The Plural of Anecdote Is Not Data

Kenneth Kernaghan? P.K. Kuruvilla? Paul Samuelson? Edith Greene? Irwin S. Bernstein? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Each datum in a collection of data may be considered a story. Yet, it is often difficult to make rigorous conclusions based on a motley collection of anecdotes. Scientific data should be collected in a methodical manner according to a well-specified protocol. This viewpoint is concisely stated as follows:

The plural of anecdote is not data.

Would you please explore the history of this statement?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in an article by Kenneth Kernaghan and P. K. Kuruvilla in the journal “Canadian Public Administration” in 1982. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

In that the plural of the word anecdote is not data, it is difficult to provide hard information on selection problems.

The citation above is listed in the valuable reference “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” from Yale University Press.

Interestingly, the same expression without the negation is also an adage which has been explored by QI in a separate article here.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 202, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified in Dictionary of Modern Proverbs) (Citation for adage – not yet verified by QI: 1982 Kenneth Kernaghan, “Merit and Motivation: Public Personnel Management in Canada,” Canadian Public Administration 25: 703; text is visible in a snippet from the Google Books database)

The Plural of Anecdote is Data

Raymond Wolfinger? Roger G. Noll? Richard F. Fenno Jr.? Daniel Patrick Moynihan? George Stigler? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An anecdote is a single fact or datum. When many of these facts are combined the collection is naturally called data. Apparently, a social scientist coined the following saying:

The plural of anecdote is data.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest known instance appeared in a 1980 book chapter titled “The Game of Health Care Regulation” by Roger G. Noll. This citation is listed in the valuable reference “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” from Yale University Press. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Most of the evidence is anecdotal. Nevertheless, in the words of a leading political scientist, Raymond Wolfinger, the plural of anecdote is data, and the data seem to be consistent with the theory.

This is an illuminating statement, but it is important to recognize that data used in scientific experiments should be gathered in a systematic manner according to a well-defined protocol. A haphazard group of anecdotes typically do not yield a good data set. Hence, the negation of the expression above is an adage to some researchers:

The plural of anecdote is not data.

This adage is explored by QI in a separate article here. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro, Quote Page 202, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified in Dictionary of Modern Proverbs) (Citation for adage – not yet verified by QI: 1980 Roger G. Noll, “The Game of Health Care Regulation,” in Issues in Health Care Regulation, edited by Richard S. Gordon (New York: McGraw-Hill) 136; text is visible in a snippet from the Google Books database)

There Is Nothing Sadder in This World Than To Awake Christmas Morning and Not Be a Child

Erma Bombeck? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular humorist Erma Bombeck once wrote about the melancholy feelings of some Christmas celebrants when they leave childhood behind. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1967 Erma Bombeck wrote the following in her syndicated column, Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

There is nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.

Not to feel the cold on your bare feet as you rush to the Christmas tree in the living room. Not to have your eyes sparkle at the wonderment of discovery. Not to rip the ribbons off the shiny boxes with such abandon.

One more citation and a conclusion appears below.

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Notes:

  1. 1967 December 22, Courier-Post, Where Was the Wonder Lost: Joy to the Little Ones: You Can’t Take Child Out of Christmas by Erma Bombeck, Quote Page 19, Column 1, Camden, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)

Observe the Postage Stamp—Its Usefulness Depends Upon Its Ability to Stick to One Thing Till It Gets There

Josh Billings? Elmira Gazette? Charles Frohman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Soon people will be making resolutions for the New Year. The popular U.S. humorist Josh Billings reportedly made an apropos remark about steadfastness. Here are two versions:

  • Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there.
  • A postage stamp is a mighty small thing, but it sticks to one thing until it gets there.

I have been unable to find a solid citation for Billings. Would you please help trace this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the “Elmira Gazette” of Elmira, New York in December 1893. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

My son, observe the postage stamp—its usefulness depends upon its ability to stick to one thing till it gets there.

