We Must Play What Is Dealt To Us, and the Glory Consists Not So Much In Winning As In Playing a Poor Hand Well

Jack London? Robert Louis Stevenson? Josh Billings? Henry Wheeler Shaw? H. T. Leslie? Edgar O. Achorn? Albert J. Beveridge? Frank Crane? Dale Carnegie?

Dear Quote Investigator: Life is particularly challenging if you are born with medical impairments or negligent parents. Metaphorically, while playing cards you may be dealt a poor hand. You are triumphant when you play the cards you have received well.

An adage of this type has been credited to U.S. novelist Jack London, Scottish storyteller Robert Louis Stevenson, American humorist Josh Billings, and others. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1868 book “Josh Billings on Ice, and Other Things” by Henry Wheeler Shaw who used the pseudonym Josh Billings. The chapter containing the quotation was called “Perkussion Caps”, i.e., “Percussion Caps”. Billings often employed dialectical spelling. Here were three short items from the chapter. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Give me liberty, or giv me deth”—but ov the 2 I prefer the liberty.

As in a game ov cards, so in the game ov life, we must play what is dealt tew us, and the glory consists, not so mutch in winning, as in playing a poor hand well.

The time tew pray is not when we are in a tight spot, but jist as soon as we git out ov it.

Here are the three items using standard spelling:

“Give me liberty, or give me death”—but of the two I prefer the liberty.

As in a game of cards, so in the game of life, we must play what is dealt to us, and the glory consists, not so much in winning, as in playing a poor hand well.

The time to pray is not when we are in a tight spot, but just as soon as we get out of it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Must Play What Is Dealt To Us, and the Glory Consists Not So Much In Winning As In Playing a Poor Hand Well

Notes:

  1. 1868, Josh Billings on Ice, and Other Things by Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw), Chapter 24: Perkussion Caps, Quote Page 89 and 80, G. W. Carleton & Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

The Difference Between the Almost Right Word and the Right Word Is Really a Large Matter—’Tis the Difference Between the Lightning Bug and the Lightning

Mark Twain? Josh Billings? Henry Wheeler Shaw? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Writing well requires the selection of properly expressive words. There is an enormous difference between selecting ‘lightning bug’ versus ‘lightning’. Apparently, Mark Twain said something similar to this, but I was surprised to discover that Twain credited his friend Josh Billings with crafting the wordplay of this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In the 1880s George Bainton contacted numerous successful authors requesting advice for beginning writers about effective work methods. Mark Twain sent a reply in 1888 that appeared in the resultant compilation titled “The Art of Authorship” in 1890.

Twain used the pronoun “he” while referring to himself as a neophyte author within his description of the writing process. Twain stated that he preferred short sentences: 1

Unconsciously he accustoms himself to writing short sentences as a rule. At times he may indulge himself with a long one, but he will make sure that there are no folds in it, no vaguenesses, no parenthetical interruptions of its view as a whole.

Twain presented a vividly comical contrast while discussing word selection. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Well, also he will notice in the course of time, as his reading goes on, that the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.

Yet, Twain willingly acknowledged that a comparable joke had been made by his friend and fellow humorist Josh Billings (pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw) a couple decades earlier.

In 1869 several U.S. newspapers published a collection of sayings from Billings which included the following four items. Billings employed dialectical spelling: 3

The greater the man, the less his virteus appear, and the larger hiz faults.

The man who hain’t got an enemy, iz really poor.

Don’t mistake vivacity for wit, thare iz just az mutch difference az thare iz between lightning and a lightning bug.

No man ever yet undertook tew alter his natur by substituting sum invenshun ov his own, but what made a botch job ov it.

