The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese

Stephen Wright? Ernst Berg? Anonymous?

mousetrap03Dear Quote Investigator: I am trying to discover where the following maxim comes from:

The second mouse gets the cheese.

Sometimes this phrase appears as part of a longer saying:

The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

Your help would be greatly appreciated.

Quote Investigator: The earliest dated instance of this type of joke located by QI appeared in December 1994 in a message posted to the Usenet distributed discussion system in a newsgroup called alt.buddha.short.fat.guy. The saying was freestanding without attribution, and it was surrounded by ornamental text. The phrasing employed alluded to ethical precepts. The handle “Ernst Berg” was listed as the sender of the message: 1

-*- Blessed is the Second mouse for he shall inherit the Cheese. -*-

In the common mousetrap design shown above the first mouse attempting to take the cheese out of the trap would probably be injured or killed. The second mouse attempting to retrieve the cheese after the trap has been triggered would probably be successful.

In February 1995 the twisted proverb or anti-proverb version appeared in the Usenet newsgroup rec.games.video.arcade in a message posted by “David Jakovac”. The saying was freestanding and no attribution was given: 2

The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese!

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese

Notes:

  1. 1994 December 14, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.buddha.short.fat.guy, From: Ernst Berg at moamiex.com, Subject: Thinking Out Loud. (Google Groups Search; Accessed January 24, 2013) link
  2. 1995 February 2, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: rec.games.video.arcade, From: David Jakovac at freenet.vancouver.bc.ca, Subject: Fright of an arcader’s lifetime!, (Google Groups Search; Accessed January 24, 2013) link

If You Steal From One Author, It’s Plagiarism; If You Steal From Many, It’s Research

Wilson Mizner? Steven Wright? Wallace Notestein? Ralph Foss? Joseph Cummings Chase? Asa George Baker? Leslie Henson? Tom Lehrer? Bob Oliver? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some of the websites I come across seem to produce their content by using cut and paste. They do not even bother to collect information from multiple sources. I am reminded of a very funny one-liner:

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.

In recent times these words have been credited to the brilliantly out-of-kilter comedian Steven Wright, but I have also seen the quip attributed to the playwright and confidence man Wilson Mizner. Could you investigate this saying?

Quote Investigator: An enjoyable precursor of the expression was printed in 1820. In the following humorous statement from Reverend Charles Caleb Colton the era of the material being appropriated was considered decisive. Thanks to a commenter named Jutta for pointing out this citation: 1

If we steal thoughts from the moderns, it will be cried down as plagiarism; if from the ancients, it will cried up as erudition.

The earliest strong match identified by QI appeared in November 1929 within a newsletter of the U.S. Forestry Service in California. Wallace Notestein, a Professor of English History at Yale University, received credit. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

WHAT IS RESEARCH?
To Prof. Notestein of the Yale faculty is attributed the following definition for research: “If you copy from one book, that’s plagiarism; if you copy from many books, that’s research.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Steal From One Author, It’s Plagiarism; If You Steal From Many, It’s Research

Notes:

  1. 1820, Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words; Addressed to Those Who Think by Rev. C. C. Colton (Charles Caleb Colton), Fifth Edition, Quote Page 229, Published by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1929 November 1, California District News Letter, Volume 10, Number 44, Quote Page 4, Published by U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, San Francisco, California. (Verified with scans from Library System of University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California)