Oh, A Wondrous Bird Is The Pelican! His Beak Holds More Than His Belican

Dixon Lanier Merritt? Ogden Nash? Jeff McLemore? Bennett Cerf? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A comical poem about the pelican uses a creative rhyming scheme with the word “pelican” matched to the invented words “belican” (belly can) and “helican” (hell he can). Would you please explore the provenance of this work?

Quote Investigator: The “Nashville Banner” newspaper of Tennessee published a long-running column by Dixon Lanier Merritt called “Along the By-Paths”. The column dated April 22, 1913 included a poem about a pelican; however, Merritt disclaimed credit for the work. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Post card poetry doesn’t appeal much to the By-Paths but the following came from Clarksville. A gentleman received it from his best girl. It is pretty good—for Clarksville—even to have been received there. Take it for what it is worth:

Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican!
His beak holds more than his belican.
He takes in his beak
Food enough for a week.
But I’ll be darned if I know how the helican.

Merritt’s disclaimer meant that the authorship of the limerick was anonymous, and it remains so. Yet, in modern times it has often been incorrectly ascribed to Merritt.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Oh, A Wondrous Bird Is The Pelican! His Beak Holds More Than His Belican

Notes:

  1. 1913 April 22, Nashville Banner, Along the By-Paths by Dixon Merritt, Quote Page 8, Column 6, Nashville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)

Fashion Is Architecture: It Is a Matter of Proportions

Coco Chanel? Marcel Haedrich? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Did the famous fashion designer and style arbiter Coco Chanel say that “fashion Is architecture”? Would you please help me to find a citation showing the context?

Quote Investigator: Coco Chanel died in 1971, and in that same year Marcel Haedrich authored a biography in French titled “Coco Chanel Secrète”. The following year Haedrich’s work was translated by Charles Lam Markmann and published under the title “Coco Chanel: Her Life, Her Secrets”. A section called “She Said” printed a collection of remarks from Chanel including the following adage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Fashion Is Architecture: It Is a Matter of Proportions

Notes:

  1. 1972, Coco Chanel: Her Life, Her Secrets by Marcel Haedrich, Translated from French to English by Charles Lam Markmann, Chapter 21: Coco at Work, Section: She Said, Quote Page 252, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)

Appalling Silence of the Good People

Martin Luther King Jr.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Civil rights champion Martin Luther King Jr. expressed unhappiness with people who were unwilling to support his efforts due to apathy or fear. He used the phrase “appalling silence”. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1958 Martin Luther King Jr. published “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story” which included the following pertinent passage. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

If the moderates of the white South fail to act now, history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only for the acts and words of the children of darkness but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light.

King used the phrase several times as shown in the selected citations in chronological order listed below.

Continue reading Appalling Silence of the Good People

Notes:

  1. 1958, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story by Martin Luther King Jr., Chapter 11: Where Do We Go From Here?, Quote Page 202, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)

The Problem With Television Is That the People Must Sit and Keep Their Eyes Glued on a Screen; the Average American Family Hasn’t Time for It

The New York Times? Orrin E. Dunlap Jr.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Wildly inaccurate predictions are always amusing. Apparently, an article in “The New York Times” contended that television broadcasting would never surpass radio broadcasting because people would never be willing to sit and stare at a screen for hours on end. Would you please help me to find a citation.

Quote Investigator: In 1939 “The New York Times” printed a piece titled “Act I, Scene I: Telecasts to Homes Begin on April 30—World’s Fair Will Be the Stage” by Orrin E. Dunlap Jr., a journalist who specialized in covering the radio industry. Dunlap spoke to the program director of the National Broadcasting Company who discussed the challenges of the new entertainment format. The intimacy of the television medium required a different style of performance. Broad theatrical gestures were unappealing to audiences. Newsman Dunlap also articulated the skepticism of radio broadcasters. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

The problem with television is that the people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it. Therefore, the showmen are convinced that for this reason, if for no other, television will never be a serious competitor of broadcasting.

Dunlap correctly noted that radio allowed people to “listen and go about their household duties and routine”. Yet, that advantage was insufficient to hold back the burgeoning television age.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Problem With Television Is That the People Must Sit and Keep Their Eyes Glued on a Screen; the Average American Family Hasn’t Time for It

Notes:

  1. 1939 March 19, The New York Times, Act I, Scene I: Telecasts to Homes Begin on April 30—World’s Fair Will Be the Stage by Orrin E. Dunlap Jr., Quote Page 14, Column 2, New York. (ProQuest)