Here is Billings’ wordplay quip in standard spelling:

Don’t mistake vivacity for wit, there is just as much difference as there is between lightning and a lightning bug.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Difference Between the Almost Right Word and the Right Word Is Really a Large Matter—’Tis the Difference Between the Lightning Bug and the Lightning

Notes:

  1. 1890, The Art of Authorship: Literary Reminiscences, Methods of Work, and Advice to Young Beginners, Compiled and edited by George Bainton, Section: Mark Twain, Start Page 85, Quote Page 87, D. Appleton and Company, New York. (Internet Archive at archive.org) link
  2. 1890, The Art of Authorship: Literary Reminiscences, Methods of Work, and Advice to Young Beginners, Compiled and edited by George Bainton, Section: Mark Twain, Start Page 85, Quote Page 87 and 88, D. Appleton and Company, New York. (Internet Archive at archive.org) link
  3. 1869 October 12, Daily Evening Herald, The Josh Billings Papers, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Stockton, California. (Newspapers_com)

Success Don’t Konsist in Never Making Blunders, But in Never Making the Same One the Seckond Time

Josh Billings? Henry Wheeler Shaw? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Making mistakes is unavoidable in life. There is an insightful adage stating that the key to success is not making the same mistake twice. Would you please help me to find a citation for this notion?

Quote Investigator: In February 1872 “The Daily State Journal” of Alexandria, Virginia published a miscellaneous collection of sayings under the title “General Items” including the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

—Josh Billings says: “Success don’t konsist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the seckond time.”

Josh Billings was the pen name of humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw. He often employed nonstandard spelling to represent distinctive pronunciations.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Success Don’t Konsist in Never Making Blunders, But in Never Making the Same One the Seckond Time

Notes:

  1. 1872 February 2, The Daily State Journal, General Items, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Alexandria, Virginia. (Newspapers_com)

It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So

Mark Twain? Josh Billings? Artemus Ward? Kin Hubbard? Will Rogers? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Oscar-winning 2015 film “The Big Short” begins with a display of the following statement:

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

The brilliant humorist Mark Twain receives credit, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. This quip is very popular. Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: Scholars at the Center for Mark Twain Studies of Elmira College have found no substantive evidence supporting the ascription to Mark Twain. 1

The observation has been attributed to several other prominent humorists including: Josh Billings (pseudonym of Henry Wheeler Shaw), Artemus Ward (pseudonym of Charles Farrar Browne), Kin Hubbard (pen name of Frank McKinney Hubbard), and Will Rogers. Yet, it is unlikely then any of them said it. The creator remains anonymous based on current evidence.

The saying is difficult to trace because it falls within an evolving family of remarks concerning faulty knowledge and memory. Three processes operate on members of the family to generate new members and ascriptions incrementally:

  1. Statements are rephrased over time.
  2. Statements are hybridized together to produce new statements.
  3. Attributions are shifted from one prominent humorist to another.

The family contains some comments with genuine ascriptions. For example, in 1874 a compendium of wit and humor from Josh Billings was published. The work employed dialectal spelling which causes headaches for modern researchers who are attempting to find matches using standard spelling. The following pertinent item appeared in a section labeled “Affurisms”, i.e., “Aphorisms”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.

Here is the statement written with standard spelling:

I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.

This remark partially matched the saying under investigation, and it acted as a seed in the evolving family of remarks.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So

Notes:

  1. Website: Center for Mark Twain Studies, Article title: The Apocryphal Twain: “Things We Know That Just Ain’t So.”, Article author: Matt Seybold, Date on website: October 6, 2016, Website description: Center dedicated to fostering and supporting scholarship and pedagogy related to all aspects of Mark Twain based at Elmira College in Elmira, New York. (Accessed marktwainstudies.com on November 18, 2018) link
  2. 1874, Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, Section: Affurisms: Sollum Thoughts, Quote Page 286, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link

I Haven’t Got as Much Money as Some Folks, But I Have Got as Much Impudence as Any of Them, and That Is the Next Thing to Money

Creator: Josh Billings (pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw), celebrated U.S. humorist

Context: A collection of “Sayings of Josh Billings” appeared in “The Alleghanian” newspaper of Ebensburg, Pennsylvania in 1864. Billings employed phonetic spelling. Here were three of the sayings: 1

I havn’t got as mutch muny az sum folks, but i hav got as much impudence az enny ov them, and that is the next thing tew munny.

It aint often that a man’s reputashunt outlasts his munny.

Don’t mistake arroganse for wisdom; menny people hav thought they wuz wize, when tha waz only windy.