The article containing the statement was titled “Jocular Jots”, and it included one other comical remark. No ascriptions were provided.

Josh Billings died in 1885, and based on current evidence he did not craft this saying although it was attributed to him by 1895. See the citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1893 December 27, Elmira Gazette (Star-Gazette), Jocular Jots, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Elmira, New York. (Newspapers_com)

The Place Where Your Talent Meets the World’s Needs Is the Job God Has in Mind for You

Aristotle? Marcus Bach? Albert Schweitzer? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Did the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle secretly work at a job placement agency? Probably not, but a popular family of sayings about career choice has been attributed to him. Here are three examples:

  • Where your talents and the world’s needs cross, there lies your calling.
  • When the needs of the world and your skills intersect, therein lies your vocation.
  • One’s purpose is merely knowing where one’s talents and the needs of the world intersect.

I have been unable to find a solid citation for Aristotle? Would you please examine the origin of this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has not yet found any substantive evidence connecting these words to Aristotle.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a speech delivered at a high school graduation ceremony in 1954 by Dr. Marcus Bach of the State University of Iowa School of Religion. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I’m just optimistic enough to believe that God has given you some sort of call. You’ll discover that the place where your talent meets the world’s needs is the job God has in mind for you.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1954 May 25, Carrol Daily Times Herald, Athletic Award Is Presented to Ed Champion, Start Page 1, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Carroll, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)

Diplomacy Frequently Consists in Soothingly Saying “Nice Doggie” Until You Have a Chance to Pick Up a Rock

Will Rogers? Walter Trumbull? Franklin Rodman? Frances Rodman? Robert Phelps? Wynn Catlin? Harold Winkler? Robert Phelps?
Dear Quote Investigator: The reassuring words of a diplomat may sharply diverge from the true agenda of the envoy. The following metaphor depicts hidden hostility:

Diplomacy is the art of being able to say “nice doggie” until you have time to pick up a rock.

The popular humorist Will Rogers receives credit for this expression, but I do not think he made many jokes with this type of implied cruelty. Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in September 1925 in “The Honolulu Advertiser” of Hawaii. The saying occurred within a miscellaneous set of statements printed under the title “The Week in Epigram”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Diplomacy frequently consists in soothingly saying “Nice doggie” until you have a chance to pick up a rock—Walter Trumbull.

The name Walter Trumbull was ambiguous, but it probably referred to a sports writer for the North American Newspaper Alliance who also reprinted the quip in his column in 1931.

The attribution to Will Rogers occurred by the 1980s which was very late, and QI believes the linkage was spurious.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1925 September 14, The Honolulu Advertiser, The Week in Epigram, Quote Page 10, Column 3, Honolulu, Hawaii. (Newspapers_com)

Liberty Don’t Work as Good in Practice as It Does in Speech

Will Rogers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular American humorist Will Rogers once made a memorable remark about liberty. Unfortunately, the precise phrasing was not memorable enough. Here are several versions:

  • Liberty don’t work as good in practice as in speech.
  • Liberty don’t work as good in practice as it does in speech.
  • Liberty don’t work as good in practice as it does in speeches.
  • Liberty doesn’t work as well in practice as it does in speeches.
  • Liberty don’t work near as good in practice as it does in speeches.

Would you please help me to determine whether Will Rogers really delivered one of these lines?

Quote Investigator: In 1927 a collection of pieces by Will Rogers was published under the title “There’s Not a Bathing Suit in Russia & Other Bare Facts”. Rogers composed the following adage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Liberty don’t work as good in practice as it does in Speech.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1927, There’s Not a Bathing Suit in Russia & Other Bare Facts by Will Rogers, Chapter 5, Quote Page 101 and 102, Albert & Charles Boni, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Plays Are Not Written—They Are Rewritten

Steele MacKaye? Dion Boucicault? W. S. Gilbert? Sanford B. Hooker? David Belasco? Daniel Frohman? William M. Tanner? Walter Winchell? James Thurber? Michael Crichton?

