She Was a Sinking Vessel with No Freight to Throw Overboard

Mark Twain? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have heard the following quote attributed to Mark Twain:

A man who doesn’t smoke is like a sinking ship with no rats to desert it.

True of false?

Quote Investigator: QI was unable to locate a close match for that quotation in the works of Mark Twain; however, QI did find an anecdote about a woman who did not smoke, drink, or swear. The woman was ill, and Twain employed a figure of speech that compared her plight to that of a sinking vessel without any freight to throw overboard. This episode was presented in the 1897 travel book “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World”, and it may have been transmuted over time to yield the questioner’s quotation.

Here is an excerpt from Twain’s book describing the medical advice he offered to the woman [FESF]:

Continue reading She Was a Sinking Vessel with No Freight to Throw Overboard

A Banker Lends You His Umbrella When It’s Sunny and Wants It Back When It Rains

Mark Twain? Robert Frost? Ambrose Bierce? Ben Bernanke? Philippe Girardet? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is remarkably difficult to obtain a loan in a difficult economic climate. This notion can be expressed with the following adage:

A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.

Mark Twain is sometimes credited with this remark, but I know that means little. It seems every clever remark is eventually attributed to Twain. Could you figure out who really said it?

Quote Investigator: You are correct to doubt the ascription of the saying to Mark Twain. The invaluable TwainQuotes website of Barbara Schmidt has a webpage dedicated to this adage with the following warning notice: 1

This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but until the attribution can be verified, the quote should not be regarded as authentic.

1905 is the date of the earliest citation found by QI expressing the kernel of the idea in the maxim. The following words were published in a London-based weekly for chartered accountants: 2

A customer who was not getting what he wanted, once said to me: “You bankers only lend a man an umbrella when it is a fine day,” and I thought he expressed it exactly.

A version very similar to the questioner’s expression appeared in January 1930. The first cite found by QI attributing the remark to Mark Twain is dated 1944. In 1949 the adage was credited to the famous poet Robert Frost.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading A Banker Lends You His Umbrella When It’s Sunny and Wants It Back When It Rains

Notes:

  1. TwainQuotes editor Barbara Schmidt, TwainQuotes.com website, Banker quotation and attribution warning, “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella…” (Accessed 2011 April 06) link
  2. 1905 April 15, The Accountant: The Recognised Weekly Organ of Chartered Accountants, [A paper read at a meeting of the Manchester Chartered Accountants Society on March 10th 1905], Notes on a Banker’s Accounts by John Moodie, Page 464, Column 1, Gee & Co., The Accountant Office, London. (Google Books full view) link

Figures Don’t Lie, But Liars Do Figure

Carroll D. Wright? Mark Twain? Charles H. Grosvenor? James G. Blaine? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I hope you will be able to settle a disagreement between friends concerning the following quotation:

Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.

My friend believes that this saying originated with Samuel Clemens otherwise known as Mark Twain. I think it was created by Carroll D. Wright who was once the top statistics expert in the United States. Could you research this quote and help us to determine who composed it?

Quote Investigator: The saying has been credited to Mark Twain for more than ninety-five years, but the first citation for Twain located by QI is dated 1913. This is after Twain’s death and there is no corroborating evidence for the attribution in Twain’s own writings.

Carroll D. Wright was a prominent statistician employed by the U.S. government, and he did use the expression in 1889 while addressing the Convention of Commissioners of Bureaus of Statistics of Labor. But Wright did not claim that he coined the expression [CDW1]:

The old saying is that “figures will not lie,” but a new saying is “liars will figure.” It is our duty, as practical statisticians, to prevent the liar from figuring; in other words, to prevent him from perverting the truth, in the interest of some theory he wishes to establish.

Wright indicates that the second half of the quotation which is a twist using wordplay on the first half is a “new saying”. Indeed, QI has traced the statement back a few more years. The oldest three citations found by QI contain no attributions. The first instance is in a North Dakota newspaper of 1884 where the sentiment is presented as an anonymous piece of wisdom.

Continue reading Figures Don’t Lie, But Liars Do Figure

When I Was a Boy of Fourteen, My Father Was So Ignorant

Mark Twain? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I am interested in a fantastic quotation that I always thought was from the pen of Mark Twain:

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.

