Light Travels Faster Than Sound. That’s Why Some Folks Appear Bright Until They Speak

Albert Einstein? Steven Wright? Earl Wilson? Robert Orben? Gary Apple? Bo McLeod? Brian Williams? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The speed of light is a crucial value in the theory of relativity. Perhaps that is why the following joke has been credited to Albert Einstein:

Light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

I am very skeptical that Einstein ever made this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this quip. The most comprehensive reference about the physicist’s pronouncements is the 2010 book “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press, and the expression is absent.

A precursor appeared in Earl Wilson’s popular gossip column in 1959. The attribution was anonymous. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

EARL’S PEARLS: Someone described a second-rate singer: “Luckily light travels faster than sound — because she looks better than she sounds.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Light Travels Faster Than Sound. That’s Why Some Folks Appear Bright Until They Speak

Notes:

  1. 1959 April 20, The Raleigh Register, Ingrid In Maternity ‘Ward’—By Mistake by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 4, Column 6 and 7, Beckley, West Virginia. (Newspapers_com)

How Many People Here Tonight Are Telekinetic? Raise My Hand

Steven Wright? Kurt Vonnegut? Emo Philips? Rich Siegel? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A speaker will typically ask audience members to raise their hands to signal an affirmative answer to a question. A humorist constructed a funny remark based on a transformation of this scenario:

If you believe in psychokinetic powers, please raise my hand.

This line has been attributed to Steven Wright, Kurt Vonnegut, and Emo Philips. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in a profile of the surrealist comedian Emo Philips published in “The Palm Beach Post” in January 1990. The journalist Peter Smith attended a performance of Philips and also had dinner with him. The following excerpt includes an instance of the quip. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Philips’ stage persona is a remarkable mixture of childlike innocence and almost otherworldly sophistication; the man who closes his act by thanking the audience for being his friend also enjoys oddly subtle wordplay and quizzically paradoxical jokes. (“How many people here tonight are telekinetic? Raise my hand.”)

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading How Many People Here Tonight Are Telekinetic? Raise My Hand

Notes:

  1. 1990 January 6, The Palm Beach Post, My dinner with Emo (continuation title: Philips keeps ’em laughing with surrealism, paradoxes) by Peter Smith (Palm Beach Post Staff Writer), Start Page 1D, Quote Page 7D, Column 1, West Palm Beach, Florida. (Newspapers_com)

The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese

Stephen Wright? Ernst Berg? Anonymous?

Dear 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)