A Day Without Laughter is a Day Wasted

Charlie Chaplin? Steve Martin? Groucho Marx? Nicolas Chamfort?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following guideline for living makes sense to me, so I try to find humor in something every day:

A day without laughter is a day wasted

When I read this maxim originally it was credited to Charlie Chaplin, but I once heard it attributed to Groucho Marx. Do you know who said it and on what occasion?

Quote Investigator: This principle is sometimes credited to popular comedic entertainers such as Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx, but the idea was expressed more than two centuries ago. The French writer Nicolas Chamfort was famous for his witticisms and epigrams. In 1795 the periodical Mercure Français reprinted the following saying from one of his manuscripts [MFNC]:

La plus perdue de toutes les journées est celle où l’on n’a pas ri.

The earliest instance of this aphorism in the English language located by QI is dated 1803 in a periodical titled “Flowers of Literature” in a section titled “Laughing” [FLFB]:

I admire the man who exclaimed, “I have lost a day!” because he had neglected to do any good in the course of it; but another has observed that “the most lost of all days, is that in which we have not laughed*;” and, I must confess, that I feel myself greatly of his opinion.

The asterisk footnote pointed to the bottom of the page where the French phrase listed above was presented. The text did not identify Chamfort as the author of the saying, but it did give his precise French wording as the source of the English epigram.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Day Without Laughter is a Day Wasted

You Can’t Think and Hit at the Same Time

Yogi Berra? Bucky Harris? Eddie Froelich? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The New York Times magazine recently highlighted a quotation from a Hall of Fame baseball player: 1

“How can you think and hit at the same time?” Yogi Berra once said, which like many of the quotes attributed to the former Yankees catcher, even the malapropisms, contains an essential truth. You can’t think and hit because there’s not time for both.

Did Yogi really say this, or do people simply believe that he should have said it?

Quote Investigator: The evidence is not completely clear because Yogi himself has made confusing pronouncements about this saying. The earliest citation known to QI appeared in an article by “The New York Times” sports writer Arthur Daley published in June 1947. Bucky Harris who was Yogi Berra’s manager selected him to perform as a pinch-hitter, and Harris attempted to give Yogi some mental advice. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

“You, Yogi,” snapped Bucky. “Go in there and hit. I realize that you’re in a slump, but you aren’t thinking enough at the plate. Think before you pick out a ball. Make sure it’s good before you swing. Think!”

The Yankee manager gave his hero a brisk pat on the back and sent him into the fray. Yogi struck out most inelegantly and stamped angrily back to the bench, muttering away to himself in a corner of the dug-out. After a while the curious Bucky wandered down and listened to him.

Yogi was repeating over and over, “How can a guy hit and think at the same time?”

Interestingly, this initial version of the quotation used the phrase “hit and think” instead of “think and hit”. Yogi expressed skepticism about the story in his 1961 autobiography, and he revisited the topic in 1998. These excerpts from Yogi are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Can’t Think and Hit at the Same Time

Notes:

  1. 2011 June 26, New York Times, For Derek Jeter, on His 37th Birthday by Michael Sokolove, Page MM28, Section: Sunday Magazine, New York. (Published online 2011 June 23; Accessed online at New York Times website nytimes.com on 2011 June 27)
  2. 1947 June 12, New York Times, Short Shots in Sundry Directions by Arthur Daley, Quote Page 34, Column 7, New York. (ProQuest)

Look Around the Poker Table; If You Can’t See the Sucker, You’re It

Warren Buffett? Michael Wolff? Amarillo Slim? Poker Proverb? Whispering Saul?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a quotation I have seen in several books and periodicals aimed at investors. Here is one version:

If you have been in a poker game for a while, and you still don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.

These words are sometimes labeled an “old saying” and sometimes attributed to the legendary super-investor Warren Buffett. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Warren Buffett did use a version of this quotation in a letter he sent to the shareholders of his conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The letter was dated February 29, 1988, and it summarized business activity in 1987. Buffett discussed a metaphorical figure called “Mr. Market” and indicated that a skilled investor should have knowledge that is superior to that of “Mr. Market” [BHWB]:

Indeed, if you aren’t certain that you understand and can value your business far better than Mr. Market, you don’t belong in the game.  As they say in poker, “If you’ve been in the game 30 minutes and you don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.”

However, Buffett did not claim that he originated the saying; instead, he suggested it was an aphorism used by poker players. QI has located four instances of the saying in 1979 and these appear to be the earliest currently known though earlier examples are likely to exist.

