There Are Hopes the Bloom of Whose Beauty Would Be Spoiled by the Trammels of Description

Charles Dickens? Ellen Pickering? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous English writer Charles Dickens has received credit for a high-flown expression that compares a person’s hopes to a beautiful bloom that should not be spoiled. I have been unable to find this saying in any of his novels, and I have begun to doubt that he crafted it. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1836 the popular English novelist Ellen Pickering published “The Merchant’s Daughter”. Within the book two characters, Lord Clanellon and Florence Lyle, engage in a complex layered dialog. The statement below from Clanellon suggests that he loves Lyle, but he hopes that she will signal her reciprocal feelings before he confirms his love. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“There are hopes the bloom of whose beauty would be spoiled by the trammels of description: too lovely, too delicate, too sacred for words, they should be only known through the sympathy of hearts!”

Florence looked silent amaze, though a faint glow came on her cheek, perhaps from his fixed gaze and a flickering consciousness.

Clanellon resumed.

“You do not ask me to explain this hope;—may I not then indulge in the delightful flattery that you understand it without words? that you feel it without explanation? that a sympathy with that hope has revealed its meaning?”

Eventually, Lyle makes clear that Clanellon’s amorous feelings would be unwelcome, and he pivots by indicating that he is not feeling love. Instead, he is simply experiencing happiness and hope; he knows she is also in a wild happy mood:

“I too felt in that same light and happy mood, and that to ask the cause of such a mood would be to mar its beauty.”

The first statement above written by Ellen Pickering has incorrectly been reassigned to Charles Dickens for many years. QI is uncertain how this reassignment occurred, but the discussion accompanying the 1884 citation given further below presents one speculation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Are Hopes the Bloom of Whose Beauty Would Be Spoiled by the Trammels of Description

Notes:

  1. 1836, The Merchant’s Daughter by Ellen Pickering, Volume 1 of 3, Chapter 9, Quote Page 298, Richard Bentley, London, England. (HathiTrust) link

It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So

Mark Twain? Josh Billings? Artemus Ward? Kin Hubbard? Will Rogers? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Oscar-winning 2015 film “The Big Short” begins with a display of the following statement:

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

The brilliant humorist Mark Twain receives credit, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. This quip is very popular. Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: Scholars at the Center for Mark Twain Studies of Elmira College have found no substantive evidence supporting the ascription to Mark Twain. 1

The observation has been attributed to several other prominent humorists including: Josh Billings (pseudonym of Henry Wheeler Shaw), Artemus Ward (pseudonym of Charles Farrar Browne), Kin Hubbard (pen name of Frank McKinney Hubbard), and Will Rogers. Yet, it is unlikely then any of them said it. The creator remains anonymous based on current evidence.

The saying is difficult to trace because it falls within an evolving family of remarks concerning faulty knowledge and memory. Three processes operate on members of the family to generate new members and ascriptions incrementally:

  1. Statements are rephrased over time.
  2. Statements are hybridized together to produce new statements.
  3. Attributions are shifted from one prominent humorist to another.

The family contains some comments with genuine ascriptions. For example, in 1874 a compendium of wit and humor from Josh Billings was published. The work employed dialectical spelling which causes headaches for modern researchers who are attempting to find matches using standard spelling. The following pertinent item appeared in a section labeled “Affurisms”, i.e., “Aphorisms”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.

Here is the statement written with standard spelling:

I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.

This remark partially matched the saying under investigation, and it acted as a seed in the evolving family of remarks.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So

Notes:

  1. Website: Center for Mark Twain Studies, Article title: The Apocryphal Twain: “Things We Know That Just Ain’t So.”, Article author: Matt Seybold, Date on website: October 6, 2016, Website description: Center dedicated to fostering and supporting scholarship and pedagogy related to all aspects of Mark Twain based at Elmira College in Elmira, New York. (Accessed marktwainstudies.com on November 18, 2018) link
  2. 1874, Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, Section: Affurisms: Sollum Thoughts, Quote Page 286, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link

How Many People Here Tonight Are Telekinetic? Raise My Hand

Steven Wright? Kurt Vonnegut? Emo Philips? Rich Siegel? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A speaker will typically ask audience members to raise their hands to signal an affirmative answer to a question. A humorist constructed a funny remark based on a transformation of this scenario:

If you believe in psychokinetic powers, please raise my hand.

