strong. On the other hand, Rutherford is the leading candidate because other ascriptions only emerged in the 1970s.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading An Alleged Scientific Discovery Has No Merit Unless It Can Be Explained To a Barmaid

Notes:

  1. 1955 November, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Volume 1, Albert Einstein 1879-1955 by Edmund Whittaker, Start Page 37, Quote Page 54, Published by Royal Society, United Kingdom. (JSTOR) link

Whenever You See Me Somewhere Succeeding In One Area of My Life, That Almost Certainly Means I Am Failing In Another

Shonda Rhimes? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The acclaimed long-running television series Grey’s Anatomy was created by writer and producer Shonda Rhimes. Her company Shondaland has successfully produced many lauded shows. Predictably, Rhimes leads a very busy life.

Unpredictably, she was willing to speak with complete candor to graduating Ivy League students. What sobering message did she deliver about the inevitable tradeoffs that an enterprising person must make?

Quote Investigator: Inspirational speakers prefer to present the upbeat message: You can have it all. When Shonda Rhimes delivered the commencement address at her alma mater Dartmouth University in 2014 she offered a different lesson: If you are living fully it is impossible to meet all the demands on your time and energy. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Shonda, how do you do it all?” The answer is this, “I don’t.” Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life. If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home . . .

That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother . . .

And yet. I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. I want that example set for them.

A video of her speech is available on YouTube here. 2

Continue reading Whenever You See Me Somewhere Succeeding In One Area of My Life, That Almost Certainly Means I Am Failing In Another

Notes:

  1. Website: Dartmouth University, Article title: Shonda Rhimes ’91, Commencement Address, Article author: Shonda Rhimes, Speech delivered: June 8, 2014, Website description: Information about Dartmouth University. (Accessed dartmouth.edu on October 16, 2019) link
  2. YouTube video, Title: Shonda Rhimes ’91 Delivers Dartmouth’s Commencement Speech, Upload date: June 9, 2014, Uploader: Dartmouth, Date of speech: June 8, 2014, (Quotation starts at 17 minute 54 seconds of 24 minutes 01 seconds) Description: This video shows the Commencement Speech delivered by Shonda Rhimes at Dartmouth University on June 8, 2014. (Accessed on youtube.com on Ocotober 16, 2019) link