If I Owned Hell and Texas, I Would Rent Texas and Live at the Other Place

Philip Sheridan? H. L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Texas is a beloved state to many, but it also has detractors. One comical remark compares the state unfavorably to Hades:

If I owned Hell and Texas, I’d rent out Texas and live in Hell.

Would you please explore the provenance of this joke?

Quote Investigator: Philip Sheridan was a General in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. In February 1866 a newspaper in Mobile, Alabama reported on a remark he made about Texas. The word “hell” was sanitized via the omission of two letters to yield “h—l” which fit contemporary sensibilities. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

So Gen. Sheridan, who was obliged to stop in Texas awhile on duty, said if “he owned Texas and h—l both, he would rent Texas and live in h—l!”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If I Owned Hell and Texas, I Would Rent Texas and Live at the Other Place

Notes:

  1. 1866 February 22, The Mobile Daily Times, Communicated from TRAVELER to the Editor of Mobile Times, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Mobile, Alabama. (Newspapers_com)

The Trouble with Communism is the Communists, Just as the Trouble with Christianity is the Christians

H. L. Mencken? Martin Luther King Jr.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The U.S. satirist and curmudgeon H. L. Mencken apparently employed the following saying. Here are two versions:

The trouble with communism are the communists.
The trouble with communism is the communists.

If this remark is authentic would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In August 1946 “LIFE” magazine published an interview with H. L. Mencken whose popularity had suffered because of his relentless hostility to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mencken stated that he found the idea of communism attractive. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mr. Mencken puffed meditatively on his cigar. “We might as well discuss Communism, too,” he said. “As an idea it is anything but bad. I can easily imagine a civilization purged of the profit motive. In fact, I am pretty well purged of it myself. Private property, after a certain low point, becomes a mere nuisance.”

Nevertheless, Mencken distrusted the advocates of communism and labeled them hypocrites: 2

The trouble with Communism is the Communists, just as the trouble with Christianity is the Christians. They really do not believe in it and hence are hypocrites. All of them pant for money and hope to collar it by changing the rules. This fundamental false pretense colors their whole propaganda. They have no more sense of honor than so many congressmen and engage constantly in wholesale lying.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Trouble with Communism is the Communists, Just as the Trouble with Christianity is the Christians

Notes:

  1. 1946 August 5, LIFE, Volume 21, Number 6, Mr. Mencken Sounds Off by Roger Butterfield, Start Page 45, Quote Page 51, Column 1, Published by Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1946 August 5, LIFE, Volume 21, Number 6, Mr. Mencken Sounds Off by Roger Butterfield, Start Page 45, Quote Page 51, Column 1, Published by Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

Politician: Straddling the Fence With Both Ears To the Ground

H. L. Mencken? Arthur Stanwood Pier? L. Curry Morton? Life Magazine? Sylvester K. Stevens? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A startling and funny depiction of a politician has been constructed by mixing two vivid metaphors:

A politician is an animal who can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.

This remark has been credited to the influential Baltimore curmudgeon H. L. Mencken. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: When faced with a significant decision some people refuse to make a commitment. These indecisive people inspired three eloquent figurative phrases: “sitting on the fence”, “standing on the fence”, and “straddling the fence”. Widespread use of these phrases occurred in the nineteenth century.

People who carefully monitor trends and listen to rumors inspired the descriptive phrase “keeping an ear to the ground” which also achieved widespread use in the nineteenth century. Eventually, a physically impossible version emerged: “keeping both ears to the ground”.

The comical remark under examination evolved over time as the metaphors were combined, enhanced, and applied to politicians.

In 1901 teacher and novelist Arthur Stanwood Pier published “The Sentimentalists”. During one scene the character Virginia criticized her brother Vernon. She comically combined five different figurative phrases. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“You’re always straddling a fence, with one ear to the ground to see which way the wind blows,” said Virginia. “It’s a picturesque attitude, but you don’t get much leverage. You’d do better if you came out into the open and showed your hand.”

“My sister talks like a monologue artist in a vaudeville show,” complained Vernon.

The above instance cleverly combined metaphors, but it referred to one ear and not two. Also, the remark was not applied to politicians in general.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Politician: Straddling the Fence With Both Ears To the Ground

Notes:

  1. 1901, The Sentimentalists: A Novel by Arthur Stanwood Pier, Chapter 11: The Hero Gains in Knowledge and Loses in Wisdom Quote Page 125 and 126, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

The United Voice of Myriads Cannot Lend the Smallest Foundation To Falsehood

Oliver Goldsmith? H. L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: In the Internet Age a falsehood is sometimes repeated incessantly and propagated across the world. Yet, the collective voice of one million people cannot transform a falsehood into a truth. This insight has a long history. The prominent Anglo-Irish novelist and playwright Oliver Goldsmith said something like this in the 1700s. Would you please help me to find a citation.