This line has been attributed to Steven Wright, Kurt Vonnegut, and Emo Philips. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in a profile of the surrealist comedian Emo Philips published in “The Palm Beach Post” in January 1990. The journalist Peter Smith attended a performance of Philips and also had dinner with him. The following excerpt includes an instance of the quip. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Philips’ stage persona is a remarkable mixture of childlike innocence and almost otherworldly sophistication; the man who closes his act by thanking the audience for being his friend also enjoys oddly subtle wordplay and quizzically paradoxical jokes. (“How many people here tonight are telekinetic? Raise my hand.”)

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading How Many People Here Tonight Are Telekinetic? Raise My Hand

Notes:

  1. 1990 January 6, The Palm Beach Post, My dinner with Emo (continuation title: Philips keeps ’em laughing with surrealism, paradoxes) by Peter Smith (Palm Beach Post Staff Writer), Start Page 1D, Quote Page 7D, Column 1, West Palm Beach, Florida. (Newspapers_com)

“Does It Hurt?” “Only When I Laugh”

Philip Gosse? John Bishop? Leonard Lyons? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A family of popular comical anecdotes conforms to the following template. An individual suffers a grievous injury such as a spear through the chest. A companion asks about his or her status, and the reply is absurdly understated:

“Does it hurt?”
“Only when I laugh.”

Would you please explore the provenance of this tale?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the 1934 book “Memoirs of a Camp-Follower” by Philip Gosse who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I. After an intense battle using bombs and bayonets, Gosse encountered a seriously injured soldier who was covered with mud and soaked with rain and blood. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

While I was gently examining his wound I asked him, more for the sake of something to say than anything else, if it hurt him very much. His answer, which I shall never forget, was “No Sir, only when I laugh.”

I am glad to say little John Bishop surprised us all by surviving a long and dangerous operation and eventually recovered.

This exchange was presented as non-fiction, and the line downplaying pain was spoken to Gosse by Bishop who was a member of the London Irish Rifles regiment of the British Army.

Thanks to top-flight researcher Peter Reitan who located the above citation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “Does It Hurt?” “Only When I Laugh”

Notes:

  1. 1934, Memoirs of a Camp-Follower by Philip Gosse, Chapter 2: We Go South, Quote Page 72 and 73, Longman’s, Green and Company. London, England. (Internet Archive at archive.org) link

Good Is Better than Evil Because It’s Nicer

Al Capp? Li’l Abner Yokum? Mammy Yokum?

Dear Quote Investigator: The comic strip “Li’l Abner” created by Al Capp achieved great popularity in the 1940s and 1950s. The setting was the fictional village of Dogpatch in the Southern United States. Al Capp employed an exaggerated Southern dialect which he spelled phonetically. Teenager Li’l Abner Yokum was the primary character, and his forceful mother was called Mammy Yokum. A homespun motto within the strip contended that good would prevail over evil because it was nicer. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The saying appeared in the strip published on March 2, 1950. Li’l Abner was attacked during a battle by an opponent who stared at him malevolently, i.e., employed the “evil eye”. Abner fought back by returning the stare with the “good eye”. The first line below was expressed by Li’l Abner, and the second line was spoken by Mammy Yokum during a flashback scene. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

AH IS G-GITTIN’ TH’ EVIL EYE—BUT GOOD!! WHUT WAS IT MAH MAMMY DONE TOLE ME?

SON!! TH’ ONLY WAY YO’ KIN LICK TH’ EVIL EYE IS WIF TH’ GOOD EYE!! GOOD IS BETTER THAN EVIL, BECAUSE IT’S NICER!!

