Category Archives: Aristotle

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”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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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)

To Avoid Criticism, Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing

Aristotle? Elbert Hubbard? William Pitt? Fred Shero? Anonymous?

elbert08Dear Quote Investigator: Receiving criticism is an unpleasant experience, but it is also inevitable. If your actions in the world are significant then you will draw detractors. This notion is cleverly expressed in the following pointed remark:

To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

This statement of anti-advice has been attributed to two very different figures: the ancient Greek sage Aristotle and the American aphorist publisher Elbert Hubbard. Who do you think deserves credit?

Quote Investigator: QI has not found any substantive evidence to support an ascription to Aristotle.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in an 1898 collection of short essays titled “Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen” by Elbert Hubbard. A piece about the abolitionist politician William H. Seward noted that he was the target of an assassination attempt. But Hubbard suggested that one must brave censure and danger to live a full and meaningful life. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

If you would escape moral and physical assassination, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing—court obscurity, for only in oblivion does safety lie.

Hubbard crafted multiple versions of the expression, and the saying was often attributed to him in the early decades of the 1900s.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1898, Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen by Elbert Hubbard, Section: William H. Seward, Start Page 363, Quote Page 370, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York; The Knickerbocker Press, New York. (Edition copyright 1898; Reprint date November 1901) (HathiTrust Full View) link link