Absinthe: After the First Glass, You See Things As You Wish They Were

Oscar Wilde? Ada Leverson? Leslie Stokes? Violet Wyndham? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The alcoholic psychoactive drink absinthe was banned in the United States and many European countries in the previous century. But now it is legal again. Supposedly, the brilliant wit Oscar Wilde once discussed the phantasmagorical effects of the potion. His description began:

After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. …

Could you locate a full and accurate version of this quotation and tell me whether the words really should be attributed to Oscar Wilde?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this quote located by QI was printed in the book “Letters to the Sphinx from Oscar Wilde: With Reminiscences of the Author by Ada Leverson” published in 1930. Scholars consider the quotation credible even though Wilde died three decades earlier in 1900. Wilde and Leverson were good friends, and she supported him during his travails. Sphinx was the nickname that he gave to her. The book was printed in a limited edition impeding straightforward access.

The excellent Smathers Rare Book Library of the University of Florida holds number 240 of an edition containing 275 copies. On pages 39 and 40 of the volume Leverson described a conversation she had with the great wit [OWAL]:

One day he was talking of the effect of absinthe. “After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean disassociated. Take a top-hat! You think you see it as it really is. But you don’t, because you associate it with other things and ideas. If you had never heard of one before, suddenly saw it alone, you’ld be frightened, or laugh. That is the effect absinthe has, and that is why it drives men mad.”

Here are additional excerpts and selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Absinthe: After the First Glass, You See Things As You Wish They Were

Jump Off the Cliff and Build Your Wings on the Way Down

Ray Bradbury? Franco Mancassola? Kurt Vonnegut? Annie Dillard? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The influential publisher Tim O’Reilly recently tweeted a great quotation about entrepreneurship that was used in a commencement address given by DJ Patil, a Data Scientist at a venture capital company. Here is an excerpt from the speech given at the University of Maryland: 1 2

As my good friend Reid Hoffman, one of the founders of LinkedIn, says: Entrepreneurship is jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on the way down.

Some of the Twitter responses pointed to a saying from the science fiction master Ray Bradbury about building wings after jumping off a cliff. Could you determine what Bradbury actually said?

Quote Investigator: Bradbury used this vivid metaphor to illustrate boldness and audacity several times. In November 1979 he reviewed a book about the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., and he gave very high praise to the book and the museum: 3

It looks like a dream book. Then you suddenly remember it’s all real. Then the long march from the rim of the cave to the edge of the cliff where we flung ourselves off and built our wings on the way down quickens to focus. It’s all here, in a building, in a book.

In October 1986 Bradbury spoke at a one-day symposium on ‘Future Style’ held on the campus of the University of California, Irvine, and his words were reported in the Los Angeles Times: 4

In his keynote address, author Ray Bradbury declared that if enough people followed their hearts, they could realize their optimistic vision of humanity’s future. Bradbury exhorted his enthusiastic listeners to “jump off the cliff and learn how to make wings on the way down.”

Ascriptions to other authors such as Kurt Vonnegut and Annie Dillard only appeared years later and were not well substantiated. Indeed, Dillard contacted QI directly to state that she never wrote the quotation, and she never spoke it. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Jump Off the Cliff and Build Your Wings on the Way Down

Notes:

  1. 2012 June 13, Greylock Partners website, Failure is our ONLY option, [Commencement Speech for the class 2012 in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, at the University of Maryland], Speech by DJ Patil: Data Scientist at Greylock Partners, Speech date: May 20, 2012. (Accessed at greylockvc.com on June 17, 2012) link
  2. 2012 June 6, Wired UK website, Ideas Bank: Failure is our only option, Guest Author: DJ Patil, [Excerpts from Commencement Speech for the class 2012 in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences, at the University of Maryland], Speech by DJ Patil: Data Scientist at Greylock Partners, Speech date: May 20, 2012. (Accessed at wired.co.uk on June 17, 2012) link
  3. 1979 November 18, Los Angeles Times, Section: The Book Review, Hymn to humanity from the cathedral of high technology by Ray Bradbury, (Review of “National Air and Space Museum”, text by C.D.B. Bryan), Page K1, Column 3, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
  4. 1986 October 21, Los Angeles Times, ‘Future Style’ Slickly Peers Wrong Way by Charles Solomon, Page OC_E2, Column 5, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)

Stethoscope: That It Will Ever Come Into General Use Is Extremely Doubtful

John Forbes? René Laënnec? The Times of London? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Sometimes the value and importance of an invention is misunderstood. Consider the following quotation about a newly introduced medical device in the 1800s:

That it will ever come into general use, notwithstanding its value, is extremely doubtful; because its beneficial application requires much time and gives a good bit of trouble both to the patient and the practitioner; because its hue and character are foreign and opposed to all our habits and associations.

