Author Archives: garson

Posterity Is As Likely To Be Wrong As Anybody Else

Heywood Broun? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular embrace or condemnation of an artwork is often transitory. Artists and critics speculate about the judgement of posterity, but that future evaluation may be just as flawed as the current viewpoint. I love this insightful remark:

Posterity is as likely to be wrong as anybody else.

Do you know who should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: In April 1924 the influential journalist and drama critic Heywood Broun published the following in his syndicated column. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

Whenever an artist thinks that the community does not sufficiently appreciate him, he takes an appeal to posterity. I wonder where this notion comes from, that posterity is equipped with superior judgment and wisdom? Just how does it get that way? Posterity is as likely to be wrong as anybody else.

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  1. 1924 April 2, Oakland Tribune, It Seems To Me by Heywood Broun, Quote Page 16, Column 7, Oakland, California. (Newspapers_com)

Lug Nuts: I’m Here Because I’m Crazy; Not Stupid

Asylum Inmate? Lester Ridenhour? Leo Aikman? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend an automobile driver noticed that a tire was going flat, and pulled over to the side of a lonely road adjacent to a tall metal fence. While replacing the tire with a spare the apprehensive driver removed the four lug nuts and accidentally dropped them down a sewer grate.

A figure behind the metal fence saw the dispirited driver and presented a clever solution to the awful predicament. Each tire could be attached with three lug nuts, and the car could be driven to a service station for further assistance. The helpful person was a resident of a mental asylum, and the anecdote ended with this didactic exchange: “How is it that you could give such sound advice?” “I may be nuts but I’m not stupid.” Would you please trace this story?

Quote Investigator: This tale is difficult to explore because it can be told in many ways. The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a North Carolina newspaper in 1951. Lester Ridenhour who was the assistant principal and director of athletics at Burlington High School travelled to Raleigh, North Carolina together with students to play in a basketball tournament.

When the group returned to their car they discovered that one wheel with its hubcap and lugs had been stolen. Ridenhour walked three miles to find an open service station: 1

The service station attendant returned with him to the car, jacked up the axel off the ground, took one lug off each of the other wheels, fastened the spare wheel into position, and got the group on its way home. Arrival In Burlington: 2 o’clock this morning.

The newspaper article contained the crucial elements of the puzzle solution, but there was no mention of an asylum or an astute inmate.

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  1. 1951 March 3, Burlington Daily Times-News, Lester Ridenhour Concludes: ‘I’m Going To Stay At Home’, Quote Page 5, Column 6 and 7, Burlington, North Carolina. (NewspaperArchive)

He Is a Modest Man Who Has a Great Deal To Be Modest About

Winston Churchill? Voltaire? Julian Amery? Ronald Reagan? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend a political rival of Winston Churchill was once praised with the description “He is a modest man.” Churchill responded with the quip “He has much to be modest about.” Would you please investigate this tale?

Quote Investigator: Clement Attlee became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in July 1945. In December 1945 “The New York Times” printed a group of anecdotes that were circulating in newspapers and diplomatic circles in London. One tale was about Attlee. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Although some quarters contend that the Labor Government has gone too far too fast in instituting reforms, a considerable bloc of Prime Minister Attlee’s supporters is frankly disappointed. That explains this observation, now making the rounds: “Attlee is a modest man who has a great deal to be modest about.”

The originator of the barb was unidentified although the prefatory words suggested that the critic wished to see more reforms from Attlee’s administration whereas Churchill opposed those reforms. The phrasing of the remark has been variable, and an instance was ascribed to Churchill by April 1947 in a Canadian newspaper.

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  1. 1945 December 9, The New York Times, Section: New York Times Magazine, What London Is Laughing At, Quote Page 21, Column 2, New York. (ProQuest)

You Can’t Have a Better Tomorrow If You Are Thinking About Yesterday All the Time

Charles F. Kettering? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Charles F. Kettering was a prominent inventor and the head of research at General Motors for more than twenty-five years. I believe he said that one couldn’t envision a better tomorrow if one was always thinking about yesterday. I am not sure of the precise phrasing he used. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1961 a collection of speeches by Kettering was published under the title “Prophet of Progress”. He spoke at a luncheon in his honor on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his development of the electric self-starter for automobiles. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

I have said I was pretty sure that man came from the crab family because we back into everything. We don’t go straight forward at all. I think it is time we turned around and faced the future with our backs to history. You can’t have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time. If you want to back into history far enough to get some bearings, that is perfectly all right.

