If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck I Wouldn’t Have Any Luck At All

Albert King? Booker T. Jones? William Bell? Dick Gregory? E. K. Means? Sidney Sutherland? Sidney Skolsky? Bill Brisson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular blues song from the 1960s contains the following memorable lament:

If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.

How old is this mordant quip? Would you please explore its history?

Quote Investigator: This saying is difficult to trace because it can be expressed in many ways. The earliest match located by QI occurred in a short story titled “At the End of the Rope” by E. K. Means (Eldred Kurtz Means) published in “Munsey’s Magazine” of New York in 1927. The tale was part of a series set in the fictional small town of Tickfall. The following passage employed nonstandard spelling. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“It wus a bad time for me when I come to Tickfall. I’m shore had bad luck; but ef dar warn’t no bad luck, I wouldn’t hab no luck at all.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck I Wouldn’t Have Any Luck At All

Notes:

  1. 1927 January, Munsey’s Magazine, Volume 89, Number 4, At the End of the Rope by E. K. Means, Short Story Series: Tickfall, Start Page 645, Quote Page 649, The Frank A. Munsey Company, New York. (Unz)

Events, My Dear Boy, Events

Harold Macmillan? Winston Churchill? Adam Raphael? Peter Kellner? Kenneth Fleet? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Public figures around the world have faced major difficulties in 2020. Several decades ago, a powerful British politician experienced a series of setbacks during a period of economic and social upheaval. A journalist asked him to identify the greatest challenge to his administration, and he replied:

Events, my dear boy, events.

Politicians of today may sympathize with this sentiment. Would you please help me to determine the name of the politician and the correct quotation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in “The Observer” newspaper of London in March 1984. Journalist Adam Raphael attributed the remark to Harold Macmillan who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 1957 and 1963. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Harold Macmillan was once asked what the most troubling problem of his Prime Ministership was. ‘Events, my dear boy, events,’ was his reply.

The phrase “was once asked” suggests that Raphael did not know when the quotation was spoken. Macmillan died in 1986 when he was 92 years old.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Events, My Dear Boy, Events

Notes:

  1. 1984 March 11, The Observer, Mrs T looks out of touch by Adam Raphael, Quote Page 4, Column 2, London, England. (Newspapers_com)

When They Say It’s Not About Money, It’s About Money

Abe Martin? Kin Hubbard? H. L. Mencken? Jim Courier? George Young? Gary Shelton? Mike Lupica? Dale Bumpers? Shannon Sharpe?

Dear Quote Investigator: Contract negotiations are tough, and disputes usually involve money. Yet, participants sometimes highlight other issues as paramount. Jaded observers have crafted the following dictum:

When they say it’s not about the money. Just remember, it is about the money.

Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the widely-syndicated newspaper feature “Abe Martin” in 1916. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

When a feller says: “It hain’t th’ money, but th’ principle o’ th’ thing,” it’s th’ money.

The “Abe Martin” illustration and accompanying words were crafted by Frank McKinney Hubbard who was best known as Kin Hubbard.
Thanks to quotation researcher Barry Popik who located the Hubbard citation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When They Say It’s Not About Money, It’s About Money

Notes:

  1. 1916 November 24, Franklin Evening News, Abe Martin, Syndicate: National Newspaper Service, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

“How Many People Work Here?” “About Half of Them”

Charles M. Schwab? Reed Smoot? Pope John XXIII? Fliegende Blätter? Edgar Wallace? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A visitor to a large business watched as numerous workers moved purposefully along the hallways into offices. The visitor approached the leader of the company and asked:

“This is such a busy place! How many people work here?”

The leader pondered the question carefully and replied:

“I would guess about forty percent.”

I have heard many versions of this joke. In one instance, the location was Vatican City, and the punchline was spoken by the Pope. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This anecdote is part of a large evolving family of tales. The ratio of workers to non-workers varies. The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the popular German humor magazine “Fliegende Blätter” in 1907. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Mißverstanden
„Wieviel Leute sind denn bei Euch im Bureau tätig?“
„Tätig? Na — zwei Drittel!“

The issue containing the joke was undated, but it was the eighth weekly issue of 1907, so it probably appeared around late February.