This dismissive passage was about the stethoscope, a device which powerfully advanced diagnostic knowledge and capabilities in medicine. I am told that these words were printed in The Times newspaper of London in 1834. Could you research this quote to determine its larger context and to find out who precisely wrote it?

Quote Investigator: The basic form of the stethoscope was invented by the French physician René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec who published a description of the instrument in 1819. The early stethoscope consisted of a rigid hollow tube, and the physician listened to the sounds in the chest with one ear. Laënnec published a long treatise on the subject in French after introducing the device.

In 1821 Laënnec’s book was translated into English and published as “A Treatise on the Diseases of the Chest, in which they are described according to their Anatomical Characters, and their Diagnosis established on a new Principle by means of Acoustick Instruments”. The translator was John Forbes M.D., Physician to the Penzance Dispensary and Secretary of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall.

The quotation given above was written by Forbes, and it appeared in the “Translator’s Preface” to the first English edition of Laënnec’s work. In the second edition and later editions the preface was modified and the quotation was removed.

It is tempting with hindsight to describe the opinion offered by Forbes as wrongheaded and foolish. But the quote above is incomplete. Forbes also suggested that the stethoscope was “one of the greatest discoveries in medicine”. Here is a longer excerpt [RLJF] [RLJW] [LMJF]:

… I have no doubt whatever, from my own experience of its value, that it will be acknowledged to be one of the greatest discoveries in medicine by all those who are of a temper, and in circumstances, that will enable them to give it a fair trial. That it will ever come into general use, notwithstanding its value, I am extremely doubtful; because its beneficial application requires much time, and gives a good deal of trouble both to the patient and the practitioner; and because its whole hue and character is foreign, and opposed to all our habits and associations. It must be confessed that there is something even ludicrous in the picture of a grave physician formally listening through a long tube applied to the patient’s thorax, as if the disease within were a living being that could communicate its condition to the sense without.

Forbes thought the stethoscope was an extraordinarily valuable instrument and that is why he expended considerable time and effort in translating Laënnec’s treatise. But he also thought it was difficult to use. Design innovations improved the instrument over time. A rigid tube was replaced by a flexible tube, and a binaural scheme was introduced to allow both ears to be used for listening.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Stethoscope: That It Will Ever Come Into General Use Is Extremely Doubtful

Hollywood: They’ll Pay You a Thousand Dollars for a Kiss, and Fifty Cents for Your Soul

Marilyn Monroe? Ben Hecht? Milton Greene? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The legendary screen star Marilyn Monroe was ambivalent about her fame. She supposedly said the following:

Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.

Is this an accurate quotation? Do you know where it appeared?

Quote Investigator: This is a controversial quote because it was printed in an autobiography of Monroe titled “My Story” that was first published in 1974. This was a posthumous work released twelve years after the tragic death of Monroe in 1962, and some critics believe that the text does not reflect the actual words of the celebrity. Here is a longer excerpt [MSMO]:

In Hollywood a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hair-do. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are. Hollywood’s a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss, and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.

When “My Story” was released it was evaluated critically by the book editor of the Los Angeles Times. The source of the memoir was a typewritten manuscript from a former photographer of Monroe named Milton Greene. The publisher Stein & Day did not attempt to check or research the text. The executors of the Monroe estate shared profits from sales of the book with Greene and the publisher. The newspaper wrote the following [MSLA]:

This “new” autobiography covers the same ground—most of it word for word—as a series of luridly illustrated articles published 20 years ago in the London Empire News between May 9 and Aug 1, 1954. The collaborator/ghost writer of that series was apparently screenwriter Ben Hecht.