If You Watch a Lot of TV, You’re Not Considered Well-Viewed

Lily Tomlin? Jane Wagner? Barbara Rowes? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: People who read numerous books are perceived positively by society. The term “well-read” implies knowledgeable and discerning. However, people who view television for endless hours are perceived negatively. The term “well-viewed” is uncommon. I have only heard it used within the punchline of a joke from comedian Lily Tomlin. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1979 compilation “The Book of Quotes” edited by Barbara Rowes. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

If you read a lot of books, you’re considered well-read. But if you watch a lot of TV, you’re not considered well-viewed.
—Lily Tomlin

Interestingly, Lily Tomlin’s personal website includes a webpage listing a collection of jokes. The statement under investigation is ascribed to Jane Wagner who is Tomlin’s longtime collaborator and wife: 2

If you read a lot of books, you’re considered well-read. But if you watch a lot of TV, you’re not considered well-viewed. – written by Jane Wagner for Lily’s act

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Watch a Lot of TV, You’re Not Considered Well-Viewed

Notes:

  1. 1979, The Book of Quotes, Compiled by Barbara Rowes, Chapter 23: Tube, Quote Page 211, A Sunrise Book: E. P. Dutton, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. Website: Tomlin Wagner, Webpage title: Lily speaks, Date: Quotation present on November 24, 2012 within snapshot in Internet Wayback Machine, Description: Classic section of comedian Lily Tomlin’s personal website. (Accessed classic.lilytomlin.com on June 16, 2020) link

Nothing Is Ugly as Long as It Is Alive

Coco Chanel? Marcel Haedrich? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Did the famous fashion designer and style arbiter Coco Chanel say that “nothing is ugly”? Would you please help me to find a citation showing the context?

Quote Investigator: Coco Chanel died in 1971, and in that same year Marcel Haedrich authored a biography in French titled “Coco Chanel Secrète”. The following year Haedrich’s work was translated by Charles Lam Markmann and published under the title “Coco Chanel: Her Life, Her Secrets”. A section called “She Said” printed a collection of remarks from Chanel including the following: 1

Nothing is ugly as long as it is alive. Women tell me: “I have rather thick legs.” I ask them: “Do they support you? That’s what matters. The legs carry you, you don’t carry them. Stop thinking about it; that is not what will make you happy.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
The passage above appeared in 1971 as follows in the original French within “Coco Chanel Secrète”: 2

Rien n’est laid, du moment que c’est vivant. Des femmes me disent : « J’ai des jambes un peu grosses… » Je leur demande : « Elles vous portent ? C’est l’essentiel. Les jambes vous portent, on ne les porte pas. N’y pensez plus, ce n’est pas cela qui rend heureux. »

In 1972 the English language edition of “Vogue” magazine published a piece under Haedrich’s byline titled “Chanel: What She Knew That You Should Know Now About Life, Love ,Taste, Fashion”. The quotation was included. 3 Thus, Chanel’s comment achieved further circulation.

The 1977 reference “The Quotable Woman: 1800-1975” compiled by Elaine Partnow included this entry with a supporting citation: 4

Coco Chanel (1883-1971)
Nothing is ugly as long as it is alive.
Quoted in Coco Chanel, Her Life, Her Secrets by Marcel Haedrich

In conclusion Coco Chanel deserves credit for this quotation based on the testimony of her biographer Marcel Haedrich.

Image Notes: Illustration from “Les Élégances parisiennes” with publication date Juillet 1916. Image accessed via gallica.bnf.fr. Caption says: COSTUMES DE JERSEY: Modèles de Gabrielle Channel. (The correct spelling is Chanel). Image has been cropped and resized.

Notes:

  1. 1972, Coco Chanel: Her Life, Her Secrets by Marcel Haedrich, Translated from French to English by Charles Lam Markmann, Chapter 21: Coco at Work, Section: She Said, Quote Page 253 and 254, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1971, Coco Chanel Secrète by Marcel Haedrich, Chapter 21: Coco au travail, Section: Elle disait, Quote Page 307, Éditions Robert Laffont, Paris. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1972 May 1, Vogue, Volume 159, Issue 9, Features: Chanel: What She Knew That You Should Know Now About Life, Love ,Taste, Fashion by Marcel Haedrich, Start Page 164, Quote Page 165, Column 2, The Condé Nast Publications Inc., New York. (ProQuest)
  4. 1977, The Quotable Woman: 1800-1975, Compiled and edited by Elaine Partnow, Entry: Coco Chanel (1883-1971), Quote Page 186, Corwin Books, Los Angeles, California. (Verified with scans)

Patriotism is the Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

Samuel Johnson? James Boswell? Samuel Maunder? Henry F. Mason? Bernard J. Sheil? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A politician whose popularity is dropping may attempt to recapture acceptance by disingenuously embracing jingoistic patriotism. Here are three versions of a germane saying:

  • Pretended patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.
  • Patriotism is the first refuge of a scoundrel.
  • Patriotism is the scoundrel’s last refuge.