Here is a version using standard spelling:

Ah is getting the evil eye—but good!! What was it my Mammy done told me?

Son!! The only way you can lick the evil eye is with the good eye!! Good is better than evil, because it’s nicer!!

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Good Is Better than Evil Because It’s Nicer

Notes:

  1. 1950 March 2, The Taylor Daily Press, Comic Strip: Li’l Abner by Al Capp, (First line is spoken by the character Li’l Abner; the second line is spoken by the character Mammy Yokum within the memory bubble of Li’l Abner), Quote Page 9, Column 5, Taylor, Texas. (Newspapers_com) link

The Goal of the Future Is Full Unemployment, So We Can Play

Arthur C. Clarke? Gene Youngblood? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading about the economic notion of a universal basic income I came across a statement attributed to the farsighted science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke advocating the goal of “full unemployment” instead of “full employment”. Clarke felt that the computers and robots of the future would perform routine work and drudgery, so we would have more time to play. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Arthur C. Clarke co-authored the screenplay of “2001: A Space Odyssey” which was released in 1968. In April 1969 a lengthy interview with Clarke conducted by Gene Youngblood appeared in the “Los Angeles Free Press”, an alternative newspaper.

During the conversation Clarke and Youngblood mentioned the benefits humankind might be able to obtain from the development of advanced computer systems able to perform numerous tasks better and more quickly than people. Yet, the HAL 9000 computer in the movie “2001” was frightening, and Youngblood asked why a negative vision was highlighted. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

GENE: But you see the average person doesn’t see it. All he sees is that he’s going to be replaced by a computer, reduced to an IBM card and filed away.

CLARKE: The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.

GENE: Precisely. Now, we feel that if only this idea had come across in “2001,” instead of depicting machines as ominous and destructive. . .

CLARKE: But it would have been another film. Be thankful for what you’ve got. Maybe Stanley wasn’t interested in making that kind of film.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Goal of the Future Is Full Unemployment, So We Can Play

Notes:

  1. 1969 April 25, Los Angeles Free Press, Free Press Interview: A. C. Clarke author of ‘2001’, (Interview of Arthur C. Clarke conducted by Gene Youngblood), Start Page 42, Quote Page 43, Column 4 and 5, Los Angeles, California. (Reveal Digital Independent Voices Collection at revealdigital.com)

Motto: Don’t Be Evil

Sergey Brin? Stacy Sullivan? Hiroshi Yamauchi? Paul Buchheit? Amit Patel? Marissa Mayer?

Organization: Google? Nintendo? Student Pugwash Conference?

Dear Quote Investigator: Google was founded in 1998, and after a few years one of its employees suggested the following company motto:

Don’t be evil.

Would you please explore the provenance of this slogan?

Quote Investigator: The earliest solidly dated evidence located by QI appeared on a webpage titled “Great Jobs at Google” which once existed at the following web address:

www.google.com/jobs/great-people-needed.html

The historical content of the page can be accessed via the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive. A snapshot dated March 27, 2002 displayed the following text in a column on the far left of the page. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

In a word, Google’s goal is to do important stuff that matters to a lot of people. In pursuit of that goal, we’ve developed a set of values that drive our work, including one of our most cherished core values: “Don’t be evil.”

The page also listed “10 Things Google has found to be true”; number six was thematically related:

You can make money without doing evil.