In 1979 the book “The Aggressive Conservative Investor” used a statement of the advice as an epigraph for chapter ten where it was identified as a “Poker Proverb” [ACPP]:

If after ten minutes at the poker table you do not know who the patsy is—you are the patsy.

POKER PROVERB

In June of 1979 in the Atlantic Monthly a story about investing titled “Smart People, Smart Money” included a version of the saying in the summary paragraph that prefaced the article. The words were credited to an individual with the alias “Whispering Saul” [AMWS]:

A stockbroker introduces his financial advisers, such sages as Billy the Shooter and Father Abraham and the wise Whispering Saul, who reminds us, “If you sit in on a poker game and don’t see a sucker, get up. You’re the sucker.”

Here are some additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Look Around the Poker Table; If You Can’t See the Sucker, You’re It

Rock Journalism is People Who Can’t Write Interviewing People Who Can’t Talk for People Who Can’t Read

Frank Zappa? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The most outrageously funny quotation that I know of was spoken by the musician Frank Zappa:

Rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.

The perfect place to say this would have been during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. But I do not know if he really said it anywhere. Can you enlighten me?

Quote Investigator: Zappa did make this remark in 1977 during an interview with a staff writer for the Toronto Star newspaper named Bruce Kirkland. The dateline of the story was Mount Pleasant, Michigan where Zappa was playing a concert. His precise statement differed by a single word [T1FZ]:

“Most rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read,” he says. That doesn’t leave much room to like him personally and he makes it obvious he doesn’t like you much either, whoever you are.

This citation is the earliest known, and it comes from the research files of Fred R. Shapiro editor of the Yale Book of Quotations and a top expert in this area. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Rock Journalism is People Who Can’t Write Interviewing People Who Can’t Talk for People Who Can’t Read

If Your Actions Inspire Others To Dream More, Learn More, Do More and Become More, You Are a Leader

John Quincy Adams? Dolly Parton? Peyton Manning? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following quote about leadership appears on my son’s T-Shirt and all over the web, attributed to John Quincy Adams:

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

That can’t possibly be right, can it? It sounds so modern, even New Age. And yet we’re being told it even precedes Thoreau and Emerson. Who really said that?

Quote Investigator: This quotation does appear to be modern, and QI has located no evidence that John Quincy Adams spoke or wrote the words. The earliest version of this statement found by QI was printed in a 1997 book titled “The Most Important Thing I Know” that compiled inspirational thoughts from a variety of prominent individuals. An entertainer who built a multi-million-dollar business empire offered the following remark [MIDP]:

“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”
–DOLLY PARTON
Singer; actor

Small changes to the phrasing above yield the popular current version attributed to Adams. QI believes that Parton is the most likely originator of this quotation. If an earlier version of this sentiment influenced Parton then she does not mention it, and QI has not yet found evidence of its existence.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If Your Actions Inspire Others To Dream More, Learn More, Do More and Become More, You Are a Leader

“Age Before Beauty.” “Pearls Before Swine.”

Dorothy Parker? Clare Boothe Luce? Sheilah Graham? Snooty debutante? Little chorus girl?

Dear Quote Investigator: I think Dorothy Parker should be credited with the wittiest comeback ever spoken. She was attempting to go through a doorway at the same time as another person and words were exchanged. According to the story I heard the other person was the glamorous socialite and playwright Clare Boothe Luce.

“Age before beauty” said Luce while yielding the way. “And pearls before swine,” replied Parker while gliding through the doorway. Is this quotation accurate and is this tale true?

Quote Investigator: There is more than one version of this story, and the earliest description does not refer to Clare Boothe Luce by name. However, the second oldest version does identify her and Dorothy Parker as the antagonists. Further, this version was written by the Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham who claimed that she heard it directly from Parker in 1938.

In 1941 The New Yorker magazine referred to the supposed interchange as an “apocryphal incident”. In addition, Boothe has denied the skirmish occurred. QI thinks that there is strong evidence that Parker created the quip, and she spoke it. Yet, it is not completely clear whether she was addressing Boothe.

In this article Clare Boothe Luce will sometimes be referred to as Boothe. Confusion is possible because two names: Clare Boothe and Clare Boothe Luce are both used in media accounts. Clare Boothe married the powerful publisher Henry Luce in 1935, and the name Luce was added to her appellation. Both names have continued in use.

Here are the two earliest citations found by QI. On September 16, 1938 The Spectator, a London periodical, published this passage: 1

It is recorded that Mrs. Parker and a snooty debutante were both going in to supper at a party: the debutante made elaborate way, saying sweetly “Age before beauty, Mrs. Parker.” “And pearls before swine,” said Mrs. Parker, sweeping in.

