Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once

Albert Einstein? Ray Cummings? Mark Twain? Arthur C. Clarke? John Archibald Wheeler? Arthur Power Dudden? Susan Sontag?

Dear Quote Investigator: Albert Einstein has received credit for a humorous remark about time:

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.

Would you please explore the provenance of this quip?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke the statement above. It is listed within a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest match known to QI appeared in 1919 within a story titled “The Girl in the Golden Atom” by Ray Cummings in the magazine “All-Story Weekly”: 2

“How would you describe time?”
The Big Business Man smiled. “Time,” he said, “is what keeps everything from happening at once.”
“Very clever,” said the Chemist, laughing.

The text above is from the 1970 reprint collection “Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of ‘The Scientific Romance'”. QI has not yet verified the quotation by directly examining the 1919 issue of All-Story Weekly”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once


  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not by Einstein, Quote Page 481, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1970, Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of “The Scientific Romance” in the Munsey Magazines: 1912-1920, Edited by Sam Moskowitz, The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings (All-Story Weekly, March 15, 1919), Start Page 175, Quote Page 205, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified with scans)

Writing Well Is the Best Revenge

Dorothy Parker? Susan Sontag? Alix Nelson? Ross Macdonald? Kenneth Millar? Tom Samet? Edmund Wilson? Anne Ruggles Gere? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Yesterday, while reading an acerbic episode within a stylish memoir I recalled the following adage:

Writing well is the best revenge.

These words are often credited to the famous wit Dorothy Parker, but I am skeptical because I have never seen a good citation. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: Dorothy Parker died in 1967, and QI has not yet found any substantive evidence that she employed this saying. QI has found instances in 1976, but that is a surprisingly late date. Perhaps future researchers will build on this research and locate earlier occurrences.

In August 1976 Alix Nelson, a New York-based journalist and copywriter, published a book review in “The New York Times”. One of the book’s primary characters was portrayed very harshly, and Nelson likened that figure to Alexander Portnoy who was the lead in an influential work published seven years prior titled “Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Never has an ordinary man been rendered with such glee. For those of us who’ve been waiting around for Alexander Portnoy to get his, author Rhoda Lerman here “hulls him from the belly button like an overripe strawberry” to prove that writing well is the best revenge.

The other early instance was from the pen of the famous mystery writer Ross Macdonald (pseudonym of Kenneth Millar) who in 1976 wrote the expression in a book dedication for fellow mystery writer William Campbell Gault. The inscription was mentioned in a profile article about Gault published in the “Los Angeles Times” in 1984: 2

In 1976, Ross MacDonald dedicated his last book, “The Blue Hammer,” to him, writing in his copy: “To Bill Gault, who knows that writing well is the best revenge.”

The article by David Wilson containing the words above also included many quotations from Gault and a description of the interior of his home; hence, QI believes Wilson visited Gault’s home and directly inspected the book’s dedication.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Writing Well Is the Best Revenge


  1. 1976 August 8, New York Times, Section: New York Times Book Review, The Girl That He Marries by Alix Nelson, Start Page 10, Quote Page 10, Column 5, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1984 December 14, Los Angeles Times, An Author From the Old School: For This Writer, There’s No Mystery About What Sells by David Wilson, Quote Page 14, Column 1, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)