The first instance in English located by QI appeared in the New York magazine “Transatlantic Tales” within a filler item titled “Misunderstood”. The German source was acknowledged. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

Misunderstood
“How many people work in your office?”
“Work? Perhaps two-thirds of them.”
—Translated for Transatlantic Tales from “Fliegende Blätter.”

The cover date of “Transatlantic Tales” was November 1907, but the issue was available before the cover date. A newspaper in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania published a matching joke on October 19, 1907 while acknowledging “Transatlantic Tales” and noting that the original source was “Fliegende Blaetter”. 3 The word “Blaetter” was an alternative spelling of “Blätter”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “How Many People Work Here?” “About Half of Them”

Notes:

  1. 1907, Fliegende Blätter, Volume 126, Number 3213, Mißverstanden, Quote Page 92, Verlag Braun & Schneider, Munich, Germany. (Heidelberg historic literature – digitized; Access via digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de) link
  2. 1907 November, Transatlantic Tales, Volume 37, Number 1, Misunderstood (Filler item), Quote Page 97, Ess Ess Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1907 October 19, The Star-Independent, Misunderstood (Filler item), Quote Page 9, Column 7, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

There Is No Agony Like Bearing an Untold Story Inside You

Zora Neale Hurston? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Brilliant writers are often impelled to share a tale. Keeping an untold story inside can cause agony. The prominent author Zora Neale Hurston said something like this. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1942 Zora Neale Hurston published “Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography”. She discussed her landmark novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” which she composed “under internal pressure in seven weeks”. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

If writers were too wise, perhaps no books would be written at all. It might be better to ask yourself “Why?” afterwards than before. Anyway, the force from somewhere in Space which commands you to write in the first place, gives you no choice. You take up the pen when you are told, and write what is commanded. There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you. You have all heard of the Spartan youth with the fox under his cloak.

Hurston’s reference to a fox corresponded to an ancient episode illustrating the culture of Sparta which was recounted within “Plutarch’s Moralia”: 2

. . . when the boys with him had stolen a young fox alive, and given it to him to keep, and those who had lost the fox came in search for it, the boy happened to have slipped the fox under his garment. The beast, however, became savage and ate through his side to the vitals . . .

Sadly, the boy died. This metaphorical framework suggests that one should release the fox, i.e., one should share a tale which one holds inside. This action will allow one to live fully.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is No Agony Like Bearing an Untold Story Inside You

Notes:

  1. 1942, Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston, Chapter 11: Books and Things, Quote Page 220 and 221, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; facsimile reprinted in 1969 by Arno Press, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1931, Plutarch’s Moralia, Volume 3 of 14, English Translation by Frank Cole Babbitt (Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut), Series: The Loeb Classical Library, Sayings of the Spartans, Start Page 393, Quote Page 405 and 407, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans)

They Sicken of the Calm, Who Knew the Storm

Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: If you experience a wild and tumultuous love affair then you will probably become bored with an episode of staid affection. The famous wit Dorothy Parker wrote a poem on this topic containing the following elegant line:

They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.

Sometimes reference works present this quotation with the word “know” instead of “knew”. Would you please tell me which word is correct? Also, what is the name of this poem?

Quote Investigator: In 1928 Dorothy Parker published the poetry collection “Sunset Gun”. The following four lines are from her fourteen line poem titled “Fair Weather”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

I have a need of wilder, cruder waves;
They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.