Would you please help me to identify an accurate version of this saying together with the identity of its creator?

Quote Investigator: Lexicographer Samuel Johnson was a celebrated eighteenth-century man of letters. Close friend and diarist James Boswell recorded Johnson’s life with exhaustive precision in a multi-volume biography. An entry dated April 7, 1775 mentioned a discussion on the topic (spelled “topick”) of patriotism during which Johnson articulated the saying. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apothegm, at which many will start: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest. I maintained, that certainly all patriots were not scoundrels. Being urged (not by Johnson,) to name one exception, I mentioned an eminent person, whom we all greatly admired.

JOHNSON. “Sir, I do not say that he is not honest; but we have no reason to conclude from his political conduct that he is honest.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Patriotism is the Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

Notes:

  1. 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.: Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works, Author: James Boswell, Volume 2 of 2, Diary Date: April 7, 1775, Start Page 477, Quote Page 478, Printed by Henry Baldwin for Charles Dilly, London. (Google Books Full View) link

I Don’t Think Necessity Is the Mother of Invention — Invention . . . Arises Directly From Idleness . . . From Laziness

Agatha Christie? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Necessity is the mother of invention according to the well-known proverb, but the brilliant mystery writer Agatha Christie disagreed. She suggested that the crucial motivation was laziness. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1976 Agatha Christie died, and the following year her autobiography was published. Christie discussed work and invention within one passage, and she mentioned George Stephenson who was a railway and steam locomotive pioneer. The ellipsis below was in the original text. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Presumably little Georgie Stephenson was enjoying idleness when he observed his mother’s tea-kettle lid rising and falling. Having nothing at the moment to do, he began to have ideas about it. . . .

I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention—invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness. To save oneself trouble. That is the big secret that has brought us down the ages hundreds of thousands of years, from chipping flints to switching on the washing-up machine.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Don’t Think Necessity Is the Mother of Invention — Invention . . . Arises Directly From Idleness . . . From Laziness

Notes:

  1. 1977, Agatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie, Part 3: Growing Up, Quote Page 121, Dodd, Mead & Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

“Only Six Months To Live. What Would You Do Then?” “Type Faster”

Isaac Asimov? Barbara Walters? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: An interviewer decided to challenge a popular and prolific author with the specter of mortality. What would the energetic scribbler do when given a prognosis of death within a year asked the interviewer. The preternaturally fixated author replied, “Type faster”.

Would you please help me to identify the author and locate a citation?

Quote Investigator: In January 1977 Isaac Asimov published a column in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” containing a description of an interview during which he employed the quip. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Another interviewer once tried to break down my stubborn resistance to any way of spending my life other than at the typewriter, by saying to me, “But suppose you knew you had only six months to live. What would you do then?”

And without hesitation. I said, “Type faster.”

Well, what’s wrong with that attitude? There are many people who are, or were, monomaniacally interested in whatever field of endeavor absorbed them. It’s just that most of these fields are not as noticeable to the general public as writing is.

Asimov did not name the interviewer in the passage above, but in the 1980 citation given further below, Asimov identified his questioner as television journalist Barbara Walters.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Only Six Months To Live. What Would You Do Then?” “Type Faster”

Notes:

  1. 1977 January, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Volume 52, Number 1, SCIENCE: Discovery by Blink by Isaac Asimov, Start Page 123, Quote Page 123 and 124, Mercury Press, New York. (Verified with scans)

I Have Seen Dark Hours in My Life, and I Have Seen the Darkness Gradually Disappearing and the Light Gradually Increasing

Frederick Douglass? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous anti-slavery orator Frederick Douglass once stated that society was slowly improving. He believed that he was seeing “the darkness gradually disappearing and the light gradually increasing”. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: On October 22, 1890 “The Evening Star” newspaper of Washington D. C. reported on a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church on the previous night. His concluding words looked to the future with an element of optimism engendered by a religious outlook. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

I have seen dark hours in my life, and I have seen the darkness gradually disappearing and the light gradually increasing. One by one I have seen obstacles removed, errors corrected, prejudices softened, proscriptions relinquished, and my people advancing in all the elements that go to make up the sum of general welfare. And I remember that God reigns in eternity, and that whatever delays, whatever disappointments and discouragements may come, truth, justice, liberty and humanity will ultimately prevail.

Below are additional selected citations and comments.

Continue reading I Have Seen Dark Hours in My Life, and I Have Seen the Darkness Gradually Disappearing and the Light Gradually Increasing

Notes:

  1. 1890 October 22, The Evening Star, White Man and Negro: A Characteristic Speech by Hon. Fred Douglass, Quote Page 9, Column 3, Washington, D. C. (Newspapers_com)