Elbert Hubbard? Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle? William J. Crawford? Walt Kelly? Pogo? Pierre Daninos? Alphonse Allais? Julien Green?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a trenchant family of fatalistic sayings concerning the solemnity of life. Here are four examples:
- Don’t take life too seriously; you’ll never get out of it alive.
- You mustn’t take life too seriously; no one makes it out alive.
- Don’t take life so seriously, you’ll never get out alive.
- Why take life so seriously? It’s not permanent.
This notion has been attributed to U.S. aphorist Elbert Hubbard and French essayist and scholar Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle. Would you please explore the provenance of this set of expressions?
Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the December 1900 issue of “The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest” within an essay by Elbert Hubbard who was the editor of the publication. The text began with a reference to the spiritual dimension of life. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:
Dear Playmate in the Kindergarten of God: Please do not take life quite so seriously—you surely will never get out of it alive. And as for your buying and selling, your churches and banks, your newspapers and books, they are really at the last of no more importance than the child’s paper houses, red and blue wafers, and funny scissors things.
Why you grown-ups! all your possessions are only just to keep you out of mischief, until Death, the good old nurse, comes and rocks you to sleep. Am I not right?
Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle died in 1757, and he received credit for this saying by the 1970s which is rather late. QI has not yet found substantive support for this attribution.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading Do Not Take Life Quite So Seriously—You Surely Will Never Get Out of It Alive
Pogo? Walt Kelly? Porky Pine? Albert Alligator? Elbert Hubbard? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Walt Kelly created the landmark comic strip “Pogo” which combined beautiful artwork with entertaining humor. One strip contained a philosophical remark suggesting that one should not take life too seriously because of its transience. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Quote Investigator: The “Pogo” strip published on June 24, 1950 was part of a story arc in which the character Albert Alligator faced the possibility of appearing as a defendant in a legal trial. When Albert saw a gallows-like structure being built he fainted. The first line below is spoken by the porcupine character named Porky Pine who is propping up the body of the unconscious Albert. The second line is spoken by a squirrel character who is building the ominous structure, and the third line is spoken by Porky to Albert as he is revived with a splash of water. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:
HEY … FETCH SOME BRANCH WATER!
WHAT’S A MATTER HIM?
DON’T TAKE LIFE SO SERIOUS, SON … IT AIN’T NOHOW PERMANENT.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Continue reading Don’t Take Life So Serious, Son … It Ain’t Nohow Permanent
Brant Parker? Johnny Hart? L. Frank Baum? Walt Kelly? Allan Sherman? Mel Brooks? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: I vaguely recall seeing a comic strip with a clever joke based on two different senses of the word “revolting”. An advisor warned a monarch about an uprising, and he replied acerbically:
Advisor: The peasants are revolting.
Monarch: Yes, they are appalling, but I love them anyway.
Would you please explore the history of this wordplay?
Quote Investigator: With the publication of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in 1900 L. Frank Baum initiated a beloved fantasy series. The 1904 sequel was titled “The Marvelous Land of Oz: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman”. During one episode in the book a character named General Jinjur led an army of young women with the goal of capturing the Emerald City. Baum included an instance of the wordplay. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:
“Still, you must surrender!” exclaimed the General, fiercely. “We are revolting!”
“You don’t look it,” said the Guardian, gazing from one to another, admiringly.
“But we are!” cried Jinjur, stamping her foot, impatiently; “and we mean to conquer the Emerald City!”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading “The Peasants Are Revolting” “You Can Say That Again”
Walt Kelly? Don Mitchell? Fred W. Bewley? Leon Shimkin? A. C. Monteith? W. Willard Wirtz? Hubert Humphrey? Howard J. Samuels? George H. W. Bush? W. C. Fields? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Walt Kelly authored the magnificent comic strip “Pogo” featuring hilarious wordplay. He has been credited with the following oxymoronic phrase:
Our problem is an insurmountable opportunity.
I have been unable to find a solid citation, and now I am unsure about this ascription. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: QI has not found this saying in Walt Kelly’s oeuvre, and based on current evidence QI would not credit Kelly. However, the comic strip text has not been fully digitized, and this judgment is not definitive.
The earliest match for this joke located by QI appeared in the proceedings of a conference on advertising in 1956. Don Mitchell of the Creative Education Foundation in Buffalo, New York delivered the line while conversing with a staff member of the General Electric Company. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:
Mr. Mitchell: Thank you, Ed, very much. You talked about GE having opportunities. I think we ought to tell the folks that GE call their problems opportunities, but there are quite a few people who feel there are some insurmountable opportunities around.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading We Are Confronted by an Insurmountable Opportunity
Pogo? Porky Pine? Walt Kelly? Timothy Ferris? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: The comic strip “Pogo” by Walt Kelly combined beautiful artwork with entertaining wordplay and satire. Kelly also expressed a delightful sense of wonder as in the following supposed remark about the possibility of extraterrestrial life:
Thar’s only two possibilities: Thar is life out there in the universe which is smarter than we are, or we’re the most intelligent life in the universe. Either way, it’s a mighty sobering thought.
I have been unable to find a strip containing this text. The word “thar” does not accord with the speech patterns of the denizens of Okefenokee Swamp. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: This was a difficult question because QI knows of no comprehensive databases containing the text of Walt Kelly’s oeuvre. Also, the computer algorithms that convert the dialog in daily comic strip bubbles into searchable text do not work well. Nevertheless, QI has located the most likely origin of this quotation.
On June 20, 1959 the syndicated “Pogo” strip published three panels showing the characters Porky Pine and Pogo the Possum. Porky Pine speculated about beings on other planets:
Porky Pine: I BEEN READIN’ ‘BOUT HOW MAYBE THEY IS PLANETS PEOPLED BY FOLKS WITH AD-VANCED BRAINS.
Porky Pine: ON THE OTHER HAND, MAYBE WE GOT THE MOST BRAINS…MAYBE OUR INTELLECTS IS THE UNIVERSE’S MOST AD-VANCED.
Porky Pine: EITHER WAY, IT’S A MIGHTY SOBERIN’ THOUGHT.
The overall semantics and the punchline matched the modern statement, and QI conjectures that a flawed memory of Porky Pine’s monologue led to the creation of a misquotation.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading Pogo Comic on Extraterrestrials: Either Way, It’s a Mighty Soberin’ Thought