Want a Friend in Washington, Get a Dog

Harry Truman? Samuel Gallu? Gordon Gekko?

Dear Quote Investigator: I love dogs and live near Washington D.C. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to former President Harry Truman who experienced some bruising political battles and said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Could you please investigate this quote?

Quote Investigator: That is an enjoyable quote that appeals to the multitude of dog fanciers. But, it is very unlikely that it was said by Harry Truman. Further below the origin of the saying is discussed, but first a comment about the fate of a dog named Feller is instructive. The dog was given to Truman while he was in the White House and a contemporary newspaper account in 1948 describes what happened [TRD1]:

Continue reading Want a Friend in Washington, Get a Dog

A Single Death is a Tragedy; a Million Deaths is a Statistic

Joseph Stalin? Leonard Lyons? Beilby Porteus? Kurt Tucholsky? Erich Maria Remarque?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a vivid statement that typifies a heartless attitude toward human mortality:

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.

These words are often attributed to the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, but I have not found a precise citation for this harsh expression. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI linking this saying to Joseph Stalin was published in 1947 by the popular syndicated newspaper columnist Leonard Lyons in “The Washington Post”. The ellipsis in the following passage was in the original text. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

In the days when Stalin was Commissar of Munitions, a meeting was held of the highest ranking Commissars, and the principal matter for discussion was the famine then prevalent in the Ukraine. One official arose and made a speech about this tragedy — the tragedy of having millions of people dying of hunger. He began to enumerate death figures … Stalin interrupted him to say: “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”

QI does not know what source Lyons used to obtain the details of this noteworthy scene and quotation. Without additional corroborative evidence or an explanation QI believes that this citation provides weak support for the ascription to Stalin. Perhaps future researchers will locate further relevant evidence.

There are several interesting precursors that illustrate the possible evolution of this expression, and additional selected citations are presented below in chronological order. The family of sayings examined here is variegated, and the denotations are often distinct, but QI believes that grouping them together is illuminating.

Continue reading A Single Death is a Tragedy; a Million Deaths is a Statistic

Notes:

  1. 1947 January 30, Washington Post, Loose-Leaf Notebook by Leonard Lyons, Quote Page 9, Washington, D.C. (ProQuest)

Part Went for Liquor, Part for Women, Rest Spent Foolishly

Channing Pollock? George Raft? Tug McGraw? Stan Bowles? George Best?

Dear Quote Investigator: George Raft was my favorite film star from the Golden Age of Hollywood. He often played gangsters and was memorable in “Some Like it Hot”. Raft was known for his high income in Tinseltown and for his wild profligacy. The quotation that interests me appeared in his obituary in 1980 [RFT80]:

Raft … made, and squandered, about $10 million in his movie career, and later joked: “Part of the loot went for gambling, part for horses and part for women. The rest I spent foolishly.”

Did Raft really say this or is it part of his legend?

Quote Investigator: Yes, QI thinks Raft did say it, but he probably was not the first person to do so.

This exact quote appears in a profile of Raft written when he was 71 years old for Parade, the mass circulation Sunday newspaper magazine, dated 1966 October 23 [RFT66]. Raft says he purchased a racehorse for the star Betty Grable.

There is more evidence that Raft did utter the quip contained in an autobiographical book by Joe Franklin the host of a long-running talk show. Franklin says that Raft told him a close variant of the quote that includes alcohol [RFT95]:

George Raft told me on my show that he spent all of the $10 million he made on women, horses, gambling, and whiskey – and the rest he spent foolishly.

Interestingly, the full-text databases of today reveal that this joke has a large number of variations. For example: the money is spent on wine, whiskey, booze, liquor, women, horses, gambling, the finest duds, and three mustache curlers. The spendthrift is identified as George Raft, a hobo, a marine, a cat skinner, or a sailor.

Continue reading Part Went for Liquor, Part for Women, Rest Spent Foolishly

Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt

Abraham Lincoln? Mark Twain? Biblical Proverb? Maurice Switzer? Arthur Burns? John Maynard Keynes? Confucius? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Here are two versions of an entertaining saying that is usually credited to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain:

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.

It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.

The phrasing is different, but I think these two statements express the same thought. When I mentioned this adage to a friend he claimed that it was in the Bible, but it does not sound very Biblical to me. Can you resolve this dispute?

Quote Investigator: There is a biblical proverb that expresses a similar idea, namely Proverbs 17:28. Here is the New International Version followed by the King James Version of this verse: 1

Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.

The quotations that the questioner listed use a distinctive formulation that is certainly more humorous. In the biblical version one is thought wise if one remains silent, but in the questioner’s statements the word “wise” is not used. Remaining silent simply allows one to avoid the fate of being thought a fool or stupid. This maxim has many different forms, and it is often ascribed to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain. However, there is no substantive evidence that either of these famous individuals employed the maxim.

The wonderful Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ) 2 investigated the saying and presented the earliest known attribution to Lincoln in Golden Book magazine in November 1931: 3

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.
— ABRAHAM LINCOLN.

Since Lincoln died in 1865 this is a suspiciously late instance, and it provides very weak evidence. Further, YBQ indicated that the phrase was in use years before this date with no attachment to Lincoln. The ascription of the saying to Mark Twain is also dubious.

When Ken Burns filmed a documentary about Mark Twain in 2001 a companion book was released, and it listed the following version of the quote in a section titled “What Twain Didn’t Say”: 4

Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.

The earliest known appearance of the adage discovered by QI occurred in a book titled “Mrs. Goose, Her Book” by Maurice Switzer. The publication date was 1907 and the copyright notice was 1906. The book was primarily filled with clever nonsense verse, and the phrasing in this early version was slightly different: 5

It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.