The sayings above also appeared in the 1871 collection “Josh Billings, Hiz Sayings” although the precise phrasing and spelling sometimes differed. For example, in the first expression “mutch” became “much”. Also, “havn’t” was incorrectly changed to “have”. 2

Notes:

  1. 1864 October 6, The Alleghanian (The Ebensburg Alleghanian), Sayings of Josh Billings, Quote Page 4, Column 1,Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1871, Josh Billings, Hiz Sayings with Comic Illustrations, Chapter 39: Remarks, Quote Page 115, Carleton Publisher, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

Observe the Postage Stamp—Its Usefulness Depends Upon Its Ability to Stick to One Thing Till It Gets There

Josh Billings? Elmira Gazette? Charles Frohman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Soon people will be making resolutions for the New Year. The popular U.S. humorist Josh Billings reportedly made an apropos remark about steadfastness. Here are two versions:

  • Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there.
  • A postage stamp is a mighty small thing, but it sticks to one thing until it gets there.

I have been unable to find a solid citation for Billings. Would you please help trace this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the “Elmira Gazette” of Elmira, New York in December 1893. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

My son, observe the postage stamp—its usefulness depends upon its ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.

The article containing the statement was titled “Jocular Jots”, and it included one other comical remark. No ascriptions were provided.

Josh Billings died in 1885, and based on current evidence he did not craft this saying although it was attributed to him by 1895. See the citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Observe the Postage Stamp—Its Usefulness Depends Upon Its Ability to Stick to One Thing Till It Gets There

Notes:

  1. 1893 December 27, Elmira Gazette (Star-Gazette), Jocular Jots, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Elmira, New York. (Newspapers_com)

People Think They Are Thinking When They Are Merely Rearranging Their Prejudices

Edward R. Murrow? Knute Rockne? William James? William Fitzjames Oldham? Josh Billings? George Craig Stewart? Luther Burbank? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Changing deeply help opinions is very difficult. A brilliant and forceful quotation expresses this idea:

Many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

These words have been attributed to the prominent journalist Edward R. Murrow, the famous football coach Knute Rockne, and the influential psychologist William James. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match known to QI appeared in 1906 in the religious periodical “Zion’s Herald” based in Boston, Massachusetts. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Bishop Oldham scored with his audience with a bon mot to the effect that some people “think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

The name “Bishop Oldham” was ambiguous, but his first name and middle initial were given in the August 24, 1904 issue of “Zion’s Herald”. 2 William Fitzjames Oldham served in the Methodist Episcopal Church and performed missionary work around the globe.

Knute Rockne used the expression in a newspaper column in 1926, but he disclaimed credit. William James received credit by 1946, and he did write a thematically similar passage in 1907 before his death in 1910. Yet, QI has found no direct evidence that James made a closely matching statement. Edward R. Murrow received credit by 1949, and he may have used it after it had been circulating for years.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading People Think They Are Thinking When They Are Merely Rearranging Their Prejudices

Notes:

  1. 1906 November 7, Zion’s Herald, Volume 84, Number 45, Notes (A miscellaneous collection of short items), Quote Page 1433, Column 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest American Periodicals)
  2. 1904 August 24, Zion’s Herald, Volume 82, Number 34, Personals, Start Page 1063, Quote Page 1064, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest American Periodicals)

It Is Better to Know Nothing than to Know What Ain’t So

Josh Billings? Artemus Ward? Will Rogers? Abraham Lincoln? Mark Twain? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here are two versions of an expression I am trying to trace:

1) It’s better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.

2) It is better not to know so much, than to know so many things that ain’t so.

Should these words be credited to Mark Twain, Josh Billings, Artemus Ward, Will Rogers, or someone else?

Quote Investigator: In 1874 the following compendium was released: “Everybody’s Friend or Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor”. The apostrophe in the name Billings was misplaced in the title. The work employed dialectical spelling which causes headaches for modern researchers who are attempting to find matches using standard spelling. One section was labeled “Affurisms” because it contained “Aphorisms”. The book included two thematically relevant statements: 1

A) I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.

