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)

No One in This World Has Ever Lost Money by Underestimating the Intelligence of the Great Masses of the Plain People

H. L. Mencken? Louis B. Mayer? Arthur L. Mayer? David Ogilvy? P. T. Barnum? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A sardonic comment about the general public has been credited to the famous journalist curmudgeon H. L. Mencken. Here are two versions:

(1) No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

(2) Nobody ever lost money underestimating the taste of the American people.

I have not been able to determine the original phrasing and a precise citation. Would you please help me?

Quote Investigator: H. L. Mencken was based in Baltimore, Maryland where he wrote for “The Sun” and its companion newspaper “The Evening Sun”. On September 18, 1926 he penned a column about the success of tabloid newspapers for “The Evening Sun” which included the following passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby. The mistake that is made always runs the other way. Because the plain people are able to speak and understand, and even, in many cases, to read and write, it is assumed that they have ideas in their heads, and an appetite for more. This assumption is a folly.

Mencken’s column was reprinted in other newspapers. For example, on the next day, September 19, the piece appeared in the “Chicago Sunday Tribune” of Illinois 2 and the “San Francisco Chronicle” of California. 3

During the ensuing years the quotation has evolved into more streamlined forms. The prolix remark about searching and employing agents has usually been omitted. The phrase “lost money” has often been replaced by “went broke”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading No One in This World Has Ever Lost Money by Underestimating the Intelligence of the Great Masses of the Plain People

Notes:

  1. 1926 September 18, The Evening Sun, As H. L. Sees It by H. L. Mencken, Quote Page 7, Column 2, Baltimore, Maryland. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1926 September 19, Chicago Sunday Tribune (Chicago Daily Tribune), Notes on Journalism by H. L. Mencken, Quote Page G1, Column 3, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  3. 1926 September 19, San Francisco Chronicle, Tabloid a la First Reader by H. L. Mencken, Quote Page 2F, Column 6, San Francisco, California. (GenealogyBank)

I Am Omnibibulous, or, More Simply, Ombibulous

H. L. Mencken? George Jean Nathan? Errol Flynn? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During the December holiday season imbibing is commonplace. “Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words” lists ‘ombibulous’ with the following definition: 1

someone who drinks everything (H. L. Mencken).

How is the famous commentator and curmudgeon Mencken connected to this word? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1920 a piece containing this distinctive word together with the closely related synonym ‘omnibibulous’ appeared in “The Smart Set” magazine with two authors specified in the byline: George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

As for me, I am prepared to admit some merit in every alcoholic beverage ever devised by the incomparable brain of man, and drink them all when the occasions are suitable—wine with meat, the hard liquors when the soul languishes, beer on jolly evenings. In other words, I am omnibibulous, or, more simply, ombibulous.

The prefix ‘omni’ means all, and ‘bibulous’ means fond of alcoholic beverages sometimes to excess.

In later publications Mencken indicated that the 1920 passage above was his. Mencken did not coin the word ‘omnibibulous’, but QI‘s exploration suggests that he did coin the shortened form ‘ombibulous’. See below for additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Am Omnibibulous, or, More Simply, Ombibulous

Notes:

  1. 1980 (1974 Copyright), Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words by Josefa Heifetz Byrne, Entry: ombibulous, Quote Page 145, Column 1, University Books: Citadel Press, Secaucus, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1920 February, The Smart Set, Volume 61, Number 2, Répétition Générale by George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken, Start Page 45, Quote Page 47, Column 1, Smart Set Company, Inc., New York. (Google Books Full View) link

When I Hear Artists or Authors Making Fun of Business Men I Think of a Regiment in Which the Band Makes Fun of the Cooks

H. L. Mencken? Robert E. Adams? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Acerbic commentator H. L. Mencken has received credit for a figurative remark that mentions military bands and military cooks. Yet, I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1942 H. L. Mencken published a massive compilation titled “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources”, and he included the following entry: 1

When I hear artists or authors making fun of business men I think of a regiment in which the band makes fun of the cooks. IBID.

The term “IBID” meant that the source for the quotation was the same as the source for the previous quotation. Interestingly, the previous quotation listed in the book specified “Author unidentified”. Thus, the quotation under analysis is anonymous.

The 1944 occurrence is the earliest one located by QI. The confusion about authorship is due to the presence of the quotation in Mencken’s compilation. Some readers ignored or misunderstood the fact that Mencken had labeled the statement anonymous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When I Hear Artists or Authors Making Fun of Business Men I Think of a Regiment in Which the Band Makes Fun of the Cooks

Notes:

  1. 1942, A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken), Topic: Business, Quote Page 134, Column 2, Alfred A. Knopf. New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

You Cannot Control the Length of Your Life, But You Can Control Its Width and Depth.