Recently I saw a documentary by Ken Burns about Twain, and I checked out the companion biography from the library. The quote above is listed in a section called “What Twain Didn’t Say”. 1 Also, I visited the Snopes website and found an article by Barbara Mikkelson that says the quote is apocryphal. 2 I guess Mark Twain did not say it. But can you find out who did say it and when it first appeared?

Quote Investigator: Mark Twain died in 1910. The first appearance of a version of this saying that QI has located is dated 1915, and the words are attributed to Twain. There are a series of citations from 1915 to the present day that each credit Twain, but the wording used in these quotations varies considerably. For example, the starting age of the son is sometimes given as fourteen and sometimes seventeen. The final age of the son is twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-five and twenty-seven. An intermediate age of eighteen, twenty, or twenty-three is listed in some versions.

Mark Twain’s father died when he was eleven years old. Thus, if Twain did say or write these words he did so while inhabiting a novelistic persona. The saying does not apply to his veridical life. But, it might apply to a character that he created, or one he was projecting during a speech.

QI has not yet found any direct evidence that connects Twain to the quote. Further, the first known attribution to Twain occurs five years after his death. So the evidence is weak. On the other hand, no one else is credibly credited with the saying. At this time QI has not located any significant attributions to other figures.

Continue reading When I Was a Boy of Fourteen, My Father Was So Ignorant

Notes:

  1. 2001, Mark Twain by Dayton Duncan and Geoffrey C. Ward, Based on a Documentary by Ken Burns, What Twain Didn’t Say, Page 189, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Google Books snippet view; Verified on paper) link
  2. Snopes website, “Questionable Quotes: And Never the Twain Shall Tweet” by Barbara Mikkelson, (Last updated: September 26, 2007) (Accessed online at snopes.com on October 9, 2010) link

Never Let Schooling Interfere With Your Education

Mark Twain? Grant Allen?

Dear Quote Investigator: I am still in school and that is probably why the following quote attributed to Mark Twain appeals to me so much:

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

Your blog posts about Twain quotations reveal that the information on the internet about what he said or did not say is sometimes unreliable. I hope this motto is genuine. Can you figure out who said it?

Quote Investigator: The earliest known attribution of a version of this quote to Twain occurred in 1907 [OMT]. However, QI believes that credit for this saying should go to the controversial novelist and essayist Grant Allen who published a variant in 1894. Indeed, Grant Allen was so enamored with the maxim that schooling interfered with education that he presented it in an essay and then restated it within at least three of his novels. The four works were published in: 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1899.

Continue reading Never Let Schooling Interfere With Your Education

I Would Rather Go To Bed With That Woman Stark Naked Than With Ulysses S. Grant in Full Military Regalia

Mark Twain? James Montgomery Flagg? William Dean Howells?

Dear Quote Investigator: When I discovered your blog I knew just the right word to describe it: Quotesmanship. That word was used in the New York Times in 1980 to describe the desire to determine and use correct attributions for quotations [NYQM]. The author of the Quotesmanship article was proud of his ability to properly give credit for quotations, but there was one saying attributed to Mark Twain that confounded him:

And nowhere to be found (by me, at least) is the dandy one that goes: “I would rather go to bed with Lillian Russell stark naked than with Ulysses S. Grant in full military regalia.”

I doubt you will be able to find these words in the corpus of Mark Twain either, but maybe you will be able to trace it to someone else.  Could you give it a try?

Quote Investigator: This quote is rather risqué for the time period of Mark Twain. Nevertheless, QI will attempt to discover something for you.

Lillian Russell was one of the most famous actresses and singers of the late 19th century. But the evidence located by QI indicates that the saying initially referred to another glamorous lady of the stage named Adelina Patti. She was an operatic superstar in the 19th century and Twain reportedly attended at least one of her performances.

Remarkably, the private notebooks of Mark Twain contain a passage about Patti written between 1889 and 1890 that is a variant of the quotation under investigation. In addition, an autobiography by the prominent illustrator James Montgomery Flagg who knew Twain personally includes an anecdote in which Twain is overheard telling the quip to a companion while attending an opera performance by the selfsame Adelina Patti.

Continue reading I Would Rather Go To Bed With That Woman Stark Naked Than With Ulysses S. Grant in Full Military Regalia

No Respect for a Man Who Can Spell a Word Only One Way

Mark Twain? Nyrum Reynolds? Hiram Runnels? Andrew Jackson?