So let a love beat over me again,
Loosing its million desperate breakers wide;

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Sicken of the Calm, Who Knew the Storm

Notes:

  1. 1941 (Copyright 1928), Sunset Gun: Poems by Dorothy Parker, Poem: Fair Weather, Quote Page 50, The Sun Dial Press, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)

Success Comes In Cans. I Can, You Can, We Can

A. K. Karlson? High School Motto? Evan Esar? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The word “can” designates the ability to accomplish a task. “Can” also specifies a container. I recall the following wordplay-based inspirational maxims:

  • Success comes in cans, failure in can’ts.
  • Success comes in cans—I can, you can, we can.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in “The Hartford Courant” of Connecticut in 1907. No attribution was specified for this anonymous adage: 1

MAXIM
For November 2nd.
SUCCESS COMES IN CANS. FAILURE IN CAN’TS.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Success Comes In Cans. I Can, You Can, We Can

Notes:

  1. 1907 November 2, The Hartford Courant, (Advertisement for insurance from The Mutual Benefit Company), Quote Page 08, Column 7, Hartford, Connecticut. (Newspapers_com)

You Have To Have a Dream So You Can Get Up in the Morning

Charlotte Chandler? Billy Wilder? Lyn Erhard? Stanley Kramer? Pablo Picasso?

Dear Quote Investigator: Your alarm clock sounds, and you wake up groggily. You press the snooze button to get ten more minutes of sleep. The alarm buzzes again, and you press the button again. How can you prevent this unhappy cycle?

Instead of returning to a chaotic dream while half asleep you should be pursuing an inspirational dream while awake. That was the message of a prominent movie director. His vision enabled him to rise with enthusiasm in the morning and achieve enormous success in Hollywood. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Charlotte Chandler is the pen name of Lyn Erhard. She is best known as the author of nine biographies. Early in her book writing career she published “The Ultimate Seduction” which was based on interviews she had conducted with famous people in the world of arts and entertainment such as director Billy Wilder and artist Pablo Picasso. The title of the 1984 book came from a comment she gathered from Picasso. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Always, you put more of yourself into your work, until one day, you never know exactly which day, it happens—you are your work. The passions that motivate you may change, but it is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction.”

A passage in “The Ultimate Seduction” about the importance of dreams began with a comment from Chandler followed by a cogent remark from Picasso: 2

The dream can be dreamed without any clear view of how to achieve it. Picasso said the most important step was the first one, “That you have the dream.”

The passage continued with a comment from Billy Wilder who directed influential and award-winning films such as “Double Indemnity”, “Some Like It Hot”, and “The Apartment”:

“You have to have a dream so you can get up in the morning,” Billy Wilder told me. “But that dream can’t stay the same all your life. If I’d been a boy in America, I would have dreamed of being a bat boy. But of course that dream couldn’t have sustained me all my life.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Have To Have a Dream So You Can Get Up in the Morning

Notes:

  1. 1984, The Ultimate Seduction by Charlotte Chandler, Part 1: The Drive To Get There, Quote Page 3, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1984, The Ultimate Seduction by Charlotte Chandler, Part 2: Getting There, Quote Page 108, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)

Two Necessities In Doing a Great and Important Work: A Definite Plan and Limited Time

Elbert Hubbard? H.C. Peters? Leonard Bernstein?

Dear Quote Investigator: Dreaming about accomplishing a vaguely defined magnificent task at some unknown future date is unhelpful. True progress is made by formulating a plan and adopting a clear deadline. This notion has been attributed to U.S. publisher Elbert Hubbard and U.S. composer Leonard Bernstein. Would you please explore this topic.

Quote Investigator: Aphorist Elbert Hubbard edited and published a journal called “The Fra” for an artisan community in East Aurora, New York. The September 1911 issue featured the following epigraph. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

TWO NECESSITIES IN DOING A GREAT AND IMPORTANT WORK: A DEFINITE PLAN AND LIMITED TIME

The journal issue included a short article by H.C. Peters that elaborated on this adage: 2

If I were trying to condense in a few words the best plan for efficient action, I would say: Have a definite thing to do and a limited time to do it. About fifty per cent of the people engaged in business never reach the point where they set their minds on doing some one definite thing . . .