Quote Investigator: In 1766 Oliver Goldsmith published the novel “The Vicar of Wakefield” which contained the following statement. Boldface added to excerpts: 1

. . . the united voice of myriads cannot lend the smallest foundation to falsehood.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The United Voice of Myriads Cannot Lend the Smallest Foundation To Falsehood

Notes:

  1. 1766, The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith, Part 2 of 2, Chapter 8, Quote Page 121, Printed by B. Collins for F. Newbery, London. (Eighteenth Century Collections Online ECCO) link

I Never Vote For Anybody. I Always Vote Against

W. C. Fields? Franklin P. Adams? H. L. Mencken? Richard Croker? Franklin D. Roosevelt? Will Rogers?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of sardonic sayings about the behavior of voters. Here are three examples:

  • I never vote for anybody. I always vote against.
  • People vote against somebody rather than for somebody.
  • The people never vote for anything. They always vote against something.

This viewpoint has been attributed to popular columnist Franklin P. Adams, curmudgeonly commentator H. L. Mencken, and star comedian W. C. Fields. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a Pennsylvanian newspaper in 1893. Richard Croker, a powerful New York City politician, applied the saying to a group of political activists. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Boss Croker, of Tammany, defines a mugwump as a man who always votes against somebody and never votes for anybody. That’s a pretty clever description.

Franklin P. Adams used an instance of the saying in 1916, but he disclaimed credit for the expression. H. L. Mencken used an instance in 1925, but he also disclaimed credit. A version was ascribed to W. C. Fields in a 1949 biography. Detailed information appears further below.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Never Vote For Anybody. I Always Vote Against

Notes:

  1. 1893 October 30, Harrisburg Telegraph, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Television? No Good Will Come of This Device. The Word Is Half Greek and Half Latin

C. P. Scott? Kenneth Adam? Bernard Levin? Harvey W. Wiley? Ivor Brown? H. L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading a book about woefully inaccurate predictions I came across a humorously incongruous statement about a wildly successful gadget:

Television? The word is half Greek, half Latin. No good can come of it.

British journalist C. P. Scott has received credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: C. P. Scott (Charles Prestwich Scott) was the editor of “The Manchester Guardian” beginning in 1872. He relinquished the editorship in 1929 while continuing to work at the paper. He died a few years later in 1932.

The earliest germane citation known to QI occurred in “The Listener” magazine in 1955. Kenneth Adam wrote about his experiences as a neophyte journalist at “The Manchester Guardian” starting in 1930. Adam presented the words of C. P. Scott who described a groundbreaking invention worthy of a newspaper article. The term “cuttings” in the following excerpt referred to folders full of categorized articles clipped from periodicals which could be used to research a topic. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

‘Now here’s something promising. A new development in wireless broadcasting. They propose to add sight to sound. That raises interesting possibilities, don’t you think? There won’t be many cuttings, I’m afraid. But do your best. By the way, they seem to be calling it “television”. Not a nice word. Greek and Latin mixed. Clumsy. You might like to have a dig at that, eh? ’

Adam was unsure whether his article about television was published because many short pieces assigned by the inquisitive Scott were never printed. Interestingly, Adam did not mention the retrospectively humorous line “No good can come of it”. In 1956 another journalist, Bernard Levin, did attribute this line to Scott within the pages of “The Manchester Guardian”: 2

… C. P. Scott turning in his grave. (“Television?” he said. “No good will come of this device. The word is half Greek and half Latin.”)

Unfortunately, both of these citations appeared many years after the death of C. P. Scott. Numerous people have criticized the hybrid etymology of “television”, and QI finds the report from Adam credible. Yet, the support for the comical line about the fate of television is weaker.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Television? No Good Will Come of This Device. The Word Is Half Greek and Half Latin

Notes:

  1. 1955 July 7, The Listener, Volume 54, Number 1375, Memories of ‘The Manchester Guardian’ by Kenneth Adam, Start Page 19, Quote Page 19, Column 1, Published by British Broadcasting Corporation, London. (Gale Cengage “The Listener” Historical Archive)
  2. 1956 June 9, The Manchester Guardian, The Traveling Eye by Bernard Levin, Quote Page 5, Column 6, Manchester, England. (Newspapers_com)

When They Say It’s Not About Money, It’s About Money

Abe Martin? Kin Hubbard? H. L. Mencken? Jim Courier? George Young? Gary Shelton? Mike Lupica? Dale Bumpers? Shannon Sharpe?