Evan Esar? H. L. Mencken? Exchange? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The key to achieving equanimity and contentment in life is accurately assessing what is within your control and what is beyond your control. The following figurative adage is instructive:

You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth.

These words have been ascribed to quotation collector Evan Esar and acerbic pundit H. L. Mencken. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Evan Esar did include this saying in a collection he published in 1968, but it was already in circulation, and he did not craft it. H. L. Mencken did receive credit for the statement by the 1980s, but he died in 1956, and there is no substantive evidence that he coined it.

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a California newspaper in 1924 which acknowledged the journal “Exchange”. The elaborate saying contained ten parts. The first nine parts were implicitly prefaced with the phrase “You cannot control”. Below are the first three parts together with the final part. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

YOU CANNOT CONTROL
The length of your life, but you can control its width and depth.
The contour of your countenance, but you can control its expression.
The other fellow’s opportunities, but you can grasp your own.
. . .
Why worry about things you can’t control? Get busy controlling the things that you can.—Exchange.

QI has not yet determined the issue of “Exchange” containing this saying. Nor has QI determined the identity of the creator. Thus, for now, the quotation remains anonymous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Cannot Control the Length of Your Life, But You Can Control Its Width and Depth.

Notes:

  1. 1924 August 14, Visalia Morning Delta, Contemporaneous Opinions: You Cannot Control, Quote Page 2, Column 2, Visalia, California. (Newspapers_com)

Like Two Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb

Jorge Luis Borges? Phaedrus? Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian? Clarke Jervoise? Leo Tolstoy? H. L. Mencken? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following trenchant simile is the best description of a futile conflict that I have ever heard:

The clash was like two bald men fighting over a comb.

The prominent Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges employed this figure of speech, but I do not think he coined it. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: A precursor tale about two bald men has been ascribed to the ancient Roman fabulist Phaedrus who wrote in the style of Aesop. The translation into English given below was published in 1761. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A Bald Man chanced to find a Comb upon the publick Way. One equally destitute of Hair came Up, and claim’d his equal Share. The first immediately produced the Booty, and withal added: “The Gods ’tis plain favour us, but envious Fate has made us find (as the Proverb is) a Coal instead of a Treasure.”

The Complaint of this Fable suits the Man who has been disappointed in his Hopes.

The two men did not fight in this tale. One man simply bemoaned their joint fate because neither could use the comb.

The Eighteenth century French writer Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian was best known for the fables he published. A tale of two bald men fighting over a piece of ivory appeared in 1792. The winner of the fisticuffs unhappily determined that the prize was a comb: 2

Un jour deux chauves dans un coin
Virent briller certain morceau d’ivoire:
Chacun d’eux veut l’avoir; dispute et coups de poing.
Le vainqueur y perdit, comme vous pouvez croire,
Le peu de cheveux gris qui lui restoient encor
Un peigne étoit le beau trésor
Qu’il eut pour prix de sa victoire.

In 1806 an English translation of the tale appeared in “Select Fables. Written for the Purpose of Instilling Into the Minds of Early Youth a True Sense of Religion and Virtue”: 3

On a certain day, two bald-headed men saw a piece of ivory shining in a corner:—each wished to have it; they disputed which of the two had the best right to it, and which had first perceived it. Both maintained their claims, and, from small words, came to blows; and the blows were so violent, that the battle was soon ended.

You will easily suppose, that the conqueror lost, in the contest, the few straggling grey hairs he had left. —

The object of the quarrel was brought forward to the light:—it was an ivory comb!

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Like Two Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb

Notes:

  1. 1761, The Fables of Phædrus in Latin and English: The Translation as Literal as the Idioms of the Two Languages Will Admit by Mr. Hoadly and Several Other Eminent Hands, For Use In Schools, Book 5, Fable 7, Quote Page 137, Printed for John Exshaw, Dublin, Ireland. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1792, Ouvres de M. de Florian (Works by M. de Florian), Fables de M. de Florian: De l’Académie Françoise de celles de Madrid, Florence, etc. (M. de Florian’s Fables: From the French Academy of Madrid, Florence, etc.) by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian, Livre 5, Fable 7: Les deux Chauves, Quote Page 172, De l’imprimerie de P. Didot, Paris, France, Chez Girod et Tessier, Paris, France. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1806, Select Fables. Written for the Purpose of Instilling Into the Minds of Early Youth a True Sense of Religion and Virtue, Translated from the French of Mons. Florian, Fable 28: The Two Bald Heads, Quote Page 90, Printed for J. Harris, London. (Google Books Full View) link