Boothe was born in 1903 and was 35 when this article was published; hence, she probably would not have been referred to as a debutante. Yet, the article does not specify a date of occurrence, and the event may have happened several years before 1938.

On October 14, 1938 the Hartford Courant printed the celebrity gossip column of Sheilah Graham containing this tale: 2

Dorothy Parker tells me of the last time she encountered Playwright Clare Boothe. The two ladies were trying to get out of a doorway at the same time. Clare drew back and cracked, “Age before beauty, Miss Parker.” As Dotty swept out, she turned to the other guests and said. “Pearls before swine.”

Additional selected citations in chronological order and some background information are presented below.

Continue reading “Age Before Beauty.” “Pearls Before Swine.”

Notes:

  1. 1938 September 16, The Spectator, Best Sellers and the Atlantic by John Carter, Page 446, Column 2, London, England. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1938 October 14, Hartford Courant, Errol Flynn Plans Second Honeymoon by Sheilah Graham, Page 10, Hartford, Connecticut. (ProQuest)

As I Wend My Way to Heaven I’ll Be Full of Cherry Pie

Edgar Guest? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When I was a child I found a book at my public library, a collection of poetry.  My favorite poem in it was entitled “Cherry Pie” and was (I thought) by Edgar Guest. Since those days I have tried to relocate the work but with no luck.  I remember only the final lines:

… and then, even though I die
As I wend my way to Heaven I’ll be full of cherry pie!

Can you track this down?

Quote Investigator: Yes, the poem was titled “Cherry Pie” and was printed in a syndicated newspaper column called “Just Folks” by Edgar A. Guest on May 29, 1935. Here is the first verse [MJEG]:

I’ll obey them in the winter when the doctors say to me
I must give up ham and spinach, and obedient I’ll be.
To relieve my indigestion in December they can try.
But there’s none of them can stop me when it’s time for cherry pie.

The rest of the poem is readable by following this link to the Milwaukee Journal where the text appears in column 1 of page 4.

Continue reading As I Wend My Way to Heaven I’ll Be Full of Cherry Pie

The Play Was a Great Success, But the Audience Was a Total Failure

Oscar Wilde? William Collier? Daniel Frohman? George Bernard Shaw? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have been involved in several theatrical productions and sometimes the response of an audience to a show is mystifying. A colleague told me that Oscar Wilde watched an early performance of Lady Windermere’s Fan, and the reception was unenthusiastic. Later when he was asked about that night’s presentation he said:

The play was a great success, but the audience was a total failure.

I can easily envision Wilde uttering this response. When I used Google I found another version of the line:

The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster

Do you think this anecdote is true, and do you think either of these lines is accurate?

Quote Investigator: This is an entertaining quip that appeals to people who depend on the fickle reactions of audiences. However, there is little evidence that Wilde ever spoke this quotation. Lady Windermere’s Fan was a highly-successful and lucrative comedy for Wilde.  The earliest attribution to Wilde that QI has located appeared in the 1937 book “Encore” by the theatrical impresario Daniel Frohman who does not identify a specific play [OWDF]:

Oscar Wilde arrived at his club one evening, after witnessing a first production of a play that was a complete failure.

A friend said, “Oscar, how did your play go tonight?”

“Oh,” was the lofty response, “the play was a great success but the audience was a failure.”

In fact, the core of this joke was employed by another legendary Irish wit, George Bernard Shaw, in a review he wrote in 1892. Shaw’s commentary was published in “The World”, and recorded his unhappiness with his fellow viewers who reacted negatively to a dancer whose performance was deemed too provocative and suggestive [GBSD] [BSTD]:

Take notice, oh Senorita C. de Otero, Spanish dancer and singer, that I wash my hands of the national crime of failing to appreciate you. You were a perfect success: the audience was a dismal failure. I really cannot conceive a man being such a dull dog as to hold out against that dance.

Lady Windermere’s Fan premiered in 1892 and Oscar Wilde did directly address the audience from the stage after the initial performance. However, the production was a success and not a failure, and his words were precisely the opposite of those listed above.

Continue reading The Play Was a Great Success, But the Audience Was a Total Failure

Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler

Albert Einstein? Louis Zukofsky? Roger Sessions? William of Ockham? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The credibility of a quotation is increased substantially if it can be ascribed to a widely-recognized genius such as Albert Einstein. Hence a large number of spurious quotes are attributed to him. I would like to know if the following is a real Einstein quote or if it is apocryphal:

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

I like this saying because it compactly articulates the principle of Occam’s razor.

