People Are Taking Their Comedians Seriously, and Their Politicians as a Joke

Will Rogers? Ron Chernow? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The U.S. journalist and historian Ron Chernow spoke at the 2019 White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner. He shared a quip attributed to humorist Will Rogers about the status reversal of comedians and politicians. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In November 1932 Will Rogers published the following remark in his widely-syndicated newspaper column. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Everything is changing in America. People are taking their comedians seriously, and their politicians as a joke, when-it-used-to-be-vice-versa.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading People Are Taking Their Comedians Seriously, and Their Politicians as a Joke

Notes:

  1. 1932 November 23, The Piqua Daily Call, Will Rogers says (McNaught Syndicate), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Piqua, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

The Two Most Engaging Powers of an Author: New Things Are Made Familiar, and Familiar Things Are Made New

Samuel Johnson? William Makepeace Thackeray? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The craft of storytelling is ancient; hence, creating original plots and characters is difficult. On the other hand, experimental tales without connections to the past are discordant. Here is a germane adage about successful creators:

The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, and familiar things new.

This notion has been attributed to the famous lexicographer Samuel Johnson and the prominent novelist William Makepeace Thackeray. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Samuel Johnson published a collection of biographical sketches and critical analyses under the title “The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets”. The volume discussing the English writer Alexander Pope appeared in 1781, and Johnson included an assessment of the parodic fantasy poem “The Rape of the Lock”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

In this work are exhibited, in a very high degree, the two most engaging powers of an author. New things are made familiar, and familiar things are made new. A race of aerial people, never heard of before, is presented to us in a manner so clear and easy, that the reader seeks for no further information, but immediately mingles with his new acquaintance, adopts their interests, and attends their pursuits, loves a sylph, and detests a gnome.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Two Most Engaging Powers of an Author: New Things Are Made Familiar, and Familiar Things Are Made New

Notes:

  1. 1781, The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets; With Critical Observations on Their Works by Samuel Johnson, Volume 4, Section: Alexander Pope, Quote Page 188, Printed for C. Bathurst, J. Buckland, W. Strahan, and more, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Fashions, After All, Are Only Induced Epidemics

George Bernard Shaw? Gloria Steinem? W.H. Auden? Leo Rosten? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A style, jingle, gif, graffito, saying, or idea that rapidly mutates and propagates through a culture and achieves popularity is called a “meme” nowadays. The coinage of “meme” was based on “gene”, but a different biological metaphor was employed in the past. Here are two statements that have been attributed to the influential playwright George Bernard Shaw.

  • Fashions are induced epidemics.
  • A fashion is nothing but an induced epidemic.

Would you please help me to find a citation together with the correct phrasing?

Quote Investigator: George Bernard Shaw’s play “The Doctor’s Dilemma” was first staged in 1906. Shaw published the text of the play combined with a preface in 1911. A section of the preface titled “Fashions and Epidemics” cogently discussed fads in clothing and in medical procedures: 1

A demand, however, can be inculcated. This is thoroughly understood by fashionable tradesmen, who find no difficulty in persuading their customers to renew articles that are not worn out and to buy things they do not want. By making doctors tradesmen, we compel them to learn the tricks of trade; consequently we find that the fashions of the year include treatments, operations, and particular drugs, as well as hats, sleeves, ballads, and games.

Tonsils, vermiform appendices, uvulas, even ovaries are sacrificed because it is the fashion to get them cut out, and because the operations are highly profitable. The psychology of fashion becomes a pathology; for the cases have every air of being genuine: fashions, after all, are only induced epidemics, proving that epidemics can be induced by tradesmen, and therefore by doctors.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Fashions, After All, Are Only Induced Epidemics

Notes:

  1. 1911, The Doctor’s Dilemma with Preface on Doctors by Bernard Shaw, Fashions and Epidemics, Start Page lxxii, Quote Page lxxii, Brentano’s, New York. (Verified with scans)

For There Is Nothing As Stupid As an Educated Man If You Get Off the Thing That He Was Educated In

Will Rogers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Achieving extensive knowledge and expertise in one domain can be quite valuable, but it does not automatically allow one to pontificate intelligently in a different domain. The intellectual mastery attained by some experts is quite narrow. Here is a germane remark:

There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get him off the thing he was educated in.

This zinger has been attributed to the popular humorist Will Rogers, but the phrasing is probably inexact. Would you please help me to find an accurate version with a solid citation?

Quote Investigator: Will Rogers published a widely-syndicated newspaper column for many years. In 1931 he wrote a piece about a request he had received from the historian, and philosopher Will Durant who wished to know about his goals, inspirations, and life philosophy. Durant sent a similar request to a variety of people, e.g., George Bernard Shaw, Alert Einstein, and Mahatma Gandhi.