Dear Quote Investigator: Contract negotiations are tough, and disputes usually involve money. Yet, participants sometimes highlight other issues as paramount. Jaded observers have crafted the following dictum:

When they say it’s not about the money. Just remember, it is about the money.

Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the widely-syndicated newspaper feature “Abe Martin” in 1916. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

When a feller says: “It hain’t th’ money, but th’ principle o’ th’ thing,” it’s th’ money.

The “Abe Martin” illustration and accompanying words were crafted by Frank McKinney Hubbard who was best known as Kin Hubbard.
Thanks to quotation researcher Barry Popik who located the Hubbard citation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When They Say It’s Not About Money, It’s About Money

Notes:

  1. 1916 November 24, Franklin Evening News, Abe Martin, Syndicate: National Newspaper Service, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

The Men the American People Admire Most Extravagantly Are the Most Daring Liars

H. L. Mencken? George Jean Nathan? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous curmudgeon H. L. Mencken asserted that the most daring liars were rewarded with public admiration. I do not recall the precise phrasing Mencken employed. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1922 “The Smart Set” magazine published a piece under the byline of H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan containing the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth. A Galileo could no more be elected President of the United States than he could be elected Pope of Rome.

The proper ascription to Mencken was clarified when the quotation appeared in his collections titled “Prejudices Fourth Series” and “A Mencken Chrestomathy”. The details are presented further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Men the American People Admire Most Extravagantly Are the Most Daring Liars

Notes:

  1. 1922 August, The Smart Set: The Aristocrat Among Magazines, Volume 68, Number 4, Répétition Générale by George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken, Start Page 45, Quote Page 49, Column 2, Smart Set Company Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Puritanism — The Haunting Fear That Someone, Somewhere, May Be Happy

H. L. Mencken? George Jean Nathan? Nellie McClung? Beverly Gray? John Cleese? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here are four versions of a mordant definition of puritanism:

  1. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
  2. The lurking fear that someone somewhere is happy.
  3. The gnawing worry that someone somewhere might be happy.
  4. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be having a good time.

This quip has been attributed to the prominent journalist Henry Louis Mencken. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In January 1925 “The American Mercury” published a collection of items under the title “Clinical Notes” by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. The following remark appeared as a freestanding item. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Puritanism.—The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

The proper ascription to Mencken was clarified when the quotation appeared in his 1949 collection “A Mencken Chrestomathy”. The details are presented further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Puritanism — The Haunting Fear That Someone, Somewhere, May Be Happy

Notes:

  1. 1925 January, The American Mercury, Volume 4, Number 13, Clinical Notes by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, Start Page 56, Quote Page 59, Column 1, The American Mercury, New York. (Unz)

The Lunatics Have Taken Charge of the Asylum

Edgar Allan Poe? Richard Rowland? Terry Ramsaye? Laurence Stallings? H. L. Mencken? William Gibbs McAdoo? Jack Oakie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The leaders of a group often face a variety of criticisms. Harsh detractors employ a vivid metaphor from the domain of mental health. Here are two examples:

  1. The lunatics have taken over the asylum.
  2. The inmates are in charge of the asylum.

This barb has often been aimed at Hollywood. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match for this metaphor known to QI appeared in the 1926 book “A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture Through 1925” by Terry Ramsaye. The statement was applied to the upstart movie studio United Artists and its four founders: prominent film director D. W. Griffith, popular comic actor Charlie Chaplin, well-known star Mary Pickford, and matinee idol Douglas Fairbanks. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The classic comment of the occasion came from Richard Rowland, then head of Metro Pictures Corporation. He received the interesting tidings from Arthur James, press and intelligence agent of Metro. Rowland meditated on the significance of the new move for almost a full second.

“So,” he remarked, “the lunatics have taken charge of the asylum.”

It should be added, lest there be an assumption that the comment sprang from snobbery, that Rowland has been philosopher enough to classify himself as “one of the accidentally successful.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Lunatics Have Taken Charge of the Asylum

Notes:

  1. 1964 (1926 Copyright), A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture Through 1925 by Terry Ramsaye, Chapter 79: Mary, McAdoo and Monte Carlo, Quote Page 795, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans)