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

Image Notes: Picture of Josh Billings from Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University via Wikimedia Commons. Picture of money from QuinceMedia at Pixabay.

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?

billings11Dear 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?

samsmiles11Dear 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

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

Josh Billings? Josh Weathersby? Cal Stewart? Ring Lardner? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Individuals who complain often receive the most attention. There is a popular analogy about squeaky wheels that I think has been incorrectly attributed to the humorist Josh Billings who was a famous lecturer in the 1800s. (Billings was the pseudonym of Henry Wheeler Shaw.) Here are three versions of the maxim:

The wheel that squeaks the loudest is the one that gets the grease.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Some reference works credit Josh Billings, but none of these works present a solid citation. Would you please attempt to uncover the truth about the provenance of this adage?

Quote Investigator: Some books have suggested that the maxim appeared in a poem called “The Kicker” that was supposedly composed by Josh Billings circa 1870. But the careful and scholarly reference “The Yale Book of Quotations” remarked that the existence of “The Kicker” by Billings has never been verified. 1 Indeed, QI believes that the attribution to Billings is unsupported.

The earliest appearance of this expression located by QI occurred in a collection of stories published in 1903. The author Cal Stewart constructed a colorful raconteur character that he called Uncle Josh Weathersby. The saying under investigation was contained in an epigraph that was ascribed to this character: 2

“I don’t believe in kickin’,
It aint apt to bring one peace;
But the wheel what squeaks the loudest
is the one what gets the grease.”
—Josh Weathersby.

The word “kickin” was a slang term that referred to complaining or causing a disturbance..

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

Notes:

  1. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section Josh Billings, Quote Page 85, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1903, Uncle Josh Weathersby’s “Punkin Centre” stories by Cal Stewart, Page 6, Regan Printing House, Chicago. (Google Books full view; also HathiTrust) link