Extended passages of identical text from the memoir and the London Empire News were displayed in sidebars of the article in the Los Angeles Times.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Hollywood: They’ll Pay You a Thousand Dollars for a Kiss, and Fifty Cents for Your Soul

I’ve Never Been Hired by a Poor Person

Robert Orben? Milton Berle? Ronald Reagan? Phil Gramm? Michael Dolan? Roger Ross? Sean Hannity? Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Quote Investigator: Years ago I heard a quotation that was credited to Ronald Reagan about the creation of jobs. I do not remember the precise wording, but here are two versions that express the gist of the quote:

No poor man ever gave me a job.

Have you ever been hired by a poor person?

Recently, I’ve seen the saying credited to former Senator Phil Gramm. Can you determine who made this remark?

Quote Investigator: The top etymological researcher Barry Popik has explored this saying, and the results given here build on his valuable work.

The earliest evidence for this expression located by QI was published in a 1977 profile of a professional comedy writer named Robert Orben. The New York Times article noted that Orben supplied humorous material to business men and women who were planning to deliver speeches. The story listed some of lines suggested by Orben. For example, here is an introductory remark and a retort aimed at a heckler [ORNY]:

The program director really wasn’t sure how I’d do tonight. I asked him the capacity of this room. He said, ‘It sleeps 300’.

Sir, to have an open mind doesn’t mean you have to have an open mouth.

The article also contained a statement similar to the one under investigation:

Don’t knock the rich. When was the last time you were hired by somebody poor?

In March 1978 the same quip appeared in a newspaper advertisement for a shop called “Ross Jewelers” of Nashua, New Hampshire.

In December 1981 a South Carolina newspaper column titled “The Stroller” printed a version of the joke [SRSC]:

Here’s something to think about: Don’t knock the rich. When were you ever hired by a poor person?

In 1989 the famous comedian Milton Berle published a collection of his jokes that included a modified version of the quip. The second half was changed to an exclamation instead of a rhetorical question [MBPJ]:

I don’t knock the rich. I never got a job from a poor person!

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I’ve Never Been Hired by a Poor Person

Whenever I Feel the Urge to Exercise I Lie Down Until It Goes Away

Jimmy Durante? Edna Mae Oliver? Robert M. Hutchins? Chauncey Depew? Mark Twain? Paul Terry? Robert Benchley? Max Beerbohm? J. P. McEvoy?

Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest quotation about exercise is usually credited to Mark Twain:

Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes away.

But this statement is also attributed to Robert Maynard Hutchins who was the President of the University of Chicago and to a passel of other people. The idea can be expressed in several ways but the basic quip is the same. Can you determine who was responsible for this valuable guidance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in a syndicated gossip column based in New York on June 13, 1937. The statement was ascribed to Paul Terry who was the founder of the Terrytoons animation studio. The ellipsis in the following is in the original text [PTPD]:

GOTHAM GOINGS ON: Paul Terry, who does the animated cartoons, shares Chauncey M. Depew’s contempt for exercise … “When I feel like exercising,” he says, “I just lie down until the feeling goes away.”

Two weeks later on June 28, 1937 another gossip columnist based in New York credited the joke to the film and stage actress Edna Mae Oliver. In the following passage “Mori’s” referred to a popular restaurant in Greenwich Village [EOLL]:

“Being away from home gives me a great urge to exercise,” Edna Mae Oliver admits at Mori’s. But whenever I feel that way, I just lie down until the foolish notion goes away.”

A few months later in October 1937 an induction ceremony was held for the new president of Williams College in Massachusetts. The President of the Society of Alumni gave a speech, and he ascribed the saying to the luminary Mark Twain.  This the earliest connection to Twain located by QI; however, Twain died in 1910, so this is a late ascription, and it provides weak evidence [WCJJ]:

Mr. President: Mark Twain once remarked that whenever he felt an irresistible urge coming over him to take exercise, he always lay down until the feeling went away.

The number of people credited with this saying has grown over the decades to include: humorist J. P. McEvoy, University President Robert Maynard Hutchins, politician Chauncey Depew, comedian Jimmy Durante, and others.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Whenever I Feel the Urge to Exercise I Lie Down Until It Goes Away

Those Who Dance Are Considered Insane by Those Who Can’t Hear the Music

Friedrich Nietzsche? Megan Fox? Anne Louise Germaine de Staël? John Stewart? Norman Flint? Science Fiction fans? Angela Monet? Rumi? George Carlin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is credited to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.

