Military Command: Send Three and Fourpence. We’re Going to a Dance

World War I? World War II? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Years ago some military orders had to be sent via a series of radio relays. Each radio operator would listen to a command and then repeat it to the next operator in a series. If you have ever played the game “broken telephone” or “Chinese whispers” you may know the result of this process. Here is an example I heard of the initial military order and the final result:

Send reinforcements. We are going to advance.

Send three and fourpence. We are going to a dance.

Can you determine if there is any truth to this anecdote?  During which war did this happen? I think this tale may have been created before radio communication was common.

Quote Investigator: There are several interrelated stories about garbled communication during military exercises. The content of the messages varies, but the tales probably share a common ancestor because the message text overlaps. For example, the transformation of the phrase “send reinforcements” into “send three and fourpence” is a common feature of several anecdotes. The earliest version found by QI was published in 1914 under the title “Altered in Transit” in the “Temperance Caterer” periodical of London. This story may reflect the wishful thinking of hungry soldiers [HSTC]:

Whilst on manoeuvres, a brigadier commanding a certain brigade stationed in Aldershot passed the word to the nearest colonel to him :—

“Enemy advancing from the left flank. Send reinforcements.”

By the time it reached the end of the right flank the message was received :—

“Enemy advancing with ham-shanks. Send three and fourpence!”

A version similar to the one given by the questioner appeared by 1916. Over time the tale spinners exercised substantial creativity, and the messages started to refer to wild Italians and pressing pants. Some versions in the United States localized the currency and spoke of cents instead of pence.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Military Command: Send Three and Fourpence. We’re Going to a Dance

Creative Minds Are Rarely Tidy

Carl Gustav Jung? John William Gardner? A Wise Man? My Friend’s Pillow? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: I run a daily email quote list, and I try to do a quick Google search to see if I’ve got the correct attribution.  I came across your site and thank you for the help. Here is a stumper for you:

Creative minds are rarely tidy.

This maxim is credited to Carl Gustav Jung and several other individuals. Sometimes the attribution is Anonymous. Any ideas?

Quote Investigator: There is another common version of this saying that has been put into circulation more recently:

Creative minds are seldom tidy.

QI believes that the most likely creator of the initial maxim was John William Gardner who was once the President of the Carnegie Corporation and was the founder of the prominent advocacy organization Common Cause. He also helmed the Health, Education, and Welfare department during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.

In 1964 Gardner published “Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society,” and he used the adage without crediting anyone else (boldface added) [CTJG]:

It has been said that there is a stage in the life of a society (or organization or movement) in which the innovators and creative minds flower and a stage in which the connoisseurs and critics flower. Is it true that the heights of connoisseurship are achieved on the road to decadence? It is a highly debatable point, but not to be dismissed out of hand. Creative minds are rarely tidy.

Gardner also included in his book a version of the maxim that applied to larger groupings such as organizations instead of individuals [CTJG]. Both of these variants have been cited by later authors (boldface added):

Extremes of pluralism can lead to utter confusion. But creative organizations or societies are rarely tidy. Some tolerance for inconsistencies, for profusion of purposes and strategies, and for conflict is the price of freedom and vitality.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Creative Minds Are Rarely Tidy

I Feel Sure My “Woulds” And “Shoulds,” My “Wills” and “Shalls,” Are All Wrong

Oscar Wilde? Irishmen? Australian? Scot? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent English actor and author Stephen Fry once said something about Oscar Wilde that I found fascinating:

Oscar Wilde, and there have been few greater and more complete lords of language in the past thousand years, once included with a manuscript he was delivering to his publisher, a compliments slip in which he’d scribbled the injunction, “I’ll leave you to tidy up the woulds and shoulds, wills and shalls, thats and whichs etc.”

This remark was made during a program about language that is available on YouTube, and Fry’s claim can be heard around 1 minute and 45 seconds into the audio [SFYV] [SFLE]. However, I have yet to find any support for this assertion. Can you?

Quote Investigator: There is evidence that Oscar Wilde asked the editor of his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, to carefully examine his use of “wills” and “shalls” in the text and change them if necessary. The novel was published in 1891 by Ward, Lock, and Company after it initially appeared in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890. Coulson Kernahan who worked for the book publisher wrote a memoir that discussed his interactions with Wilde during the preparation of the manuscript [OWCK]:

When The Picture of Dorian Grey was in the press, Wilde came in to see me one morning.