It is left for the men who decide on a definite thing to do within a limited time, to keep the wheels of progress moving.

Apparently, H.C. Peters developed the core idea, and Elbert Hubbard crafted and popularized a concise statement. Alternatively, Hubbard constructed the adage, and he next asked Peters to write on the subject.

The saying evolved over time, and it was reassigned to Leonard Bernstein by 2002. Yet, Bernstein died in 1990; hence, the current evidence supporting this attribution is rather weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Two Necessities In Doing a Great and Important Work: A Definite Plan and Limited Time

Notes:

  1. 1911 September, The Fra, Volume 7, Number 6, (Epigraph on title page), Quote Page 161, Elbert Hubbard and The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1911 September, The Fra, Volume 7, Number 6, (Untitled Article) by H. C. Peters, Start Page xxxvi (36), Quote Page xxxvi (36), Elbert Hubbard and The Roycrofters, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

When You Are Young, You Have the Face Your Parents Gave You. After You Are Forty, You Have the Face You Deserve

George Orwell? Coco Chanel? Mae West? Ingrid Bergman? Albert Camus? Abraham Lincoln? Edwin M. Stanton? Lucius E. Chittenden? Albert Schweitzer? Maurice Chevalier? William H. Seward? Edward Lee Hawk? William Shakspeare? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A person’s true character can be deduced by the careful study of the face according to believers in physiognomy. This notion dates back to the ancient Greeks, but nowadays it is often considered pseudoscientific. Believers contend that the human visage changes over time, and authentic character eventually emerges. Here are three pertinent remarks:

  • At forty you have the face you deserve.
  • A man of 50 years is responsible for his looks
  • After thirty you have the face you have made yourself.

This family of statements includes elaborate multipart assertions. Here are two examples:

  • At 20 you have the face God gave you, at 40 you have the face that life has molded, and at 60 you have the face you deserve.
  • Nature gives you the face you have at twenty. Life shapes the face you have at thirty. But at fifty you get the face you deserve.

Remarks of this type have been credited to U.S. statesman Abraham Lincoln, fashion maven Coco Chanel, political writer George Orwell, French existentialist Albert Camus, movie star Ingrid Bergman, and others. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in “Recollections of President Lincoln and His Administration” by Lucius E. Chittenden who served as U.S. Register of the Treasury during Lincoln’s presidency. Chittenden told an anecdote about Edwin M. Stanton who served as Secretary of War for Lincoln. Stanton would sometimes judge a person harshly based on facial features. In the following dialog Stanton was conversing with an unnamed military officer about an underling in the War Department. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Did you ever in all your life see the head of a human being which so closely resembled that of a cod fish?”

He is not responsible for his head or his face. But why do you say he is a fraud? The newspapers call him a reformer, and give him credit for great efficiency.”

“I deny your conclusions,” he replied. “A man of fifty is responsible for his face! Yes, I know he is courting the newspapers: that proves him a humbug and presumptively a fraud.”

A few months later the official in question was found guilty by a court-martial of peculation and fraud in the management of his bureau and dishonorably expelled from the service.

Chittenden’s book of recollections was published in 1891. However, the episode above reportedly occurred many years earlier during Lincoln’s presidency which ended with his death in 1865. The accuracy of the quotation attributed to Stanton was dependent on the veracity of Chittenden who may have heard the tale second-hand.

This family of sayings has remained popular for many decades. Coco Chanel employed a multipart version in 1938. George Orwell penned an instance in one of his notebooks in 1949. Albert Camus published a version in 1956. Ingrid Bergman referred to the saying in 1957. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When You Are Young, You Have the Face Your Parents Gave You. After You Are Forty, You Have the Face You Deserve

Notes:

  1. 1891 Copyright, Recollections of President Lincoln and His Administration by L. E. Chittenden; Lincoln’s Register of The Treasury (Lucius Eugene Chittenden), Chapter 24, Quote Page 184, Harper & Brothers, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link