Yet, I have never seen a precise pointer that stated where in the works of Nietzsche this quotation appeared. I know that Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown, so he may have been sympathetic to individuals who were labeled insane. I also know that music was very important in his thoughts and philosophy.

The quotation is so popular that the actress and supermodel Megan Fox decided to get the words tattooed across her back and side. Astutely, Fox did not include an attribution for her tattoo. If she wanted to append a credit whose name should be rendered in ink?

Quote Investigator: QI has not yet located substantive evidence that Nietzsche wrote or said the statement given above. In 2003 a message in the large distributed discussion system called Usenet attributed the quote to Nietzsche. The message appeared in the alt.quotations newsgroup. 1 But Nietzsche died in 1900, so 2003 is an extremely late date.

A precursor to this statement appeared in the early Nineteenth century. In 1813 the influential writer Anne Louise Germaine de Staël published the work “De l’Allemagne” in French. The English title was “Germany”, and in 1814 an excerpt was printed in “The Universal Magazine”. Madame de Staël envisioned herself watching a ballroom filled with dancers, and she imagined her reaction if she had been unable to hear the music: 2

… sometimes even in the habitual course of life, the reality of this world disappears all at once, and we feel ourselves in the middle of its interests as we should at a ball, where we did not hear the music; the dancing that we saw there would appear insane.

This figurative language was employed powerfully to illustrate an episode of dissociation. Madame de Staël was temporarily alienated from the normal rush of living, and the actions of those around her seemed purposeless and absurd.

In 1927 a version similar to the common modern examples was printed in “The Times” newspaper of London where it was labelled an old proverb. This concise instance used the word “mad” instead of “insane”: 3

They who dance are thought mad by those who hear not the music. The truth of the old proverb was never more surely borne out that it is just now.

This phrasing is distinct, but the core idea is the same. In recent times, the comedian George Carlin helped to popularize the phrase as shown further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Those Who Dance Are Considered Insane by Those Who Can’t Hear the Music

Notes:

  1. 2003 August 28, Usenet Newsgroup: alt.quotations, Subject: IM Friedrich Nietzsche, From: dougk. (Google Usenet groups archive; Accessed June 5, 2012) link.
  2. 1814 April, The Universal Magazine, “On the Moravian Mode of Worship by Madame De Stael [From her ‘Germany’]”, Start Page 296, Quote Page 296, Column 2, Printed for Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, London. (Google Books full view) [Thanks to poster RobotWisdom who shared this cite at the “Shortcuts” blog of the Guardian newspaper here] link
  3. 1927 February 16, The Times (UK), The Dance, Page 15, Column 4, London, England. (Times Digital Archive GaleGroup)

I Can Think of No More Stirring Symbol of Man’s Humanity to Man than a Fire Engine

Kurt Vonnegut? Winston Niles Rumfoord? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A good friend of mine is a volunteer firefighter, and he asked me about a quote credited to Kurt Vonnegut:

I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine

This statement can be found on many websites and it is almost always attached to Vonnegut, but I have not found any citation identifying when it was written or spoken. Past experience has made me very skeptical about unsupported attributions to Vonnegut.

I still remember a humorous speech titled “Wear Sunscreen” that was distributed widely on the internet under Vonnegut’s name [IFVN]. But the real author was a Chicago Tribune columnist named Mary Schmich [MSWS].

Did Vonnegut really praise fire engines?

Quote Investigator: The quotation above was spoken by a character named Winston Niles Rumfoord in Kurt Vonnegut’s early science fiction novel “The Sirens of Titan” published in 1959. In the story the primary protagonist Malachi Constant was returning to Earth after a series of ordeals, and he was greeted by Rumfoord as follows [KVST]:

“Welcome, Space Wanderer,” blatted Rumfoord’s oleomargarine tenor from the Gabriel horns on the wall. “How meet it is that you should come to us on the bright red pumper of a volunteer fire department. I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine. Tell me, Space Wanderer, do you see anything here—anything that makes you think you may have been here before?”

