When You’re 60 You Realize No One Was Ever Thinking About You

Winston Churchill? Will Rogers? Jock Falkson? Ann Landers? Ewan McGregor? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: One’s sensitivity to the opinions of others often changes as one matures. The following statement has been attributed to statesman Winston Churchill:

When you’re 20 you care what everyone thinks, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60 you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.

I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for the attribution to Winston Churchill. Historian and Churchill quotation expert Richard M. Langworth signaled his skepticism when he included the statement in an article titled “All the ‘Quotes’ Winston Churchill Never Said”. 1

QI believes that the saying evolved over time, and famous humorist Will Rogers popularized an intriguing tripartite variant in the 1930s. See further below.

A thematic precursor was written by prominent lexicographer Samuel Johnson in 1751 who noted that most people were preoccupied with their own affairs. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

But the truth is, that no man is much regarded by the rest of the world, except where the interest of others is involved in his fortune. The common employments or pleasures of life, love or opposition, loss or gain, keep almost every mind in perpetual agitation. If any man would consider how little he dwells upon the condition of others, he would learn how little the attention of others is attracted by himself.

In August 1934 “The Minneapolis Star” of Minnesota printed an anonymous three-part saying based on the ages of 20, 30, and 40 instead of 20, 40, and 60. The attitudes expressed in the first two parts were flipped with respect to the target quotation. The attitude specified in the third part matched the target: 3

At 20 we don’t care what the world thinks of us; at 30 we worry about what it thinks of us; at 40 we discover it doesn’t think of us.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When You’re 60 You Realize No One Was Ever Thinking About You

Notes:

  1. Website: Richard M. Langworth, Title: All the “Quotes” Winston Churchill Never Said (1), Date on website: November 8, 2018, Sub-section: Caring What Others Think. (Accessed May 31, 2019) link
  2. 1752, The Rambler, Issue date: 1751 September 24, Number 159, (Essay by Samuel Johnson), Quote Page 6, Printed by Sands, Murray, and Cochran, Edinburgh. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1934 August 6, The Minneapolis Star, (Filler item), Quote Page 6, Column 1, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com)

People Are Taking Their Comedians Seriously, and Their Politicians as a Joke

Will Rogers? Ron Chernow? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The U.S. journalist and historian Ron Chernow spoke at the 2019 White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner. He shared a quip attributed to humorist Will Rogers about the status reversal of comedians and politicians. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In November 1932 Will Rogers published the following remark in his widely-syndicated newspaper column. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Everything is changing in America. People are taking their comedians seriously, and their politicians as a joke, when-it-used-to-be-vice-versa.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading People Are Taking Their Comedians Seriously, and Their Politicians as a Joke

Notes:

  1. 1932 November 23, The Piqua Daily Call, Will Rogers says (McNaught Syndicate), Quote Page 1, Column 1, Piqua, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

For There Is Nothing As Stupid As an Educated Man If You Get Off the Thing That He Was Educated In

Will Rogers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Achieving extensive knowledge and expertise in one domain can be quite valuable, but it does not automatically allow one to pontificate intelligently in a different domain. The intellectual mastery attained by some experts is quite narrow. Here is a germane remark:

There is nothing so stupid as an educated man, if you get him off the thing he was educated in.

This zinger has been attributed to the popular humorist Will Rogers, but the phrasing is probably inexact. Would you please help me to find an accurate version with a solid citation?

Quote Investigator: Will Rogers published a widely-syndicated newspaper column for many years. In 1931 he wrote a piece about a request he had received from the historian, and philosopher Will Durant who wished to know about his goals, inspirations, and life philosophy. Durant sent a similar request to a variety of people, e.g., George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein, and Mahatma Gandhi.