B) Wisdum don’t konsist in knowing more that iz new, but in knowing less that iz false.

Here are the two sentences written with standard spelling:

A) I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.

B) Wisdom don’t consist in knowing more that is new, but in knowing less that is false

QI believes that Josh Billings can be credited with the sayings above. There exists a large family of semantically overlapping expressions that form an inclusive superset, and QI will eventually examine some of the other members of this extended group.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Is Better to Know Nothing than to Know What Ain’t So

Notes:

  1. 1874, Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, Section: Affurisms: Sollum Thoughts, Quote Page 286 and 430, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link link

The Person Who Never Makes a Mistake Will Never Make Anything

Theodore Roosevelt? Albert Einstein? Benjamin Franklin? Samuel Smiles? Josh Billings? Mr. Phelps? G. K. Chesterton? Robert Smith Surtees? Joseph Conrad? Will Rogers? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mistakes are unavoidable in the life of an active and vital person. Several adages highlight this important theme:

1) A man who never makes a mistake will never make anything.
2) The person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.
3) A fellow who never makes a mistake must get tired of doing nothing.

Many famous names have been linked to sayings of this type including Benjamin Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, and Albert Einstein. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: This is a large and complex topic. Below is a summary that presents a list of expressions that fit into this family together with dates and attributions:

1832: He who never makes an effort, never risks a failure. (Anonymous)

1859: He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery. (Samuel Smiles)

1874: The man who never makes enny blunders seldum makes enny good hits. (Josh Billings)

1889: A man who never makes a mistake will never make anything. (Attributed: Mr. Phelps)

1896: It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes. (Joseph Conrad)

1900: The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything. (Solid Attribution: Theodore Roosevelt)

1901: Show me a man who has never made a mistake, and I will show you one who has never tried anything. (Anonymous)

1903: The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all—doing nothing. (Poor Richard Junior’s Philosophy)

1911: The fellow who never makes any failures, never makes any successes either. (Anonymous)

1927: Every man makes mistakes; they say a man who never makes mistakes never makes anything else. (G. K. Chesterton)

1936: The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all—doing nothing. (Flawed Attribution: Benjamin Franklin)

1969: The man who never makes a mistake must get plenty tired of doing nothing. (Anonymous)

1993: The man who never makes a mistake must get tired of doing nothing. (Weak Attribution: Will Rogers)

1995: A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new. (Weak Attribution: Albert Einstein.)

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Person Who Never Makes a Mistake Will Never Make Anything

Never Put Off Till Tomorrow What You Can Do The Day After Tomorrow Just As Well

Mark Twain? Oscar Wilde? Josh Billings? Spanish Proverb? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Everyone is guilty of some procrastination.  Even the industrious humorist Mark Twain was credited with a quotation sympathetic to the indolent:

Never put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow.

Puzzlingly, this same quip has been ascribed to the famous wit Oscar Wilde. Who said it first?

Quote Investigator: In July 1870 an article by Mark Twain was published in “The Galaxy” magazine. One section of the article expressed unhappiness with the aphorisms popularized by Benjamin Franklin. Twain stated the following desire: 1

… snub those pretentious maxims of his; which he worked up with a great show of originality out of truisms that had become wearisome platitudes as early as the dispersion from Babel …

Twain constructed a comical adage that he farcically attributed to Franklin:

Never put off till to-morrow what you can do day after to-morrow just as well.—B. F.

This is the earliest evidence QI has found for this type of quip from Twain or Wilde. The word “the” was omitted before the phrase “day after to-morrow”. A similar adage was credited to Oscar Wilde in a biography published in 1946, and the details are given further below. However, this evidence was weak because Wilde died decades earlier in 1900.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Never Put Off Till Tomorrow What You Can Do The Day After Tomorrow Just As Well

Notes:

  1. 1870 July, The Galaxy, Memoranda by Mark Twain, Subsection: The Late Benjamin Franklin, Start Page 133, Quote Page 138, W. C. and F. P. Church, New York. (Reprint edition published in 1965 by AMS Press Inc., New York) (HathiTrust) link  link