What Fresh Hell Can This Be?

Dorothy Parker? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The well-known wit Dorothy Parker brought forth laughter from others, but personally she experienced episodes of depression. Apparently, when her doorbell rang she would sometimes proclaim:

What fresh hell is this?

Is this an accurate claim?

Quote Investigator: Dorothy Parker died in 1967, and the earliest evidence known to QI appeared in the 1970 biography “You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker” by John Keats. The book records the testimony of journalist Vincent Sheean who was Parker’s friend: 1

“When it came time to leave the apartment to get a taxi, you could see this look of resolution come on her face,” he said. “Her chin would go up and her shoulders would go back; she would almost be fighting back fear and tears, as if to say to the world, ‘Do your worst; I’ll make it home all right.’ If the doorbell rang in her apartment, she would say, ‘What fresh hell can this be?’—and it wasn’t funny; she meant it.

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  1. 1970, You Might as Well Live: The Life and Times of Dorothy Parker by John Keats, Chapter 7, Quote Page 124, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified on hardcopy)

If You Don’t Know Where You Are, You Probably Don’t Know Who You Are

Wendell Berry? Wallace Stegner? Ralph Ellison? Dorothy Noyes?

Dear Quote Investigator: The nature writer and activist Wendell Berry has been credited with a statement about knowing one’s place in the world:

If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.

Yet, this saying has also been ascribed to the novelist and critic Ralph Ellison. Would you please help clarify this situation?

Quote Investigator: In 1952 Ralph Ellison published the landmark novel “Invisible Man”. During one key episode in the book an old gentleman approaches the narrator to ask directions. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Perhaps to lose a sense of where you are implies the danger of losing a sense of who you are. That must be it, I thought—to lose your direction is to lose your face. So here he comes to ask his direction from the lost, the invisible. Very well, I’ve learned to live without direction. Let him ask.

As the forgetful gentleman approaches, the narrator recognizes him as Mr. Norton who has asked for directions in the past, and the two converse:

“Because, Mr. Norton, if you don’t know where you are, you probably don’t know who you are. So you came to me out of shame. You are ashamed, now aren’t you?”

“Young man, I’ve lived too long in this world to be ashamed of anything. Are you light-headed from hunger? How do you know my name?”

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  1. 1982 (Copyright 1952), Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Quote Page 564, Vintage Books: A Division of Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)

The Country: A Damp Sort of Place Where All Sorts of Birds Fly About Uncooked

Oscar Wilde? Alfred Hitchcock? Joseph Wood Krutch? Margo Coleman? Bennett Cerf? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Anyone who has grown tired of reading idealized and overly sentimental visions of nature will enjoy the following skewed definition:

Nature is where the birds fly around uncooked.

These words are credited to Oscar Wilde, but I haven’t found any convincing citations. Would you please help uncover the true author?

Quote Investigator: In 1949 the theater critic and biographer Joseph Wood Krutch published a book about nature titled “The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Children can be taken occasionally to the country to see what the sun looks like as they are taken now to see a hill or a mountain. Probably many of them will not want to go anyway, for the country will be to them only what it was to the London club man: “A damp sort of place where all sorts of birds fly about uncooked.”

QI believes that the anonymous “London club man” may be viewed as an archetype, and it is reasonable to directly credit Krutch with the joke. Alternatively, one may state that Krutch popularized the remark.

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  1. 1970 (Copyright 1949), The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country by Joseph Wood Krutch, Chapter: June: Spring Rain, Quote Page 33 and 34,(Reprint of 1949 edition by arrangement with William Morrow & Co.), Books for Libraries Press, Freeport, New York. (Verified on paper)

Science Makes Progress Funeral by Funeral

Paul A. Samuelson? Max Planck? Thomas S. Kuhn? Henri Poincaré? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Resistance to revolutionary scientific theories is intransigent. Progress only occurs when the prestigious detractors from a previous generation die out. Here are four versions of a maxim eloquently stating this viewpoint:

Science advances funeral by funeral.
Science advances one funeral at a time.
Science progresses funeral by funeral.
Knowledge advances funeral by funeral.

Who should receive credit for this provocative remark?

Quote Investigator: The influential economist Paul A. Samuelson employed multiple versions of this saying containing the distinctive phrase: “funeral by funeral”. For example, in 1975 Samuelson published a “Newsweek” magazine column with the following passage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

As the great Max Planck, himself the originator of the quantum theory in physics, has said, science makes progress funeral by funeral: the old are never converted by the new doctrines, they simply are replaced by a new generation.