Quote Investigator: The reference work “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” published in 2010 is the most comprehensive source for reliable information about the sayings of Albert Einstein, and it states [UQUE]:

This quotation prompts the most queries; it appeared in Reader’s Digest in July 1977, with no documentation.

The earliest known appearance of the aphorism was located by poet and scholar Mark Scroggins and later independently by top-flight quotation researcher Ken Hirsch. The New York Times published an article by the composer Roger Sessions on January 8, 1950 titled “How a ‘Difficult’ Composer Gets That Way”, and it included a version of the saying attributed to Einstein [AERS]:

I also remember a remark of Albert Einstein, which certainly applies to music. He said, in effect, that everything should be as simple as it can be but not simpler!

Since Sessions used the locution “in effect” he was signaling the possibility that he was paraphrasing Einstein and not presenting his exact words. Indeed, Einstein did express a similar idea using different words as shown by the 1933 citation given further below.

In June of 1950 the maxim appeared in the journal Poetry in a book review written by the prominent modernist poet Louis Zukofsky. The saying was credited to Einstein and placed inside quotation marks by Zukofsky [EPLZ].

There is also the other side of the coin minted by Einstein: “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler” – a scientist’s defense of art and knowledge – of lightness, completeness and accuracy.

The wording used by Sessions and Zukofsky is the same, and it differs somewhat from the most common modern version of the quote. Professor Mark Scroggins who has specialist knowledge of Zukofsky believes that the poet probably acquired the aphorism by reading the article by Sessions. Zukofsky also incorporated the saying in section A-12 of his massive poem titled “A”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order starting in 1933.

Continue reading Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler

I Did Not Attend the Funeral, But I Sent a Nice Letter Saying I Approved of It

Mark Twain? James Wayle? Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar? Walter Winchell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: In the past few days several phony quotations were widely disseminated on the internet; in other words, they went viral. My question is about a saying that might be genuine. A CNN article contains the following expression attributed to Mark Twain:

I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.

Do you think this is correct?

Quote Investigator: The author of the CNN article carefully refrained from definitively crediting the words to Twain [CNMT]. Instead, he said that the phrase had “long been attributed to Twain”.

This saying has not been found in Twain’s writings, and it is not included in the TwainQuotes.com repository. Website editor Barbara Schmidt states that currently “there is no evidence that links Mark Twain to the funeral quote” [TQMT].

Indeed, the basic joke was credited to Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar in 1884 and this ascription was mentioned in news reports for decades afterwards. During his long career, Hoar was a lawyer, a Massachusetts Supreme Court Judge, and an Attorney General of the United States.

The funeral referred to in the jest was for the prominent abolitionist and orator Wendell Phillips who died in Boston on February 2, 1884 according to Encyclopedia Americana and Encyclopedia Britannica [EAWP] [EBWP]. Later that month on the 29th a newspaper report was published presenting a joke credited to Hoar of the type that was later attributed to Twain [CCEH]:

Boston Post.—The Hon. E. R. Hoar did not love Phillips over much in his later years. It is now reported of him that while the remains of the great agitator were awaiting the final ceremonies a distinguished Cambridge gentleman asked him if he was going to attend Wendell Phillips’s funeral. “No,” was the reply, “but I approve it!”

In 1895, after the death of Hoar, the New York Times printed “Anecdotes of the Late Judge Hoar”. A version of the tale was included, and the newspaper indicated that Hoar’s memorable jibe at Phillips was his “best-known remark” [NYEH]:

Out of this feeling between the Judge and the agitator came what is, perhaps, Judge Hoar’s best-known remark, and the one that has oftenest been seen in print. After Phillips’s death, some one met Judge Hoar and asked him if he intended to attend the funeral. “No,” answered the Judge, “I don’t; but I approve of it.”

The earliest instance located by QI with an attribution to Mark Twain appeared in a humor magazine called “The Judge” in 1938. A reader identified as “James Wayle, of Milwaukee” wrote a letter to the editors of the periodical recounting a story about Twain [TJMT]:

… he writes to remind us that Mark Twain once refused to attend a noted politician’s funeral. “But then,” adds Mr. Wayle, “he wrote them a very nice letter explaining that he approved of it.”

In 1943 this story appeared in a volume titled “The Speaker’s Notebook” with an acknowledgment to “The Judge” magazine [SHMT]:

Mark Twain once refused to attend a noted politician’s funeral. But he wrote a very nice letter explaining that he approved of it.

Judge.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Did Not Attend the Funeral, But I Sent a Nice Letter Saying I Approved of It