Rumfoord was a complex and sometimes cruel figure with extraordinary powers in the political and quasi-religious realms who was partially based on Franklin D. Roosevelt. Of course, the pronouncements of a character in a novel do not always reflect the beliefs of the author. Indeed, sometimes the pronouncements do not even accurately represent the attitudes of the character. But there is evidence that Vonnegut was appreciative of fire engines and firefighters.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Can Think of No More Stirring Symbol of Man’s Humanity to Man than a Fire Engine

I Paint with My Prick

Pierre-Auguste Renoir? Jean Renoir? Ōe Kenzaburō? Jeanette Winterson? D. H. Lawrence? Bernard Malamud? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The master painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir is my favorite Impressionist artist. For many years he has been credited with the following outrageous facetious quotation:

I paint with my prick.

Recently, I was surprised to discover that the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations has placed this phrase in their Misquotations section. This important reference work presented the following phrase attributed to Renoir in 1919 and suggested that the quote above may have been inaccurately derived from it [OXPR]:

It’s with my brush that I make love

Could you explore the provenance of these phrases?

Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence connecting Pierre-Auguste Renoir to both of the quotes listed above. QI believes that the first quote is based on a conversational exchange that occurred between Renoir and a journalist that was witnessed by several individuals and reported by his son. In 1962 Jean Renoir, the prominent filmmaker and son of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, published a biography of his father. An English translation was also released in 1962, and it contained the following significant passage about the elder Renoir [JRAR]:

Once, towards the end of his life, I heard him make the following rejoinder to a journalist who seemed to be astonished by his crippled hands:
“With such hands, how do you paint?” the man asked, crudely.
“With my prick,” replied Renoir, really vulgar for once.

It took place in the dining room at Les Collettes. There were a half-dozen or so visitors present. No one laughed at his quip. For what he said was a striking expression of the truth; one of those rare testimonies, so seldom expressed in the history of the world, to the miracle of the transformation of matter into spirit.

The quotation ascribed to Pierre-Auguste Renoir can be constructed by compressing the dialog of the journalist and the painter into a single direct statement. The elder Renoir died in 1919, so the episode described above occurred decades before the biography was released. However, there is additional evidence for the quotation that was published much earlier. The notorious 1928 erotic classic “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D. H. Lawrence contained the following passage in chapter four. The ellipsis appeared in the original text [CLDL]:

Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis . . . he did too, lovely pictures! I wish I did something with mine.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Paint with My Prick

Men Occasionally Stumble Over the Truth, But They Pick Themselves Up and Hurry Off

Winston Churchill? Simon Singh? Stanley Baldwin? The Reader’s Digest? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Simon Singh is a fine author who writes knowledgeably about mathematical and scientific topics. His book “Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe” credited the following words to the statesman Winston Churchill [WCSS]:

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.

This quotation was used by Singh during a discussion about serendipity and the development of antibiotics. When Alexander Fleming examined some bacterial cultures that had been contaminated with mold he saw an avenue toward the epoch-making discovery of penicillin Other scientists probably threw away similar contaminated cultures in exasperation.

I think it is a marvelous saying, but I have not yet located a solid citation. Could you determine if Churchill made this remark?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence located by QI for a similar quote appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine in 1942, and the words were ascribed to Winston Churchill. Interestingly, the saying was about an individual unnamed man and not about men in general or people in general [WCR1]:

Occasionally he stumbled over the truth but he always picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened. (Winston Churchill)

An important reference work “Irrepressible Churchill: A Treasury of Winston Churchill’s Wit” was published by Kay Halle in 1966. Halle knew the leader well, and she interviewed him and many of his friends while creating the compendium. Halle stated that the quote was aimed at Churchill’s political adversary Stanley Baldwin who was Prime Minister between 1935 and 1937. The wording given in the reference differed slightly from the version in the Reader’s Digest [WCKH]:

Occasionally he stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.

Halle used the label “Ear-witness” for the quote to indicate that she heard it though mutual friends and not directly from Churchill. Also, she estimated that it was said around 1936.

In 1945 the syndicated newspaper columnist Charles G. Sampas printed a modern variant of the saying that referred to men in general instead of a specific man [WCCS]:

Men occasionally stumble over truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. (Churchill)

Here are additional selected citations and details in chronological order.

Continue reading Men Occasionally Stumble Over the Truth, But They Pick Themselves Up and Hurry Off