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  1. 1961, Prophet of Progress: Selections from the Speeches of Charles F. Kettering, Edited by T. A. Boyd, Speech Title: Opportunities Unlimited, Start Page 15, Quote Page 16, E. P. Dutton and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

Resentment is Like Taking Poison and Waiting for the Other Person To Die

Carrie Fisher? Nelson Mandel? Malachy McCourt? Emmet Fox? Bert Ghezzi? Susan Cheever? Alan Brandt? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A vivid simile depicts the self-destructiveness of a common bitter emotion. Here are two versions:

  1. Resentment is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die.
  2. Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill someone else.

This figurative language has been credited to the actress Carrie Fisher, the statesman Nelson Mandela, the author Malachy McCourt, and others. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the 1980 book “The Angry Christian” by Bert Ghezzi. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Resentment is like a poison we carry around inside us with the hope that when we get the chance we can deposit it where it will harm another who has injured us. The fact is that we carry this poison at extreme risk to ourselves.

This simile is not identical, but it shares key elements with the target saying. QI believes that this figurative framework evolved over time.

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  1. 1980, The Angry Christian by Bert Ghezzi, Quote Page 99, Servant, Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Verified with scans; thanks to the B.L. Fisher Library of the Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky)

As You Climb the Ladder of Success, Be Sure It’s Leaning Against the Right Building

Stephen R. Covey? Thomas Merton? Allen Raine? Anne Adaliza Evans? Mae Maloo? H. Jackson Brown? Sarah Frances Brown? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The metaphorical notion of climbing a ladder of success was in use by writers in the nineteenth century. Here is an intriguing cautionary twist about faulty objectives:

When you get to the top of the ladder you may find it is propped against the wrong wall.

This thought has been credited to the educator and best-selling author Stephen R. Covey and to the theologian and activist Thomas Merton. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Tracing this expression has been difficult because of its variability. The earliest evidence found by QI appeared in “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle” of New York in 1915. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“You may get to the very top of the ladder, and then find it has not been leaning against the right wall.”—Allen Raine.

This quotation did not explicitly mention a “ladder of success”, but the allusion was clear. “Allen Raine” was the pseudonym of a popular Welsh novelist named Anne Adaliza Evans, but QI is not certain whether the newspaper intended to attribute the quote to her or to some other Allen Raine.

The citation above reveals that neither Thomas Merton who was born in 1915 nor Stephen R. Covey who was born in 1932 originated this extended metaphor. In fact, QI has not yet found any substantive evidence linking the notion to Merton. On the other hand, Covey did employ it.

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  1. 1915 December 30, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Section: Picture and Sporting, (Filler item in a box), Quote Page 4, Column 6, Brooklyn, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Tell ‘Em What You’re Going To Tell ‘Em; Next, Tell ‘Em; Next, Tell ‘Em What You Told ‘Em

Aristotle? Dale Carnegie? J. H. Jowett? Fred E. Marble? Royal Meeker? Henry Koster? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: For many years I have been encouraged to split my speeches into three parts. Here are two versions of the guidance:

[A] Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it; then tell them what you’ve said.
[B] Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em; then tell ’em; then tell ’em what you told ’em.

This popular advice allows speakers to hammer their points with repetition, but I wonder how many members of the audience will remain awake. Do you know who originated this tripartite template? I have seen it credited to the ancient philosopher Aristotle and the self-help pioneer Dale Carnegie.

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in 1908 in a short piece titled “Three Parts of a Sermon” published in the “Northern Daily Mail” of Durham, England. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mr. Jowett, of Birmingham, tells of a lay preachers’ conference, in which a veteran described his method of sermon preparation. “I take my text,” he said, “and divide my sermon into three parts. In the first part I tell ’em what I am going to tell ’em; in the second part—well, I tell ’em; in the third part I tell ’em what I’ve told ’em.”—The “Sunday Strand.”

A later citation expanded the name of the religious figure to “J. H. Jowett”. Interestingly, Jowett disclaimed credit and assigned the saying to an unnamed “veteran” preacher. Also, the “Northern Daily Mail” acknowledged the “Sunday Strand”.

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  1. 1908 August 13, Northern Daily Mail (Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail), Three Parts of a Sermon, Quote Page 3, Column 4, Durham, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

First They Ignore You, Then They Laugh at You, Then They Attack You, Then You Win

Mohandas Gandhi? Jean Cocteau? Robbie Williams? Julian Beck? Earl B. Morgan? Tony Benn? Peter D. Jones? Louis Agassiz? Arthur Schopenhauer?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mahatma Gandhi famously employed nonviolent strategies during the struggle for Indian independence. A quotation often attributed to him asserts that popular movements pass through four stages:

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.

