A Stumble Is Not a Fall

Malcolm X? Oprah Winfrey? Haitian Proverb? Portuguese Proverb? Henry Rich? Thomas Fuller? Thomas Dunn English? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While pursuing an objective one may make errors and suffer setbacks, but these impediments to progress are not insurmountable. Here are two versions of an analogical proverb offering encouragement:

  • Stumbling is not falling.
  • A stumble is not a fall.

This saying has been attributed to entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey, and activist Malcolm X. It has also been called a Portuguese and Haitian Proverb. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: Malcolm X received credit in the 2000s which is very late. Oprah Winfrey did use the expression during a commencement speech in 2016.

The adage has a very long history. In 1643 Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland made an apologetic official declaration which included a thematically related proverb. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And since I have made an uneven Step, from the Unclearness of my Information, more than from the Unfaithfulness of my Affections or Intentions, I hope it may be look’d upon and consider’d as the Proverb that saith, Whosoever stumbles, and falls not, gets rather than loses ground.

Interestingly, the above saying depicted a stumble positively. Another positive precursor occurred in the 1732 compilation “Gnomologia” edited by Thomas Fuller. The reference included the following four sequential items: 2

423 A stout Heart crushes ill Luck.
424 A Stumble may prevent a Fall.
425 A streight Stick is crooked in the Water.
426 A successful Man loses no Reputation.

The adage above has continued to circulate in books and periodicals up to the present day. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Stumble Is Not a Fall

Notes:

  1. 1692, Historical Collections: The Third Part: Volume 2, Containing the Principal Matters Which Happened from the Meeting of the Parliament November 3, 1640 to the End of the Year, 1644, Licensed: November 11, 1691, Edited by John Rushworth, Declaration made to the Kingdom by Henry Earl of Holland, Date of Declaration: 1643, Start Page 367, Quote Page 368, Printed for Richard Chiswell and Thomas Cockerill, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1732, Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs; Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Collected by Thomas Fuller, Quote Pages 16, Printed for B. Barker, A. Bettesworth, and C. Hitch, London. (Google Books Full View) link