Dear Quote Investigator: I sometimes have difficulty spelling words correctly. But I take comfort in the magnificent statement attributed to Mark Twain:

I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.

Actually, I used to take comfort in those words, but recently I have found several other versions of this quip:

Anyone who can only think of one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination.

I have no respect for a man who can spell a word only one way.

Never trust anyone who can’t spell a word more than one way.

All of these quotations are credited to Twain. But now I have become suspicious. Did Twain say any of these sentences? Could you investigate this puzzle?

Quote Investigator: The statement has never been found in the writings or speeches of Mark Twain. Yet, Twain has been connected to the remark for more than one hundred and thirty years. The earliest linkage known to QI consisted of an unsupported attribution published in 1875: 1

Mark Twain says that he must have little genius who can’t spell a word in more than one way.

Since Twain lived to the age of 74 in 1910, the remark was credited to him for a few decades while he was alive. The TwainQuotes website of Barbara Schmidt includes an excellent webpage on the theme of spelling. However, none of the quotes featured match the joke precisely. The attitudes expressed do help to explain why contemporaries were willing to attribute the joke to Twain. Here is an example from Twain’s autobiography: 2 3

I never had any large respect for good spelling. That is my feeling yet. Before the spelling-book came with its arbitrary forms, men unconsciously revealed shades of their characters and also added enlightening shades of expression to what they wrote by their spelling, and so it is possible that the spelling-book has been a doubtful benevolence to us.

Interestingly, the earliest known versions of the comical remark were not attributed to Mark Twain. Instead, two individuals with curiously similar names were each separately credited: Nyrum Reynolds and Hiram Runnels. The first version that QI has located was an anecdote about Nyrum Reynolds dated August 31, 1855. The spelling in the following excerpt was present in the original text. Boldface has been added: 4

Several years ago, “when the country was new,” Hon. Nyrum Reynolds, of Wyoming Co., enjoyed quite a reputation as a successful pettifogger. He wasn’t very well posted up either in “book larnin'” or the learning of the law; but relied principally upon his own native tact and shrewdness–his stock of which has not failed him to this day. His great success created quite an active demand for his services.

On one occasion he was pitted against a “smart appearing” well-dressed limb of the law from a neighboring village, who made considerable sport of a paper which Reynolds had submitted to the Court, remarking among other things, that “all the law papers were required to be written in the English language, and that the one under consideration, from its bad spelling and penmanship, ought in fairness therefore to be excluded.”

“Gen’l’men of the Jury,” said Reynolds, when he “summed up”—and every word weighed a pound—”the learned counsel on the other side finds fault with my ritin’ and spellin’ as though the merits of this case depended upon sich matters! I’m again lugging in any sich outside affairs, but I will say, that a man must be a d—d fool, who can’t spell a word more than one way.” The Jury sympathized with Judge R. and rendered a decision in favor of his client.—[Olean Journal.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading No Respect for a Man Who Can Spell a Word Only One Way

Notes:

  1. 1875 November, The Illinois Schoolmaster, Spelling, Page 380, Volume VIII, Number 90, Normal, Illinois. (Google Books full view) link
  2. TwainQuotes website editor Barbara Schmidt, Spelling webpage, Accessed 2010 June 25. link
  3. 1925, The Writings of Mark Twain: Mark Twain’s Autobiography by Mark Twain, Page 68, Gabriel Wells. (Google Books snippet view only) link
  4. 1855 August 31, Jamestown Journal, Spelling Words More Than One Way, Page 3, Column 2, Jamestown, New York. (GenealogyBank)

Three Weeks to Prepare a Good Impromptu Speech

Mark Twain? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have to present a speech soon, and I would like to use a quotation attributed to Mark Twain:

It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.

The intended audience has the background to know that impromptu means without planning or preparation, and the quip should cause a chuckle. But reading this blog makes me wonder if Twain really invented this joke. It is listed on several of the quotation websites. Could you investigate this quote?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no evidence that the exact quote you gave above is authentic; however, Twain did make several similar pertinent remarks. For example, in 1879 Twain said the following. Details are given further below.

I … never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it.