Rogers did not directly respond to Durant’s questions in his column; instead, he presented somewhat disjointed comments about civilization, education and philosophy including the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

For there is nothing as stupid as an educated man if you get off the thing that he was educated in.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading For There Is Nothing As Stupid As an Educated Man If You Get Off the Thing That He Was Educated In

Notes:

  1. 1931 July 3, The Daily Times, Life Is Full of Things–But They Don’t Mean Anything by Will Rogers (McNaught Syndicate), Quote Page 2, Column 2, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)

Success Is a Science; If You Have the Conditions, You Get the Result

Oscar Wilde? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, I encountered the following bromide within a get-rich-quick self-help book:

Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.

I was astonished to find that the words were attributed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. The websites listing the quotation were useless. None of them presented a solid citation, and skepticism is a natural response. Would you please trace this quotation?

Quote Investigator: The ascription to Oscar Wide is correct.

The U.S. actress Marie Prescott agreed to take the leading role in Oscar Wilde’s play “Vera; or, The Nihilists”. “The New York Herald” in August 1883 published a promotional piece about the upcoming production of the play within the city. The newspaper reprinted portions of a letter Wilde sent to Prescott. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I think we must remember that no amount of advertising will make a bad play succeed, if it is not a good play well acted. I mean that one might patrol the streets of New York with a procession of vermilion caravans twice a day for six months to announce that ‘Vera’ was a great play, but if on the first night of its production the play was not a strong play, well acted, well mounted, all the advertisements in the world would avail nothing.

My name signed to a play will excite some interest in London and America. Your name as the heroine carries great weight with it. What we want to do is to have all the real conditions of success in our hands. Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result. Art is the mathematical result of the emotional desire for beauty.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Success Is a Science; If You Have the Conditions, You Get the Result

Notes:

  1. 1883 August 12, The New York Herald, The Theatre: Preparations for the Approaching Musical and Dramatic Season, (Letter from Oscar Wilde to Marie Prescott), Quote Page 10, Column 4, New York, New York. (GenealogyBank)

Owe Your Banker £1,000 and You Are at His Mercy; Owe Him £1 Million and the Position Is Reversed

John Maynard Keynes? Paul Bareau? John Paul Getty? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The relationship between bankers and borrowers is symbiotic and occasionally counter-intuitive. Here is a pertinent adage:

If you owe the bank $100, that’s your problem; if you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.

The prominent economist John Maynard Keynes apparently made a similar remark using pounds sterling instead of dollars. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI occurred in a memo that Keynes circulated to the British War Cabinet in 1945; however, the attribution was anonymous. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

On such conditions, by cunning and kindness, we have persuaded the outside world to lend us upwards of the prodigious total of £3,000 million. The very size of these sterling debts is itself a protection. The old saying holds. Owe your banker £1,000 and you are at his mercy; owe him £1 million and the position is reversed.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Owe Your Banker £1,000 and You Are at His Mercy; Owe Him £1 Million and the Position Is Reversed

Notes:

  1. 1979, The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes: Volume 24: Activities 1944-1946: The Transition to Peace, Edited by Donald Moggridge, Section: Overseas Financial Policy in Stage III (Revised memorandum circulated to British War Cabinet on May 15, 1945), Start Page 256, Quote Page 258, Macmillan and Cambridge University Press, New York, For the Royal Economic Society. (Verified with hardcopy)

My Idea of a Gentleman Is He Who Can Play a Cornet and Won’t

Oscar Wilde? Mark Twain? Frank Fiest? Will Rogers? Walter Armstrong? Herman Lindauer? William M. Lewis? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: What do the following musical instruments have in common: cornet, ukulele, saxophone, bagpipes, accordion, and banjo? Each of these instruments has a distinctive sound that is unpleasant to some listeners providing inspiration for a family of comical insults. Here are three typical barbs:

(1) A true gentleman is someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, and doesn’t.

(2) A considerate person is one who could play a saxophone but doesn’t wish to.

(3) A man who can play the accordion but won’t, is a good neighbor.

The well-known wits Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain have received credit for this kind of quip, but I have been unable to find any supporting citations. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in January 1917 within the pages of “The Atchison Weekly Globe” of Atchison, Kansas. A mellow brass instrument was disparaged by a joke ascribed to a local man named Frank Fiest. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Frank Fiest: “My idea of a gentleman is he who can play a cornet and won’t.” Well said, Mr. Fiest.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading My Idea of a Gentleman Is He Who Can Play a Cornet and Won’t

Notes:

  1. 1917 January 25, The Atchison Weekly Globe, Half Minute Interviews, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Atchison, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

They Crawl Back Into the Woodwork

Dorothy Parker? Alexander Woollcott? Bennett Cerf? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The idiom “to crawl out of the woodwork” refers to an unpleasant person or thing that quickly emerges from hiding or obscurity. The companion idiom “to crawl back into the woodwork” refers to the person or thing disappearing.