Samuelson credited Planck, and it is true that the Nobel-Prize winning physicist articulated the same point, but his phrasing was not compact. Planck’s book “Wissenschaftliche Selbstbiographie” appeared in German in 1948, the year after his death. A translation by Frank Gaynor titled “A Scientific Autobiography” appeared in 1949. Planck discussed the opposition to novel scientific theories: 2

This experience gave me also an opportunity to learn a fact-a remarkable one, in my opinion: A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

QI believes that Samuelson should receive credit for the concise formulation with the phrase “funeral by funeral”, and Planck should receive credit for the longer statement and underlying idea.

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  1. Date: 1975 June 16, Periodical: Newsweek, Article: Alvin H. Hansen, 1887-1975, Author: Paul A. Samuelson, Quote Page 72, Publisher: Newsweek, Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)
  2. 1968 (Copyright 1949), Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers by Max Planck (Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck), Translated from German by Frank Gaynor, Section: A Scientific Autobiography, Start Page 13, Quote Page 33 and 34, Greenwood Press Publishers, Westport, Connecticut. (Verified with hardcopy)

We Must Expand Life Beyond Our Little Blue Mud Ball—or Go Extinct

Elon Musk? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote investigator: Controversial and path-breaking entrepreneur Elon Musk started the rocket company SpaceX because he is passionate about traveling to Mars. He said something like: If mankind does not get off of this mud ball then it will go extinct. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote investigator: In 2008 Elon Musk wrote a piece for “Esquire” that discussed the dangers facing humanity. Emphasis added to excerpt: 1

The next big moment will be life becoming multiplanetary, an unprecedented adventure that would dramatically enhance the richness and diversity of our collective consciousness. It would also serve as a hedge against the myriad–and growing–threats to our survival. An asteroid or a supervolcano could certainly destroy us, but we also face risks the dinosaurs never saw: An engineered virus, nuclear war, inadvertent creation of a micro black hole, or some as-yet-unknown technology could spell the end of us. Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond our little blue mud ball–or go extinct.

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  1. Website: Esquire, Article title: Elon Musk: Entrepreneur on the grandest scale (cars, alternative energy, space), Article author: Elon Musk, Date on website: October 1, 2008, Website description: Men’s Style website from Hearst Communications, Inc. (Accessed therestisnoise.com on February 4, 2014) link

Some People Are Troubled by the Things in the Bible They Can’t Understand. The Things That Trouble Me Are the Things I Can Understand

Mark Twain? Hugh Elmer Brown? Joseph Fort Newton? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Could you please help me to trace the following quotation credited to Mark Twain:

It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

The earliest citation I’ve seen is from the 1970s, but Twain died in 1910. Hence, I suspect that the ascription is inaccurate.

Quote Investigator: This quotation is difficult to research because it can be expressed in many different ways. At this time, QI has found no solid evidence that Mark Twain made this remark. No match was found during a search of the important “Twain Quotes” website edited by Barbara Schmidt. 1 Also, no match was found in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2

The earliest citation located by QI occurred in the “Watertown Daily Times” of Watertown, New York in 1915. The freestanding quotation appeared in a box. Emphasis added to excerpts: 3

Mark Twain.
Some people are troubled by the things in the Bible they can’t understand.
The things that trouble me are the things I can understand.

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  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched September 22, 2017)
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1915 February 6, Watertown Daily Times, The Quiet Hour, (Freestanding quotation in a box), Quote Page 12, Column 6, Watertown, New York. (GenealogyBank)

Novelty is Mistaken for Progress

Frank Lloyd Wright? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright was critical of the new buildings he saw in cities. Apparently, he said:

Novelty is mistaken for Progress.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1955 Frank Lloyd Wright published an essay titled “The Future of the City” in “The Saturday Review”. He felt that the existing configurations of cities were constraining the visions of planners and architects: 1

But sponsors of the modern city, first founded by Cain (the murderer of his brother), refuse to consider fundamental and human alteration in the city’s structure because of our gigantic “investment” in the city as it is. And so the Machine Age has not liberated us.

The phrase about novelty and progress was posed as a rhetorical question. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

We are imprisoned: witness the new buildings on our city streets. Isn’t it true to say that—in these buildings—Novelty is mistaken for Progress? Of steel and glass we have aplenty; but what of the imaginative and creative powers which make of these glittering materials structures responsive to the needs of the Human Individual? What of Real Sun, Real Air, Real Leisure?