“My nerves are all to pieces,” he said, “and I’m going to Paris for a change. Here are the proofs of my novel. I have read them very carefully, and I think all is correct with one exception. Like most Irishmen, I sometimes write ‘I will be there,’ when it should be ‘I shall be there,’ and so on. Would you, like a dear good fellow, mind going through the proofs, and if you see any ‘wills’ or ‘shalls’ used wrongly, put them right and then pass for press? Of course, if you should spot anything else that strikes you as wrong, I’d be infinitely obliged if you would make the correction.”

I agreed, went through proofs, made the necessary alterations, and passed for press.

The word ‘Grey’ is used in the passage above instead of the expected ‘Gray’ because Kernahan used ‘Grey’ when he specified the title of Wilde’s work. The personal recollections of Kernahan were printed in 1917 and included anecdotes about other figures, e.g., Algernon Charles Swinburne, Theodore Watts-Dunton, and Edward Whymper.

Another piece of evidence showing Wilde’s lack of assuredness in this grammatical domain is contained in a personal letter he sent to his friend Robert Ross in 1898. Wilde asked Ross to examine and correct his “woulds” and “shoulds,” and his “wills” and “shalls.” The details are presented immediately below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Feel Sure My “Woulds” And “Shoulds,” My “Wills” and “Shalls,” Are All Wrong

Yes, I Am Drunk, But You Are Ugly. Tomorrow I Will Be Sober, And You Will Still Be Ugly

Winston Churchill? W. C. Fields? Mr. Robinson? Dr. Tanner? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous anecdote featuring Winston Churchill and the British politician Bessie Braddock that might be fictional. Supposedly Braddock encountered an intoxicated Churchill, and she expressed her displeasure. The rejoinder was harsh:

“Sir, you are drunk.”
“And you, Bessie, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly.”

Was this dialog genuine or concocted? Would you please explore this tale?

Quote Investigator: This interaction is a member of a family of anecdotes which has a very long history with different individuals in the roles. A variant tale appeared in 1863 within the “Urbana Union” newspaper of Urbana, Ohio which published the following short item. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The drunken fellow’s reply to the reprimand of a temperance lecture, delivered in some of the stupid forms of that order of men is worth remembering. “I’m drunk-but-I’ll get over that pretty soon; but you’re a fool-and you’ll never get over that.”

The barb above was aimed at a foolish person instead of an ugly person. Yet, the joke template was the same. A separate QI article centered on early tales using the word “fool” is available here.

The remainder of this article discusses tales set in 1882 and afterward including stories involving the U.K. Parliament, W.C. Fields, and Winston Churchill. The examination of the latter tale incorporates testimony from a bodyguard

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Yes, I Am Drunk, But You Are Ugly. Tomorrow I Will Be Sober, And You Will Still Be Ugly

Notes:

  1. 1863 July 1, Urbana Union, (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Urbana, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar

Sigmund Freud? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, was famous for interpreting symbols with special emphasis on the imagery in dreams. In photos he was often shown smoking a cigar, and that is why I always found the following quotation attributed to him very amusing:

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Did Freud really say this, or was it made up by a prankster?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this saying that QI has located appeared in a footnote in the medical journal “Psychiatry” in 1950. In an article titled “The Place of Action in Personality Change” the author Allen Wheelis discussed the importance of considering both the conscious and the unconscious aims of an action. He stated that sometimes the conscious aims were largely a cover for the unconscious aims, but he cautioned in a footnote that the analyst should not always assume that is true [SFAW]:

This is still an occupational hazard of psychoanalysis—thirty years after Freud’s famous remark that “a cigar is sometimes just a cigar.”

Based on the “thirty years” time span indicated by Wheelis the comment by Freud would have been made in 1920. Yet, no evidence for an earlier statement has been uncovered to date. Freud lived from 1856 to 1939. This lack of documentation is particularly odd because of the assertion that the saying was “famous” in 1950. The word order differs slightly from the most popular modern version.

In 2001 Alan C. Elms, a psychology professor at the University of California at Davis, published an article about three well-known sayings attributed to the renowned psychoanalyst: “Apocryphal Freud: Sigmund Freud’s Most Famous ‘Quotations’ and Their Actual Sources.” Elms reported on an extensive investigation of the cigar quip, and he argued that it was almost certainly apocryphal [SFAE]:

In this case, however, not only do we lack any written record of Freud as the direct source, but also there are many reasons to conclude that Freud never said it or anything like it.

