You Have the Same Chance of Winning a Lottery Whether You Play Or Not

Fran Lebowitz? Herb Caen? Don Bleu? Rob Morse? Rebecca Blagrave? Liz Smith? William Deresiewicz?

Dear Quote Investigator: The probability that you will purchase a lottery ticket worth millions of dollars is miniscule. Here are two comically exaggerated quips based on this observation:

I figure your odds of winning the lottery are the same, whether you buy a ticket or whether you don’t.

I’ve done the calculation and your chances of winning the lottery are identical whether you play or not.

Commentator Fran Lebowitz has received credit for this saying. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI occurs in a video segment dated September 18, 1985 from the television show “Late Night with David Letterman” during which Fran Lebowitz spoke about gambling to the host Letterman. The segment is available via YouTube. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We have a lottery here in New York. I feel you have the same chance of winning a lottery whether you play or not.

Currently, Lebowitz is the leading candidate for originator of this humorous observation. The statement’s phrasing is highly variable which makes it difficult to trace. QI has not independently verified the date of the video segment.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Have the Same Chance of Winning a Lottery Whether You Play Or Not


  1. YouTube video, Title: Fran Lebowitz Collection on Letterman, 1980-2010, Uploaded on January 11, 2021, Uploaded by: Don Giller, Airdate of television episode: September 18, 1985, (Date is shown at 1 hour, 45 minutes, 18 seconds), (Quotation starts at 1 hour, 51 minutes, 50 seconds of 2 hours, 30 minutes, 44 seconds) (Accessed on on April 29, 2021) link

Days Into Which 20 Years Are Compressed

Vladimir Lenin? Karl Marx? Louis C. Fraina? Homero Aridjis? Carlos Fuentes? Saint Peter? George Galloway? Liz Smith? Steve Bannon? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Many societal changes do not follow smooth trajectories. Instead, change occurs via irregular starts and stops. Here are two versions of this notion:

  • There are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen.
  • There are centuries in which nothing happens and years in which centuries pass.

The first saying has been ascribed to Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, but I am skeptical because I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Vladimir Lenin died in 1924; however, the earliest citation located by QI that attributed the remark to him appeared in 2001. This long delay greatly reduced the credibility of the ascription to Lenin.

A biblical precursor mentioning the compression and decompression of time appeared in the second epistle of St. Peter. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (New International Version)

Karl Marx wrote a letter dated April 9, 1863 that included a passage expressing a similar idea in which the changes occurring during twenty years were compressed into days. The following English translation was published in 1985: 2

How soon the English workers will throw off what seems to be a bourgeois contagion remains to be seen. So far as the main theses in your book are concerned, by the by, they have been corroborated down to the very last detail by developments subsequent to 1844. For I have again been comparing the book with the notes I made on the ensuing period. Only your small-minded German philistine who measures world history by the ell and by what he happens to think are ‘interesting news items’, could regard 20 years as more than a day where major developments of this kind are concerned, though these may be again succeeded by days into which 20 years are compressed.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Days Into Which 20 Years Are Compressed


  1. Website: BibleHub, Second Epistle of Peter, 2 Peter 3. Lines 8 and 9, Translation: New International Version (NIV), Website description: Online Bible Study Suite; Bible Hub is a production of the Online Parallel Bible Project. (Accessed on August 7, 2019) link
  2. 1985, Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Volume 41: Marx and Engels: 1860-64, Letter Number: 281, Description: From Marx to Engels in Manchester, Date: April 9, 1863, Start Page 466, Quote Page 468, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Russia. (Verified with scans from Internet Archive)

She Is Too Fond of Books, and It Has Turned Her Brain

Louisa May Alcott? Liz Smith? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following quotation is popular with book lovers, and it has appeared on posters, mugs, tote bags, plaques, bookmarks, and jewelry:

She is too fond of books, and it has addled her brain.

The statement is attributed to the famous novelist Louisa May Alcott who wrote “Little Women”, but I have not been able to find it in any of her works. Would you please determine the accuracy of this expression and ascription?

Quote Investigator: In 1873 Louisa May Alcott published the novel “Work: A Story of Experience”, and it included a quotation that was nearly identical to the sentence above. Alcott actually used the word “turned” instead of “addled”: 1

She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.

The relevant definition of “addled” in the misquotation is more familiar to modern readers than the definition of “turned” in the correct quotation: 2 3

turn: to disturb or upset the mental balance of: derange, distract, unsettle

QI conjectures that the expression under investigation was derived from the 1873 statement. The “addled” version entered circulation by 2007. This slightly inaccurate saying was more comprehensible and more humorous in QI’s opinion. Quotations compete for distribution in the cultural realm of catchphrases, jingles, and verses. The modified statement had superior properties which facilitated its propagation although the original quotation also continued to circulate.

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading She Is Too Fond of Books, and It Has Turned Her Brain


  1. 1873, Work: A Story of Experience by Louisa May Alcott, Chapter 2 – Servant, Quote Page 32 and 33, Published by Roberts Brothers, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Website: Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Entry title: turn (verb), Website description: Words and definitions from Merriam-Webster; leading provider of language information. (Accessed on February 17, 2015) link
  3. Website: Dictionary Reference, Entry title: turn (verb), Website description: Words and definitions from, (Accessed on February 17, 2015) link