The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary has citations beginning in 1964, but I think the famous wit Dorothy Parker helped to popularize the latter expression starting in the 1930s. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1933 the influential critic Alexander Woollcott published a profile of Dorothy Parker titled “Our Mrs. Parker” in “Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan” magazine. He described a “dreadful week-end” visiting the country home of a host named Nellie. The group included bohemians who would “bathe infrequently, if ever”. Dorothy Parker was a fellow guest, and Woollcott asked for her opinion of the unwelcome companions. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I could not help wondering how Nellie managed to round them up, and where they might be found at other times. Mrs. Parker looked at them pensively. “I think,” she whispered, “that they crawl back into the woodwork.”

Parker’s witticism was widely distributed, and QI conjectures that the modern idioms emerged, in part, because of her remark.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Crawl Back Into the Woodwork

Notes:

  1. 1933 August, Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, (Hearst’s International combined with Cosmopolitan), “Our Mrs. Parker” by Alexander Woollcott, Quote Page 90, Column 1, International Magazine Co., New York. (Verified with photocopies; Thanks to local and remote librarians)

Take the First Step in Faith. You Don’t Have To See the Whole Staircase, Just Take the First Step

Martin Luther King Jr.? Marian Wright Edelman? George Sweeting? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Famous civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has received credit for a stimulating remark about faith. Here are two versions:

(1) Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

(2) Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

I haven’t been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Martin Luther King Jr. died in 1968. The earliest published evidence located by QI appeared in the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Ohio in 1986. The newspaper interviewed Marian Wright Edelman who was the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Edelman knew King and heard him deliver multiple speeches. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“I was impressed by his leadership, but I think I was impressed even more by the fact that he was an adult and he was not afraid to speak about his uncertainties, his fears,” she said.

“He introduced me to the idea of taking one step, even if you can’t see the whole stairway when you start. I think because of that, I have a much greater capacity to accept failure and move on.”

The excerpt above did not include a direct quotation from King. In addition, it used the word “stairway” instead of “staircase”. The 1991 and 1999 citations presented further below which are also based on Edelman’s memory both contain direct quotations.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Take the First Step in Faith. You Don’t Have To See the Whole Staircase, Just Take the First Step

Notes:

  1. 1986 March 30, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Section: Living – Panorama – Part 3, Fighting for kids is a full-time job by Deena Mirow (Staff Writer), Quote Page 21, Column 2 thru 4, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

Sold His Soul for a Pot of Message

Critic: Max Beerbohm? G. K. Chesterton? Hugh Walpole? C. L. Edson? Piccolo? Maurice Francis Egan? John Cournos? Sara Henderson Hay? Theodore Sturgeon? Anonymous?

Person Being Criticized: H. G. Wells? John Galsworthy? William Lafayette Strong? Douglas Goldring? Margaret Halsey?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Bible tells the story of Esau who made a foolishly impulsive decision when he was hungry. His younger brother, Jacob, offered Esau a dish of lentils in exchange for his birthright, and Esau accepted. The phrase “mess of pottage” is used to describe the dish in the Geneva Bible of 1560 and other editions. 1 The following idiom refers to giving up something of great value or importance in return for something of little value:

Sell your birthright for a mess of pottage.

This statement inspired a spoonerism:

Sell your birthright for a pot of message.

This style of wordplay has been used in literary criticism. For example, barbs of the following type have been aimed at writers who employed crudely didactic themes and plots:

  • H. G. Wells sold his soul for a pot of message.
  • John Galsworthy sold his artistic birthright for a pot of message.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The phrase “pot of message” was circulating in the 1800s as discussed further below. The first evidence located by QI of the wordplay employed in the criticism of a significant literary figure occurred by 1919 in “The Sun” newspaper of New York. Novelist and lecturer Hugh Walpole aimed a jibe at science fiction author and social activist H. G. Wells; however, the attribution was anonymous. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

It is this passionate longing for a less muddled world that has reduced the Wells of the most recent period, the Wells who has “sold his soul for a pot of message,” as some one put it the other day. The war only increased and stimulated the propagandist energy that had always been there.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Sold His Soul for a Pot of Message

Notes:

  1. 2005 (2006 online Version), The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Second Edition), Entry: mess of pottage, Oxford University Press. (Oxford Reference Online; accessed April 15, 2019)
  2. 1919 December 28, The Sun, Section: Books and the Book World of The Sun, On Wells–Early, Mediaeval and Modern: A London Letter from Hugh Walpole in America, Quote Page 7, Column 3 and 4, New York, New York. (Newspapers_com)