Elms also asked a German colleague, Eva Schepeler, if she had seen a German version of the saying:

But despite her wide reading of psychoanalytic and popular literature in her native language, she does not recall ever having seen the quotation printed in a German publication.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar

The Market Can Remain Irrational Longer Than You Can Remain Solvent

John Maynard Keynes? A. Gary Shilling? Harold R. Evensky? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The gyrations of financial markets can be startling. I am reminded of the following words of wisdom attributed to the economist John Maynard Keynes:

The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

Supposedly Keynes said this after he performed a series of highly leveraged trades, and he was humbled by the market. Yet, I have become skeptical of the attribution because the great economist died in 1946, and the earliest evidence I have seen appeared decades after the 1940s. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1986 “The Advertiser” newspaper of Montgomery, Alabama reported on a presentation given by an influential financial advisor. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A. Gary Shilling, twice named Wall Street’s top economist in a poll conducted by Institutional Investor magazine, told more than 100 guests in an AmSouth Bank meeting room that the investment situation has completely reversed itself . . .

He also warned that “markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent.”

The next evidence for this saying appeared in a column by A. Gary Shilling in Forbes magazine in February 1993. Keynes was not mentioned when the aphorism was employed by Shilling: 2

Above all, in 1993 remember this: Markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent.

The journalist Jason Zweig was working at Forbes in 1993, and he believes that he heard the expression “numerous times” before Shilling’s column appeared. He thinks the phrase was in use by the late 1980s. 3 So Shilling may not be the originator though his name is connected to the earliest and strongest written evidence.

Another remark that has been credited to Keynes for decades may have influenced the attribution of this statement:

There is nothing so disastrous as a rational investment policy in an irrational world.

There is a conceptual overlap between these two quotations, and they share the focal word “irrational.” The reassignment of the statement from Shillings to Keynes may have been facilitated by the existence of this earlier saying. This link leads to the previous QI article exploring this alternative comment.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Market Can Remain Irrational Longer Than You Can Remain Solvent

Notes:

  1. 1986 December 3, The Advertiser (The Montgomery Advertiser), Economist Advises Change In Investment Strategy by Coke Ellington (Advertiser Business Editor), Quote Page 4B, Column 3, Montgomery, Alabama. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1993 February 15, Forbes, Scoreboard by A. Gary Shilling, Page 236, Volume 151, Issue 4, Forbes Inc., New York. (ProQuest)
  3. Personal communication from Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal to Garson O’Toole. Email dated August 15, 2011.

There Is Nothing So Disastrous As a Rational Investment Policy In an Irrational World

John Maynard Keynes? Milton Friedman? A. Gary Shilling? Albert J. Hettinger, Jr.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Forbes magazine has a fascinating searchable database called “Thoughts On The Business of Life” that contains “more than 10,000 quotes.” The following saying interests me, but the database doesn’t appear to include citations so I am not sure if it is accurate [MKFQ]:

There is nothing so disastrous as a rational investment policy in an irrational world.

— John Maynard Keynes

Can you find out when and where Keynes said this?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence QI has located for this saying is dated 1963. It appeared in the book “A Monetary History of the United States 1867-1960” by Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz, but the words were not written by Friedman or Schwartz. Near the end of the volume a commentary by Albert J. Hettinger, Jr. was appended and the following passage was included [AHMK]:

And Lord Keynes, here a “decision maker,” told the 1931 annual meeting of the investment trust of which he was chairman: “I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that nothing is more suicidal than a rational investment policy in an irrational world” (quoted from memory, without verification of exact phraseology).

So Hettinger in 1963 presented a quotation that he attributed to Keynes speaking in 1931. But Hettinger explicitly disclaimed knowledge of the precise wording used by Keynes. Later writers used a different phrasing that replaced “more suicidal than” with “so disastrous as” to yield the most common modern version of the saying.

Keynes died in 1946. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is Nothing So Disastrous As a Rational Investment Policy In an Irrational World

The Fable of the Lion and the Gazelle

Thomas Friedman? Dan Montano? Arthur M. Blank? Sue Tabor? Herb Caen? Christopher McDougall? Roger Bannister? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator:  Last year I saw a motivational poster with a portrait of a lion. The text was a fable about lions and gazelles, and the title was something like the “The Key to Survival.” Paraphrasing: To survive the lion must catch the gazelle and the gazelle must outrun the lion. Do you recognize this saying, and do you know who created it?

Quote Investigator: Thomas Friedman helped to popularize the proverb about the lion and the gazelle by including it in his 2005 bestseller “The World is Flat” 1. He said that a sign written in Mandarin on the factory floor of an auto parts manufacturer in China recounted the tale. Friedman labeled the passage an “African proverb” and did not attempt to determine its origin. The quotation was disseminated via multiple avenues including his book and a motivational poster with the title “The Essence of Survival” that reprinted the text.