Most of the humorous content of “Mrs. Goose, Her Book” has the imprint of originality, and based on currently available data QI  believes that Maurice Switzer is the leading candidate for originator of the expression. This 1906 citation was also given in “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs”, an indispensable new reference work from Yale University Press. 6

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt

Notes:

  1. Proverbs 17:28 has many translations. Here is a link to a webpage with several from the Online Parallel Bible Project of Biblos.com. (Accessed Bible.cc on October 24, 2012) link
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Abraham Lincoln, Page 466, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1931 November, Golden Book Magazine, Volume 14, Quote Page 306, Published by The Review of Reviews Corporation, Albert Shaw, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 2001, Mark Twain by Dayton Duncan and Geoffrey C. Ward, Based on a Documentary by Ken Burns, Section: What Twain Didn’t Say, Page 189, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1907, “Mrs. Goose, Her Book” by Maurice Switzer, Page 29, Moffat, Yard & Company, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  6. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Page 83, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

Time is Money. Benjamin Franklin?

Dear Quote Investigator: As an entrepreneur I marvel at the wisdom and concision of the following maxim:

Time is money.

This is usually credited to Benjamin Franklin, but I have become skeptical about attributions after reading this blog. So, I performed my own  exploration for this saying and determined that it was indeed Franklin who said it. He reinforced the meaning of the maxim with a common sense example that states: if you skip half-a-days work then you throw away half-a-days wage [AYT]:

Remember that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, it ought not to be reckoned the only expence; he hath really spent or thrown away five shillings besides.

He said it in 1748 in an essay titled Advice to a Young Tradesman. Is this an example of a saying that is properly acknowledged?

Quote Investigator: Great work! You have given excellent evidence that Franklin employed the maxim in 1748. The remaining question is: Did someone say it before Franklin?

Continue reading Time is Money. Benjamin Franklin?

Samuel Goldwyn’s Impossible Quote

Dear Quotation Investigator: Samuel Goldwyn, the Hollywood studio chief, was famous for his creatively humorous speech errors. A famous actor once asked if he could be in one of Goldwyn’s new productions. But Goldwyn did not like the actor, and he supposedly said:

I can answer you in two words, “im possible.”

Well, that is the story. Is it true?

QI: Many funny lines of this type are attributed to the movie mogul, and collectively they are known as Goldwynisms. The quip above has been linked to Goldwyn for many years; however, he probably never said it. Charlie Chaplin claimed that he deliberately pinned this saying on to Samuel Goldwyn according to the biographer Alva Johnston [GLD].

Continue reading Samuel Goldwyn’s Impossible Quote

These Are My Principles. If You Don’t Like Them I Have Others

Groucho Marx? American Legislator? Anonymous?

Dear Quotation Investigator: My favorite quip attributed to Groucho Marx is perfect for describing some politicians:

These are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others.

Was Groucho impersonating a politician when he said this?

Quote Investigator: It is not clear whether Groucho did employ this joke.  But your belief that it is associated with politicians does have strong evidentiary support. In fact, the joke has a long history, and a version was being told before Groucho was born. The connection with politicians goes back more then one hundred years.

Continue reading These Are My Principles. If You Don’t Like Them I Have Others

If You Remember the ’60s, You Really Weren’t There

Robin Williams? Charlie Fleischer? Paul Krassner? Paul Kantner? Grace Slick?

Dear Quotation Investigator: I lived through the 1960s, but the only thing I remember about it is the following quotation:

If you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t really there.

Does anyone recall who said this?

Quote Investigator: Yes, many people think they remember who said this. The problem is they disagree: Paul Kantner, Robin Williams, Paul Krassner, Pete Townshend, Grace Slick, Timothy Leary, and many others have been credited with the saying. Of course, no one who was there really remembers.

The earliest citation currently known by QI for this expression was found by the outstanding researcher Stephen Goranson.

The cite is a two-line article in the Comedy column of the Los Angeles Times in 1982: 1

EXIT LINE: Comedian Charlie Fleischer observes: “If you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there.”

Apparently it took all of the 1970s to recover from the 1960s and create the quip. Until further citations are located, Charles Fleischer gets the credit.

Notes:

  1. 1982 June 13, Los Angeles Times, The Comedy Column: Shandling Takes the Low-Key Road by Lawrence Christon, Page M60, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall? Practice!

Jascha Heifetz? Arthur Rubinstein? Generic Maestro?

Dear Quote Investigator: How old is that classic joke about one of New York City’s landmark venues?

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

Quote Investigator: Tracing jokes can be difficult because they can be told in so many ways. Etymologist Barry Popik is one of the most skilled practitioners of word and phrase tracing in the world, and he shares his results at the Big Apple website.

Popik has a web page about this quip that includes its earliest known appearance.

Continue reading How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall? Practice!

Two Things Are Infinite: the Universe and Human Stupidity

Albert Einstein? Frederick S. Perls? Anonymous? A Great Astronomer?

Dear Quote Investigator: I saw a comic strip titled “Baby Einstein” that contained three quotations that are usually attributed to Einstein. Are these quotes accurate? I am particularly interested in the second quotation:

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about th’universe!

Did Einstein really say that?

Quote Investigator: Probably not, but there is some evidence, and QI can tell you why the quote is attributed to Einstein. The story begins in the 1940s when the influential Gestalt therapist Frederick S. Perls wrote a book titled “Ego, Hunger, and Aggression: a Revision of Freud’s Theory and Method.”

Continue reading Two Things Are Infinite: the Universe and Human Stupidity