I have been unable to find a good citation. Are these really the words of Gandhi?

Quote Investigator: Several researchers have attempted to find these words in Gandhi’s oeuvre without success. The saying was ascribed to him by 1982, but Gandhi died decades earlier in 1948.

The earliest known substantive match occurred in a speech delivered by Nicholas Klein at a convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in 1918. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.

And that is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.

Typically, a successful social movement is based on a proposition extolled as a truth. For example, the Gandhian movement was based on the assertion that India should be an independent nation. These propositions face opposition and a harsh reception. QI believes that the saying under analysis fits into a large and evolving family of statements about the multi-stage difficulties obstructing new ideas and truths.

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  1. 1918, Documentary History of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America: 1916-1918, Proceedings of the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, (Held in Baltimore, Maryland on May 13 to May 18, 1918), Address given in Fourth Session on Wednesday, May 15, 1918, Address of Nicholas Klein, Start Page 51, Quote Page 53, Published by Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. (Special note on dating: The dating on the document was confusing. In some locations the year 1919 was listed. In other locations 1918 was listed. I checked the day of the week for May 15, 1918 and May 15, 1919 and only the earlier date matched the specified weekday of Wednesday) (Google Books Full View) link

The Will To Win Is Not Worth Much Unless You Have the Will To Prepare To Win

Vince Lombardi? Bobby Knight? Fielding H. Yost? John Cooper? Joe Paterno? Vernon Law? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular sports maxim highlights the importance of preparation. Here are three versions:

  1. The will to win is important; the will to prepare to win is vital.
  2. The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.
  3. The will to win is not worth a nickel unless you have the will to prepare.

This saying has been attributed to several prominent coaches including: Bobby Knight who led the Indiana Hoosiers basketball team, Vince Lombardi who led the Green Bay Packers football team, Fielding H. Yost who led the Michigan Wolverines football team, and Joe Paterno who led Penn State Nittany Lions football team. Who should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: Fielding H. Yost was the head football coach at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for 25 seasons at the beginning of the twentieth century. His remarkably successful squads dominated opponents and won several national championships. During the 1929-30 academic year Yost delivered a speech to teachers in the Public Schools Athletic League of New York City. His “Wingate Memorial Lecture” included a prolix version of the athletic adage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The will to win. We hear a lot about that. The will and the wish to win, but there isn’t a chance for either one of them to be gratified or to have any value unless there has been a will to prepare to win: the will to prepare for service, to do the things that build and develop our capacity, physical, mental, and moral.

Yost reiterated this notion during several speeches, and QI believes he was primarily responsible for its popularization although the phrasing he employed was variable. During the ensuing decades other coaches adopted the saying.

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  1. 1930, Intimate Talks by Great Coaches: Wingate Memorial Lectures 1929-1930, Edited by E. Dana Caulkins, Lecture Title: Fundamentals of Football Coaching by Fielding H. Yost (University of Michigan), Start Page 3, Quote Page 18, Wingate Memorial Fund Inc., New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

There Are No Strangers Here; Only Friends You Haven’t Yet Met

William Butler Yeats? Will Rogers? Edgar Guest? Margaret Lee Runbeck? Dorothy C. Wegner? Roberta Lieberman? Mitch Albom? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Nobel Prize winning Irish poet William Butler Yeats often receives credit for the following sentiment:

There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.

Is this ascription accurate?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find substantive support for the linkage to Yeats. The popular poet Edgar Guest included a similar statement in a widely distributed 1915 poem called “Faith”. Here are the first two verses. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I believe in the world and its bigness and splendor,
That most of the hearts beating round us are tender;
That days are but footsteps and years are but miles
That lead us to beauty and singing and smiles;
That roses that blossom and toilers that plod
Are filled with the glorious spirit of God.

I believe in the purpose of everything living,
That taking is but the forerunner of giving;
That strangers are friends that we some day may meet,
And not all the bitter can equal the sweet;
That creeds are but colors, and no man has said
That God loves the yellow rose more than the red.

The Davenport Democrat” of Iowa and other newspapers reprinted Guest’s work with an acknowledgement to “The Detroit Free Press” of Michigan. 2

QI conjectures that the quotation evolved from the line written by Guest.

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  1. 1915 August 19, The Boston Globe, Poem: Faith by Edgar A. Guest (In the Detroit Free Press), Quote Page 10, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1915 August 22, The Davenport Democrat and Leader, Poem: Faith by Edgar A. Guest (In the Detroit Free Press), Quote Page 11, Column 6, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)