The earliest instance located by QI appeared in the Economist magazine in 1985 in an article titled “Lions or gazelles?” where the words were credited to a securities analyst named Dan Montano: 2

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

Stockbrokers and bankers at a recent London conference on financial technology* laughed appreciatively at this sally from Mr. Dan Montano of Montano Securities, an American equities dealer. They chuckled, perhaps, a touch indulgently at predictable American excess.

* The Stock Exchange: Deregulation and New Technology: Oyez International Business Communications. London June 5th and 6th.

Montano may have constructed this proverb himself, or he may have relayed words that he heard or read elsewhere. The Economist gave no other ascription. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Fable of the Lion and the Gazelle

Notes:

  1. 2005, The World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman, Page 114, [1st edition], Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. (Amazon Look Inside)
  2. 1985 July 6, Economist, Special added section: “The other dimension: Technology and the City of London: A survey”, “Lions or gazelles?”, Page 37, Economist Newspaper Ltd., London. (Verified on microfilm)

Golf: Hit a Very Small Ball into an Even Smaller Hole, with Weapons Singularly Ill-Designed for the Purpose

Winston Churchill? Woodrow Wilson? George Curzon? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Friends know I am an avid golfer and recently a book of quotations about the sport was given to me as a present. This quote from Winston Churchill captures the exasperation I feel when attempting to chip my ball near to the pin [GBGQ]:

Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.

When I tried to determine when Churchill uttered this assessment I discovered that some people think former President Woodrow Wilson was really responsible for the saying. Maybe you can resolve this question?

Quote Investigator: Variants of this saying have been attributed to both Churchill and Wilson for decades, but the earliest example located by QI occurred in 1892 in the famed London humor magazine Punch. The article “Confessions of a Duffer” by an unnamed contributor included a version of the quotation that used somewhat different phrasing [PLDG]:

Almost everybody now knows that Golf is not Hockey. Nobody runs after the ball except young ladies at W-m-n! The object is to put a very small ball into a very tiny and remotely distant hole, with engines singularly ill adapted for the purpose.

The term with deleted letters: “W-m-n” may have referred to Wimbledon, London. In May 1891 a membership group of 145 women opened their own nine-hole golf course on Wimbledon Common land [RWGC]. The term “engines” referred to the golf clubs used to propel the ball around the course as shown in the following:

There are many engines. First there is the Driver, a long club, wherewith the ball is supposed to be propelled from the tee, a little patch of sand.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Golf: Hit a Very Small Ball into an Even Smaller Hole, with Weapons Singularly Ill-Designed for the Purpose

My Customers Would Have Asked For a Faster Horse

Henry Ford? Edward Menge? Lewis Mumford? Sedgewick Seti? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The preeminent automotive industrialist Henry Ford is credited with a saying that has become very popular in the business literature. Here are two versions:

  1. If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
  2. If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.

But I can find no good evidence that Ford ever said this. It’s a great line, and I am curious to know who came up with it.

Quote Investigator: The earliest linkage known to QI between the saying and Henry Ford appeared in “The Cruise Industry News Quarterly” in 1999. John McNeece, a cruise ship designer, speculated about the desires of Henry Ford’s potential customers. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

John McNeece: “There is a problem trying to figure out what people want by canvassing them. I mean, if Henry Ford canvassed people on whether or not he should build a motor car, they’d probably tell him what they really wanted was a faster horse.

Interestingly, the words above were not credited directly to Ford. The earliest ascription to Ford that QI has located appeared in a letter sent to the UK publication Marketing Week in 2001: 2

Being market-led implies being led by the consumer — and consumers are bad at coming up with innovations (Henry Ford’s quote: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse” springs to mind…)

Yet Henry Ford died in 1947, so the evidence connecting him to the quotation appears to be very weak. Oddly, Henry Ford’s great-grandson William Clay Ford Jr. used the remark in 2006 and indicated that the attribution was accurate.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading My Customers Would Have Asked For a Faster Horse

Notes:

  1. 1999 Summer, The Cruise Industry News Quarterly, Volume 9, Number 37, Article: Creating Cruise Ships with an Eye on Next Generation, Author: Greg Miller, Start Page 67, Quote Page 67, Publisher: Oivind Mathisen & Angela Reale Mathisen, New York. (Verified visually; thanks to the staff of Hubert Library of Florida International University)
  2. 2001 January 18, Marketing Week, Innovation: ‘breaks conventions’, [Letter from David Lowings, Chief executive, 42 consulting, Maidenhead], Centaur Media plc., London. (Accessed website marketingweek.co.uk on 2011 July 28) link