The motto has been credited within Google to two different early employees: Paul Buchheit, one of the creators of Gmail, and engineer Amit Patel. The date of origin varies between 1999 and 2001. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Motto: Don’t Be Evil

Notes:

  1. Internet Archive: Wayback Machine, Web capture date: March 27, 2002, Archive download URL: www.google.com/jobs/great-people-needed.html, Title: Great Jobs at Google. (Accessed at web.archive.org on November 6, 2018) link

They Eked Out a Precarious Livelihood by Taking in Each Other’s Washing

Mark Twain? William Morris? Edward Dicey? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Skeptics have questioned the economic viability of small isolated or insular communities by derisively envisioning rudimentary economies based on simple tasks, e.g., individuals would wash clothes for one another. This notion has been credited to humorist Mark Twain and socialist activist William Morris. In modern times this scenario has been used to criticize measures of economic activity such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the book “The Battle-Fields of 1866” within an essay by Edward Dicey about Heligoland, a small German archipelago in the North Sea near Germany and Denmark. Dicey compared the activities on Heligoland to those on the Isle of Man, an island in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

What the inhabitants do during the winter is a subject too awful for contemplation. Somebody once suggested that the dwellers in the Isle of Man earned a precarious livelihood by taking in each other’s washing. A similar occupation is the only one I can suggest for the Heligolanders. Robinson Crusoe upon his rock can hardly have been more cut off from the outer world.

The locution “somebody once suggested” indicates that the origin is anonymous. Dicey’s essay was dated September 8, 1866 and it was published contemporaneously in newspapers such as “The Sheffield Daily Telegraph” of Sheffield, England which acknowledged “The London Telegraph’s correspondent”. 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Eked Out a Precarious Livelihood by Taking in Each Other’s Washing

Notes:

  1. 1866, The Battle-Fields of 1866 by Edward Dicey, The Island of Heligoland, Location: Heligoland, Date: September 8, 1866, Start Page 247, Quote Page 254, Tinsley Brothers, London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1866 September 17, The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Heligoland, Quote Page 3, Column 4, Yorkshire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

Don’t Take Life So Serious, Son … It Ain’t Nohow Permanent

Pogo? Walt Kelly? Porky Pine? Albert Alligator? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Walt Kelly created the landmark comic strip “Pogo” which combined beautiful artwork with entertaining humor. One strip contained a philosophical remark suggesting that one should not take life too seriously because of its transience. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The “Pogo” strip published on June 24, 1950 was part of a story arc in which the character Albert Alligator faced the possibility of appearing as a defendant in a legal trial. When Albert saw a gallows-like structure being built he fainted. The first line below is spoken by the porcupine character named Porky Pine who is propping up the body of the unconscious Albert. The second line is spoken by a squirrel character who is building the ominous structure, and the third line is spoken by Porky to Albert as he is revived with a splash of water. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

HEY … FETCH SOME BRANCH WATER!

WHAT’S A MATTER HIM?

DON’T TAKE LIFE SO SERIOUS, SON … IT AIN’T NOHOW PERMANENT.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Don’t Take Life So Serious, Son … It Ain’t Nohow Permanent

Notes:

  1. 1950 June 24, Long Beach Independent, Comic Strip: Pogo by Walt Kelly, Quote Page 11, Column 4, Long Beach, California. (Newspapers_com)

A Reader Lives a Thousand Lives Before He Dies. The Man Who Never Reads Lives Only One

Creator: George R. R. Martin, popular author of fantasy, horror, and science fiction who also works as a screenwriter and television producer; he is best known for the television series “Game of Thrones” adapted from the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire”

Context: In 2011 George R. R. Martin published “A Dance with Dragons” which is part of the fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire”. One of his characters highlights the multiplicity of lives accessible via reading. Emphasis added: 1

Bran did not understand, so he asked the Reeds. “Do you like to read books, Bran?” Jojen asked him.

“Some books. I like the fighting stories. My sister Sansa likes the kissing stories, but those are stupid.”

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.”

Related Article: For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived – Louis L’Amour

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Christian Higgins who asked about this quotation. Higgins knew the ascription to Martin and wondered about other writers who have made similar remarks.

Notes:

  1. 2013 (Copyright 2011) A Dance with Dragons, by George R. R. Martin, Series: A Song of Ice and Fire, Quote Page 495, (Mass Market Paperback), Bantam Books: An Imprint of Random House Publishing Group. (Amazon Look Inside)