This article ends with one more citation.
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  1. 1955 May 21, The Saturday Review, The Future of the City by Frank Lloyd Wright, Start Page 10, Quote Page 10, Column 1 and 2, Saturday Review Associates, New York. (Unz)

Thirty Years from Now the Big University Campuses Will Be Relics. Universities Won’t Survive

Peter Drucker? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous management guru Peter Drucker apparently made a provocative prediction about education:

Universities won’t survive.

Is this quotation accurate? Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1997 “Forbes” published an interview with Peter F. Drucker under the title “Seeing things as they really are” by Robert Lenzner and Stephen S. Johnson. The interviewers flew to Claremont, California and spent ten hours speaking with Drucker about the future. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Education. Now there’s a subject that interests everyone today. President Clinton says we should pump more money into the present educational establishment. Drucker says the current setup is doomed, at least so far as higher education is concerned.

“Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won’t survive. It’s as large a change as when we first got the printed book.

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  1. Website: Forbes, Article title: Seeing things as they really are, Article author: Robert Lenzner and Stephen S. Johnson, Date on website: March 10, 1997, Website description: Business news. (Accessed forbes.com on September 17, 2017) link

There is No Reason for Any Individual To Have a Computer in Their Home

Ken Olsen? David H. Ahl? Gordon Bell? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: I was looking through a collection of woefully inaccurate pronouncements delivered by experts, and I saw a remark attributed to Ken Olsen, a prominent computer industry pioneer who founded the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) which built minicomputers. DEC was perfectly positioned to create a personal computer for the home. Yet, the company delayed, and competitors filled the rapidly expanding niche. Ultimately, the IBM PC architecture became dominant.

Apparently, in 1977 during a crucial period for the emergence of the microcomputer Olsen attended a convention of the World Future Society and said:

There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.

Is this quotation accurate?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence known to QI appeared in the April 1980 issue of “Creative Computing” magazine which was founded and edited by David H. Ahl who worked at DEC during the 1970s. Ahl was part of a group that was constructing a computer for the home in 1974, but Olsen refused to support the full development and marketing of the system. Ahl later recounted his unhappy experience. In 1980 he published in “Creative Computing” his conversation with Gordon Bell, an important innovator in the computer field employed at DEC. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Dave: Just prior to the time I left DEC in 1974 I remember Ken Olsen (president of DEC) saying that he couldn’t see any need or any use for a computer in someone’s home and, as I recall, at the time you took some issue with that. Then he repeated it several years later at the World Future Society meeting in Boston and some people in the audience took issue with that.

The passage above did not employ quotation marks, but Ahl later presented a verbatim version. The accuracy of the statement and its attribution to Olsen is based on the testimony of Ahl. QI has not yet found a direct citation in the proceedings of the World Future Society.

To understand the mindset of this period it is important to recognize the distinction between a computer terminal and a free-standing computer. Some experts believed that individuals would have terminals at home that communicated with powerful remote computers providing utility-like services for information and interaction. These experts believed that an isolated computer at home would be too under-powered to be worthwhile.

Nowadays, a single person often owns several home computers, e.g., a desktop, a tablet, a cellphone, a game console, a cable-TV box, a watch, a thermostat, and a voice assistant. These devices can connect to a vast network of computers providing myriad services.

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  1. 1980 April, Creative Computing, Volume 6, Number 4, Interview with Gordon Bell by David Ahl, Start Page 88, Quote Page 89, Column 1, Creative Computing, Morristown, New Jersey. (Verified with scans at archive.org)

Glamour: Just Stand Still and Look Stupid

Hedy Lamarr? Hedda Hopper? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr was famous for her beauty and intelligence. In the 1940s she and a co-author were granted a patent for a futuristic frequency-hopping communication system whose importance emerged two decades later. Her attitude towards glamor was summarized with a hilarious quotation:

Why, any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.

Could you please help me to find a citation?

Dear Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the newspaper column “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood” in April 1941. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

Hedy Lamarr’s formula for being a glamour girl: “Just stand still and look stupid.”

Only part of the target quotation occurred between quotation marks in this instance. Later versions occurred as complete sentences.

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  1. 1941 April 24, The Los Angeles Times, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood, Section 2, Quote Page 11, Column 1, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)