Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results

Albert Einstein? Al-Anon? Narcotics Anonymous? Max Nordau? George Bernard Shaw? Samuel Beckett? George A. Kelly? Rita Mae Brown? John Larroquette? Jessie Potter? Werner Erhard?

Dear Quote Investigator: It’s foolish to repeat ineffective actions. One popular formulation presents this point harshly:

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

These words are usually credited to the acclaimed genius Albert Einstein. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke the statement above. It is listed within a section called “Misattributed to Einstein” in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in October 1981 within a Knoxville, Tennessee newspaper article describing a meeting of Al-Anon, an organization designed to help the families of alcoholics. The journalist described the “Twelve Steps” of Al-Anon which are based on similar steps employed in Alcoholics Anonymous. The newspaper began with these two steps: 2

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

One of the attendees at the meeting hesitated to accept the accuracy of second step. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Not all the women are willing to admit they needed to be “restored to sanity.” In fact, one of them adamantly maintains that she had never reached a point of insanity. But another remarks, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The second earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a pamphlet printed by the Narcotics Anonymous organization in November 1981: 3

The price may seem higher for the addict who prostitutes for a fix than it is for the addict who merely lies to a doctor, but ultimately both pay with their lives. Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

QI acquired a PDF of the document with the quotation above on the website back in February 2011. The document stated that is was printed in November 1981, and it had a 1981 copyright notice. The website was subsequently reorganized, but the document remains available via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine database.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results


  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Misattributed to Einstein, Quote Page 474, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1981 October 11, The Knoxville News-Sentinel Al-Anon Helps Family, Friends to Orderly Lives by Betsy Pickle (Living Today Staff Writer), Quote Page F17, Column 2, Knoxville, Tennessee. (GenealogyBank)
  3. 1981, Narcotics Anonymous Pamphlet, (Basic Text Approval Form, Unpublished Literary Work), Chapter Four: How It Works, Step Two, Page 11, Printed November 1981, Copyright 1981, W.S.C.-Literature Sub-Committee of Narcotics Anonymous], World Service Conference of Narcotics Anonymous. (Accessed at on October 3, 2011; website has been restructured; text is available via Internet Archive Wayback Machine Snapshot January 1, 2013 link PDF of pamphlet link

Good Judgment Depends Mostly on Experience and Experience Usually Comes from Poor Judgment

Rita Mae Brown? Will Rogers? Fred Rose? C. H. White? Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr.? Uncle Zeke? Barry LePatner? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Good judgement is rooted in experience, but a humorous addendum notes that the crucible of experience is poor judgment. This notion has been credited to humorist Will Rogers and activist Rita Mae Brown. Would you please explore its origin?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in “The Muncie Evening Press” of Muncie, Indiana in 1932. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Fred Rose quoted this comment at the Rotary Club-Central Senior Class meeting Tuesday: “Good Judgment depends mostly on experience and experience usually comes from poor judgment.”

The phrasing signaled that the saying was anonymous, and Rose was not asserting coinage. This article presents a snapshot of current knowledge, and earlier citations may be discovered in the future. Rita Mae Brown used the expression in 2001 after it had been circulating for decades.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading Good Judgment Depends Mostly on Experience and Experience Usually Comes from Poor Judgment


  1. 1932 February 17, The Muncie Evening Press, In the Press of Things, Quote Page 4, Column 7, Muncie, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)

People are Like Tea Bags. You Never Know How Strong They Are Until You Put Them in Hot Water

Hillary Clinton? Eleanor Roosevelt? Rita Mae Brown? Phyllis Schlafly? Lowell Bruce Laingen? Armand J. Gariepy? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I read in the New York Times that one of the favorite adages of Hillary Clinton, former Senator and Secretary of State, is the following statement attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:

Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until they get into hot water.

When did Roosevelt use this expression? Was she the person who coined it?

Quote Investigator: Precursors to this expression were in circulation in the 19th century. Instead of tea bags the sayings were based on similes with eggs and potatoes in hot water. For example, in 1858 the Irish Miscellany newspaper of Boston, Massachusetts printed the following: 1

Relieve misfortune quickly. A man is like an egg, the longer he is kept in hot water the harder he is when taken out.

Also, in 1870 The Shamrock newspaper of Dublin, Ireland printed this adage: 2

Men are like potatoes—they do not know how soon they may be in hot water.

Both these expressions have meanings that are distinct from the adage being explored, but they do share similarities and may have facilitated the emergence of variants. QI thanks researcher Barry Popik for notifying him about these precursors.

The earliest evidence of a strong match located by QI was published in 1915 in a Seattle, Washington newspaper. This version referred simply to tea instead of tea bags and was applied to men: 3 4

“Men are like tea.”
“How so?”
“Their real strength is not drawn out until they get into hot water.”—Times-Picayune.

The maxim obtained further distribution in 1916 when it was printed in the book “Wit and Humor for Public Speakers”: 5

The Boston Transcript says men are like tea—their real strength isn’t drawn out until they get into hot water.

In 1958 a version using the term “tea bags” was spoken during a training speech for sales people. The phrasing was closer to modern instances, but the maxim applied to men and women: 6

“People are like tea bags,” a specialist on salesmanship declared here Thursday: “They never know their own strength until they get into hot water.”
Too many salesmen never get into hot water, said Armand J. Gariepy, director of Sales Training International, Barre, Mass. They simply sell by accident, he declared.

Top researcher Ralph Keyes discussed this saying in “The Quote Verifier”, and he was unable to find support for the linkage to Eleanor Roosevelt. Keyes stated that the archivists at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York have searched for the expression in the writings of Roosevelt and have not found it. 7

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading People are Like Tea Bags. You Never Know How Strong They Are Until You Put Them in Hot Water


  1. 1858 February 20, Irish Miscellany, Volume 1, Number 2, The Odd Corner, Quote Page 26, Column 1, Boston. Massachusetts. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1870 December 31, The Shamrock, Volume 8, Diamond Dust, Quote Page 207, Column 2, Irish National Newspaper and Publishing Company, Limited, Dublin, Ireland. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1915 January 15, Seattle Daily Times, Where They Resemble, (Freestanding short item), Quote Page 13, Column 7, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1915 November 1, The Sabbath Recorder, Volume 79, Number 18, (Freestanding short item), Quote Page 550, Column 2, A Seventh Day Baptist Weekly Published by The American Sabbath Tract Society, Plainfield, New Jersey. (Google Books full view) link
  5. 1916, Wit and Humor for Public Speakers by Will H. Brown (William Herbert Brown), Section: Pithy Points, Quote Page 324, Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Google Books full view) link
  6. 1958 December 4, Milwaukee Journal, Section: Part 2, Leap Before You Look–Sales Advice, Quote Page 23, Column 5, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive)
  7. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 97, 98 and 298, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)