Continue reading Three Weeks to Prepare a Good Impromptu Speech

Golf is a Good Walk Spoiled

Mark Twain? William Gladstone? The Allens? Harry Leon Wilson?

Dear Quote Investigator: I love to play golf, but sometimes when I am playing poorly I am tempted to simply walk the course and get some exercise. When I mentioned this to a friend he told me that Mark Twain said: “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” This sounds like Twain to me, but did he really say it?

Quote Investigator: No, Mark Twain was probably not responsible for this barb. The earliest attribution to Twain located by QI appeared in “The Saturday Evening Post” of August 1948. 1 But Twain died in 1910, so this is a suspiciously late citation with minimal credibility.

The earliest appearance of the quip that QI has discovered was in a 1903 book about lawn tennis. The players of this sport are the traditional adversaries of golfers in the field of recreation. Individual chapters of this book were written by different authors. The author of the second chapter, H. S. Scrivener, attributed the saying to fellow players named the Allens. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

… my good friends the Allens … one of the best of their many excellent dicta is that “to play golf is to spoil an otherwise enjoyable walk.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Golf is a Good Walk Spoiled

Notes:

  1. 1948 August 28, Saturday Evening Post, Volume 221, Issue 9, Golf’s Own Home Town by Allan A. Michie, Start Page 32, Quote Page 32, Saturday Evening Post Society, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Ebsco)
  2. 1903, Lawn Tennis at Home and Abroad edited by Arthur Wallis Myers (second chapter by H. S. Scrivener), Page 47, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Google Books full view) link

Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt

Abraham Lincoln? Mark Twain? Biblical Proverb? Maurice Switzer? Arthur Burns? John Maynard Keynes? Confucius? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here are two versions of an entertaining saying that is usually credited to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.

It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.

The phrasing is different, but I think these two statements express the same thought. When I mentioned this adage to a friend he claimed that it was in the Bible, but it does not sound very Biblical to me. Can you resolve this dispute?

Quote Investigator: There is a biblical proverb that expresses a similar idea, namely Proverbs 17:28. Here is the New International Version followed by the King James Version of this verse: 1

Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.

The quotations that the questioner listed use a distinctive formulation that is certainly more humorous. In the biblical version one is thought wise if one remains silent, but in the questioner’s statements the word “wise” is not used. Remaining silent simply allows one to avoid the fate of being thought a fool or stupid. This maxim has many different forms, and it is often ascribed to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain. However, there is no substantive evidence that either of these famous individuals employed the maxim.

The wonderful Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ) 2 investigated the saying and presented the earliest known attribution to Lincoln in Golden Book magazine in November 1931: 3

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.
— ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

Since Lincoln died in 1865 this is a suspiciously late instance, and it provides very weak evidence. Further, YBQ indicated that the phrase was in use years before this date with no attachment to Lincoln. The ascription of the saying to Mark Twain is also dubious.

When Ken Burns filmed a documentary about Mark Twain in 2001 a companion book was released, and it listed the following version of the quote in a section titled “What Twain Didn’t Say”: 4

Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.

The earliest known appearance of the adage discovered by QI occurred in a book titled “Mrs. Goose, Her Book” by Maurice Switzer. The publication date was 1907 and the copyright notice was 1906. The book was primarily filled with clever nonsense verse, and the phrasing in this early version was slightly different: 5

It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.

Most of the humorous content of “Mrs. Goose, Her Book” has the imprint of originality, and based on currently available data QI  believes that Maurice Switzer is the leading candidate for originator of the expression. This 1906 citation was also given in “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs”, an indispensable new reference work from Yale University Press. 6

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt

Notes:

  1. Proverbs 17:28 has many translations. Here is a link to a webpage with several from the Online Parallel Bible Project of Biblos.com. (Accessed Bible.cc on October 24, 2012) link
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Abraham Lincoln, Page 466, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1931 November, Golden Book Magazine, Volume 14, Quote Page 306, Published by The Review of Reviews Corporation, Albert Shaw, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 2001, Mark Twain by Dayton Duncan and Geoffrey C. Ward, Based on a Documentary by Ken Burns, Section: What Twain Didn’t Say, Page 189, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1907, “Mrs. Goose, Her Book” by Maurice Switzer, Page 29, Moffat, Yard & Company, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  6. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Page 83, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)