Rogers did not directly respond to Durant’s questions in his column; instead, he presented somewhat disjointed comments about civilization, education and philosophy including the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

For there is nothing as stupid as an educated man if you get off the thing that he was educated in.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading For There Is Nothing As Stupid As an Educated Man If You Get Off the Thing That He Was Educated In

Notes:

  1. 1931 July 3, The Daily Times, Life Is Full of Things–But They Don’t Mean Anything by Will Rogers (McNaught Syndicate), Quote Page 2, Column 2, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)

My Idea of a Gentleman Is He Who Can Play a Cornet and Won’t

Oscar Wilde? Mark Twain? Frank Fiest? Will Rogers? Walter Armstrong? Herman Lindauer? William M. Lewis? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: What do the following musical instruments have in common: cornet, ukulele, saxophone, bagpipes, accordion, and banjo? Each of these instruments has a distinctive sound that is unpleasant to some listeners providing inspiration for a family of comical insults. Here are three typical barbs:

(1) A true gentleman is someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, and doesn’t.

(2) A considerate person is one who could play a saxophone but doesn’t wish to.

(3) A man who can play the accordion but won’t, is a good neighbor.

The well-known wits Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain have received credit for this kind of quip, but I have been unable to find any supporting citations. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in January 1917 within the pages of “The Atchison Weekly Globe” of Atchison, Kansas. A mellow brass instrument was disparaged by a joke ascribed to a local man named Frank Fiest. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Frank Fiest: “My idea of a gentleman is he who can play a cornet and won’t.” Well said, Mr. Fiest.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading My Idea of a Gentleman Is He Who Can Play a Cornet and Won’t

Notes:

  1. 1917 January 25, The Atchison Weekly Globe, Half Minute Interviews, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Atchison, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

You’re Only As Good As Your Last Performance

James R. Quirk? Douglas Fairbanks? Walter Winchell? Louella Parsons? Barbara Stanwyck? Jack Osterman? Al Jolson? Walter Huston? Will Rogers? Hedda Hopper? Marie Dressler? Arthur Ashe? Laurence Olivier? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popularity and power of an entertainer, top athlete, or financial whiz can ascend vertiginously, but it can also decline precipitously. A harshly pragmatic family of adages describes the fickleness of admirers. Here is sampling of statements from a variety of domains:

  • A star is only as good as her last picture.
  • A rock group is only as good as their latest album.
  • A columnist is only as good his last column.
  • A coach is only as good as the most recent season.

Often the expression employs the pronoun “you”:

  • You’re only as good as your last performance.
  • You are only as good as your last time at bat.
  • You’re only as good as the last song you wrote.
  • You’re only as good as your last press release

Would you please explore the history of this collection of sayings?

Quote Investigator: A close precursor appeared in “Photoplay Magazine” in 1924. The journal’s editor, James R. Quirk, conducted a survey of business people who operated movie theaters to identify the stars who achieved the best box-office results. Quirk recognized that the rankings would fluctuate over time. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Were a vote taken six months from now the vote might be entirely different. Generally speaking a star is as good as his last few pictures.

The statement above did not use the word “only” and referred to a “few pictures” instead of the “last picture”. Excerpts from Quirk’s article were reprinted in other periodicals. For example, in July 1924 “The Indianapolis Sunday Star” reprinted the star ranking data and the commentary which included the text above. 2

A couple years later in July 1926 “Photoplay Magazine” printed an instance that clearly fit into the family of sayings. The prominent actor, screenwriter, and producer Douglas Fairbanks received credit for the adage: 3

No mere actor-idol can last beyond a short allotted time. Fairbanks, Lloyd, Chaplin are not mere actors. They are artists—producers. We go to see them because their names assure great entertainment.

“A man’s only as good as his last picture,” says Doug, and I heartily concur. An actor who endures as an idol must have not only character but creative force—and the chance to exercise it.

QI conjectures that the saying evolved over time. James R. Quirk crafted a version that was further refined by Douglas Fairbanks into a pithy memorable remark. On the other hand, the members of this family are highly variable and searching for them is difficult. Therefore, future researchers may discover earlier instances necessitating amendments to this conjecture.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You’re Only As Good As Your Last Performance

Notes:

  1. 1924 May, Photoplay Magazine: The National Guide to Motion Pictures, Volume 25, Number 6, The Greatest Box Office Attractions By Vote of Moving Picture Exhibitors by James R. Quirk, Start Page 44, Quote Page 109, Photoplay Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Internet Archive) link
  2. 1924 July 6, The Indianapolis Sunday Star, Mary Pickford Leads Stars in Drawing Power, Section 7, Start Page 1, Quote Page 3, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1926 July, Photoplay Magazine, Volume 30, Number 2, Close-Ups and Long-Shots: Satire Humor and Some Sense by Herbert Howe, Start Page 44, Quote Page 45, Photoplay Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Internet Archive) link

It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So

Mark Twain? Josh Billings? Artemus Ward? Kin Hubbard? Will Rogers? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Oscar-winning 2015 film “The Big Short” begins with a display of the following statement:

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

The brilliant humorist Mark Twain receives credit, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. This quip is very popular. Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: Scholars at the Center for Mark Twain Studies of Elmira College have found no substantive evidence supporting the ascription to Mark Twain. 1

The observation has been attributed to several other prominent humorists including: Josh Billings (pseudonym of Henry Wheeler Shaw), Artemus Ward (pseudonym of Charles Farrar Browne), Kin Hubbard (pen name of Frank McKinney Hubbard), and Will Rogers. Yet, it is unlikely then any of them said it. The creator remains anonymous based on current evidence.

The saying is difficult to trace because it falls within an evolving family of remarks concerning faulty knowledge and memory. Three processes operate on members of the family to generate new members and ascriptions incrementally:

  1. Statements are rephrased over time.
  2. Statements are hybridized together to produce new statements.
  3. Attributions are shifted from one prominent humorist to another.

The family contains some comments with genuine ascriptions. For example, in 1874 a compendium of wit and humor from Josh Billings was published. The work employed dialectal spelling which causes headaches for modern researchers who are attempting to find matches using standard spelling. The following pertinent item appeared in a section labeled “Affurisms”, i.e., “Aphorisms”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.

Here is the statement written with standard spelling:

I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.

This remark partially matched the saying under investigation, and it acted as a seed in the evolving family of remarks.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So

Notes:

  1. Website: Center for Mark Twain Studies, Article title: The Apocryphal Twain: “Things We Know That Just Ain’t So.”, Article author: Matt Seybold, Date on website: October 6, 2016, Website description: Center dedicated to fostering and supporting scholarship and pedagogy related to all aspects of Mark Twain based at Elmira College in Elmira, New York. (Accessed marktwainstudies.com on November 18, 2018) link
  2. 1874, Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, Section: Affurisms: Sollum Thoughts, Quote Page 286, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link

The Single Most Important Fact, Perhaps, of the Entire Movie Industry: Nobody Knows Anything

William Goldman? Will Rogers? Kevin Smith? Gus Van Sant? Robert Towne? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Predicting the box office success of a forthcoming movie is apparently impossible. It is also difficult to anticipate the critical response. These challenges are encapsulated in a Hollywood adage of exasperation:

Nobody knows anything.

Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: William Goldman wrote the screenplays for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Stepford Wives (1975), All the President’s Men (1976), Marathon Man (1976), The Princess Bride (1987) and other significant films. In 1983 he published “Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting” which included the following passage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The “go” decision is the ultimate importance of the studio executive. They are responsible for what gets up there on the silver screen. Compounding their problem of no job security in the decision-making process is the single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry:

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

Interestingly, the famous humorist Will Rogers who suffered financial setbacks in the film world made a similar observation in a 1928 essay that was reprinted in his autobiography: 2

I can’t write about the movies for I don’t know anything about them, and I don’t think anybody else knows anything about them.

It’s the only business in the world that nobody knows anything about. Being in them don’t give any more of an inkling about them than being out of them.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Single Most Important Fact, Perhaps, of the Entire Movie Industry: Nobody Knows Anything

Notes:

  1. 1983, Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting by William Goldman, Chapter One: The Powers That Be, Quote Page 39, Warner Books, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1949, Autobiography of Will Rogers, Selected and Edited by Donald Day, Chapter 13: It’ll Take Two Generations to Sweep Up the Dirt, (The passage appeared between entries dated September 2 and September 6, 1928), Quote Page 184, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)

Diplomacy Frequently Consists in Soothingly Saying “Nice Doggie” Until You Have a Chance to Pick Up a Rock

Will Rogers? Walter Trumbull? Franklin Rodman? Frances Rodman? Robert Phelps? Wynn Catlin? Harold Winkler? Robert Phelps?
Dear Quote Investigator: The reassuring words of a diplomat may sharply diverge from the true agenda of the envoy. The following metaphor depicts hidden hostility:

Diplomacy is the art of being able to say “nice doggie” until you have time to pick up a rock.