Dear Quote Investigator: A magnificent work of art emerges in its final form like Venus from a scallop shell; no modifications are required according to one unrealistic approach to creativity. Numerous writers and composers strongly disagree and emphasize the need for painstaking refinement. A family of sayings highlights this process:

  • Great novels are not written, they are rewritten.
  • A stage play is not written but rewritten.
  • Good stories are not written but are re-written.
  • The secret of good writing is rewriting.

Would you please examine the provenance of this family?

Quote Investigator: In July 1889 the popular U.S. playwright and actor Steele MacKaye published in several newspapers a piece titled “How Plays Are Written: They Are the Product of Study and Patient Toil”. The first line presented his thesis. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Plays are not written—they are rewritten.
In this lies the advantage of the creative, as distinct from the critical, literature of the stage.

By 1894 the saying had been reassigned to the Irish actor and playwright Dion Boucicault, and by 1903 W. S. Gilbert had been assigned a variant referring to comic operas. Yet, the earliest evidence currently points to Steele MacKaye as crafter of the statement.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1889 July 28, Democrat and Chronicle, How Plays Are Written: They Are the Product of Study and Patient Toil: So Says Steele MacKaye (Written for the Democrat and Chronicle), Quote Page 9, Column 4, Rochester, New York. (Newspapers_com)

I Don’t Know, Probably Made My Usual C

Frederick W. Smith? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: During the holidays I often spot FedEx vehicles delivering packages. While the business is very successful today it faced considerable skepticism initially. According to company legend the founder Frederick W. Smith described his plans for creating the company in a paper when he was an undergraduate, but the professor who evaluated the idea deemed it infeasible and gave him a low grade. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 2004 a journalist at “BusinessWeek” (now “Bloomberg Businessweek”) asked Frederick W. Smith about this tale, and Smith expressed uncertainty. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Q: Part of the lore of FedEx is that you wrote a term paper while a grad student at Yale that first explored the idea of an overnight-delivery service — and that you received a C from a skeptical professor. Was that term paper truly the genesis of FedEx?

A: The question is prescient because there wasn’t a single “eureka” moment. The original idea for FedEx came when I wrote a term paper as an undergraduate — not as a graduate student, because I never went to graduate school . . .

That was the paper, and the whole issue about the C on the grade, came from naivete on my part when I was talking to a reporter years and years ago, and he asked what I made. I said, “I don’t know, probably made my usual C.”

The “BusinessWeek” journalist attempted a second time to obtain a more definitive answer:

Q: So did you, or did you not make the infamous C on the term paper?

A: I don’t know. It was so long ago, even when that question was asked 20 years ago, I didn’t know. I’ve tried to correct it many times, and usually when a journalist like you listens to the story and realizes how complex the story is, you realize it would take your whole profile to explain it.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 2004 September 20, BusinessWeek (now Bloomberg Businessweek), Online Extra: Fred Smith on the Birth of FedEx, Description in article: “Smith recently sat down with BusinessWeek Atlanta Bureau Chief Dean Foust”. (Online Bloomberg Businessweek; accessed bloomberg.com on December 12, 2017) link

In God We Trust; All Others Cash

Pennsylvanian Merchant? New York Merchant? Portland Merchant?

Dear Quote Investigator: Today credit cards are commonplace in the U.S., but in the past many shopkeepers hesitated to extend credit to customers. Occasionally, reluctant businesses displayed a humorous sign:

In God We Trust. All Others Pay Cash

The phrase “In God We Trust” has a long history. Its prominence grew when it appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864. The sign twisted this well-known expression. Would you please examine the history of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in “The Philadelphia Inquirer” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 4, 1877: 1

Dull Times have driven many merchants to the cash system, and they are now ornamenting their stores with mottoes such as: “Pay to-day, trust to-morrow;” “If I trust, I bust;” “In God we trust; all others cash.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1877 April 4, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Gleanings by Late Mails, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)