The popular humorist Will Rogers receives credit for this expression, but I do not think he made many jokes with this type of implied cruelty. Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in September 1925 in “The Honolulu Advertiser” of Hawaii. The saying occurred within a miscellaneous set of statements printed under the title “The Week in Epigram”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Diplomacy frequently consists in soothingly saying “Nice doggie” until you have a chance to pick up a rock—Walter Trumbull.

The name Walter Trumbull was ambiguous, but it probably referred to a sports writer for the North American Newspaper Alliance who also reprinted the quip in his column in 1931.

The attribution to Will Rogers occurred by the 1980s which was very late, and QI believes the linkage was spurious.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Diplomacy Frequently Consists in Soothingly Saying “Nice Doggie” Until You Have a Chance to Pick Up a Rock

Notes:

  1. 1925 September 14, The Honolulu Advertiser, The Week in Epigram, Quote Page 10, Column 3, Honolulu, Hawaii. (Newspapers_com)

Liberty Don’t Work as Good in Practice as It Does in Speech

Will Rogers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular American humorist Will Rogers once made a memorable remark about liberty. Unfortunately, the precise phrasing was not memorable enough. Here are several versions:

  • Liberty don’t work as good in practice as in speech.
  • Liberty don’t work as good in practice as it does in speech.
  • Liberty don’t work as good in practice as it does in speeches.
  • Liberty doesn’t work as well in practice as it does in speeches.
  • Liberty don’t work near as good in practice as it does in speeches.

Would you please help me to determine whether Will Rogers really delivered one of these lines?

Quote Investigator: In 1927 a collection of pieces by Will Rogers was published under the title “There’s Not a Bathing Suit in Russia & Other Bare Facts”. Rogers composed the following adage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Liberty don’t work as good in practice as it does in Speech.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Liberty Don’t Work as Good in Practice as It Does in Speech

Notes:

  1. 1927, There’s Not a Bathing Suit in Russia & Other Bare Facts by Will Rogers, Chapter 5, Quote Page 101 and 102, Albert & Charles Boni, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

There Are No Strangers Here; Only Friends You Haven’t Yet Met

William Butler Yeats? Will Rogers? Edgar Guest? Margaret Lee Runbeck? Dorothy C. Wegner? Roberta Lieberman? Mitch Albom? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Nobel Prize winning Irish poet William Butler Yeats often receives credit for the following sentiment:

There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.

Is this ascription accurate?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find substantive support for the linkage to Yeats. The popular poet Edgar Guest included a similar statement in a widely distributed 1915 poem called “Faith”. Here are the first two verses. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I believe in the world and its bigness and splendor,
That most of the hearts beating round us are tender;
That days are but footsteps and years are but miles
That lead us to beauty and singing and smiles;
That roses that blossom and toilers that plod
Are filled with the glorious spirit of God.

I believe in the purpose of everything living,
That taking is but the forerunner of giving;
That strangers are friends that we some day may meet,
And not all the bitter can equal the sweet;
That creeds are but colors, and no man has said
That God loves the yellow rose more than the red.

The Davenport Democrat” of Iowa and other newspapers reprinted Guest’s work with an acknowledgement to “The Detroit Free Press” of Michigan. 2

QI conjectures that the quotation evolved from the line written by Guest.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading There Are No Strangers Here; Only Friends You Haven’t Yet Met

Notes:

  1. 1915 August 19, The Boston Globe, Poem: Faith by Edgar A. Guest (In the Detroit Free Press), Quote Page 10, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1915 August 22, The Davenport Democrat and Leader, Poem: Faith by Edgar A. Guest (In the Detroit Free Press), Quote Page 11, Column 6, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)