What You Read When You Don’t Have To, Determines What You Will Be When You Can’t Help It

Oscar Wilde? Charles Francis Potter? Mabel C. Wolcott? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous wit Oscar Wilde was an avid reader and an excellent classicist. The following statement has been attributed to him:

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

I am skeptical of this ascription because I haven’t been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: This remark is not listed in the valuable compendium “The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde” assembled by quotation expert Ralph Keyes. 1 QI believes that the attribution to Oscar Wilde is mistaken. The discussion accompanying the 1948 citation given further below suggests one possible mechanism for the error.

QI thinks that the prominent Unitarian minister Charles Francis Potter deserves credit for the remark under analysis. In June 1927 a newspaper in Burlington, Vermont reported that Potter had spoken to members of the local Athena Club on the topic of “Books and the Home”, and he used a version of the expression. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

“What you read when you don’t have to, determines what you will be when you can’t help it,” according to Mr. Potter. Libraries must be for the people and they must be accessible. He believes as much should be spent for the libraries as is for the streets.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading What You Read When You Don’t Have To, Determines What You Will Be When You Can’t Help It

Notes:

  1. 1996, The Wit & Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, Edited by Ralph Keyes, (Quotation “…what you read when…” not found during search), HarperCollins Publishers, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1927 June 7, The Burlington Free Press, Says Highbrows Are in Need of Education, Quote Page 7, Column 3, Burlington, Vermont. (Newspapers_com)

We Must Get Beyond Textbooks, Go Out Into the Bypaths and Untrodden Depths of the Wilderness of Truth

John Hope Franklin? John Hope? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Educator and activist John Hope has received credit for the following statement:

We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness.

Confusingly, these words have also been attributed to historian and educator John Hope Franklin. Some versions use the phrase “get beyond” instead of “go beyond”. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The ascription to John Hope Franklin is incorrect. This error corresponds to a known misquotation mechanism. A statement is sometimes improperly reassigned to an individual with a name that is similar to the actual creator of the quotation.

John Hope died in 1936, and in 1948 the biography “The Story of John Hope” by Ridgely Torrence appeared. The book reprinted part of a speech that Hope delivered in Nashville, Tennessee on “The Need of a Liberal Education for Us”. Hope stated that black people should enter into the highest echelons of scholarship and should perform original research. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We must get beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness of truth, and explore and tell to the world the glories of our journey.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Must Get Beyond Textbooks, Go Out Into the Bypaths and Untrodden Depths of the Wilderness of Truth

Notes:

  1. 1948, The Story of John Hope by Ridgely Torrence, Chapter 7: Going Home, Quote Page 116, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

Success Don’t Konsist in Never Making Blunders, But in Never Making the Same One the Seckond Time

Josh Billings? Henry Wheeler Shaw? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Making mistakes is unavoidable in life. There is an insightful adage stating that the key to success is not making the same mistake twice. Would you please help me to find a citation for this notion?

Quote Investigator: In February 1872 “The Daily State Journal” of Alexandria, Virginia published a miscellaneous collection of sayings under the title “General Items” including the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

—Josh Billings says: “Success don’t konsist in never making blunders, but in never making the same one the seckond time.”

Josh Billings was the pen name of humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw. He often employed nonstandard spelling to represent distinctive pronunciations.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Success Don’t Konsist in Never Making Blunders, But in Never Making the Same One the Seckond Time

Notes:

  1. 1872 February 2, The Daily State Journal, General Items, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Alexandria, Virginia. (Newspapers_com)

Somebody Has To Do Something. . . It Seems Pathetic That It Has To Be Us

Jerry Garcia? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Celebrities often use their charisma to highlight social or environmental movements. The prominent guitarist Jerry Garcia of “The Grateful Dead” rock band advocated for the preservation of the world’s rain forests, and he apparently spoke with a mixture of candor, humility, and sadness about his involvement:

Someone has to do something. It’s just incredibly pathetic it has to be us.

Would you please help me to find an exact quotation and citation?

Quote Investigator: On September 13, 1988 members of “The Grateful Dead” participated in a press conference in New York promoting a benefit concert supporting organizations working to preserve rain forests. The lead guitarist delivered a slightly garbled version of the statement specified in the inquiry. YouTube has a short video from the press event, and Garcia speaks the line starting at 47 seconds. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Jerry Garcia: Somebody has to do something. It seems incredibly, in, in fact, it seems pathetic that it has to be us, you know.

The description supplied by the YouTube uploader states that the clip was selected from the personal collection of filmmaker Len Dell’Amico.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Somebody Has To Do Something. . . It Seems Pathetic That It Has To Be Us

Notes:

  1. YouTube video, Title: Grateful Dead Press Conference, Uploaded on Oct 28, 2010, Uploaded by: EverythingMustGoFilm, Description: Press conference of Grateful Dead members held at United Nations in New York on September 13, 1988. (Location and date from superimposed text on video). Description from uploader: Clip from Len Dell’Amico’s personal collection. Quotation begins: 0 minutes 47 seconds of 2 minutes 22 seconds. (Accessed on youtube.com on March 23, 2019) link

In Etymology Vowels Count for Nothing and Consonants for Very Little

Voltaire? Antoine Court de Gébelin? Louis de Bonald? Edward Moor? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) has often received credit for a humorous remark about the study of language and its evolution. Here are two versions:

  1. In etymology vowels are nothing, and consonants next to nothing.
  2. Etymology is the science where vowels matter naught and consonants hardly at all.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Numerous researchers have been unable to find this statement in the writings of Voltaire who lived between 1694 and 1778. The first attribution to the famous French philosopher known to QI occurred in 1836 which is quite late. See the citation further below.

The earliest thematic match located by QI occurred in a 1775 French book about the origin of language and writing by Antoine Court de Gébelin titled “Monde Primitif, Analysé et Comparé avec le Monde Moderne, Considéré dans l’Histoire Naturelle de la Parole; Ou Origine du Langage et de L’Écriture”. The book presented guiding principles for etymological analysis including the following statement about vowels. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

SIXIÉME PRINCIPE.
Les voyelles ne sont rien dans la comparaison des mots.

Here is one possible rendering in English:

SIXTH PRINCIPLE.
Vowels are nothing in the comparison of words.

The book also proclaimed a principle about consonants that emphasized their mutability. Here is the original French followed by one possible translation:

SEPTIEME PRINCIPE.
Les Consonnes correspondantes ont été sans cesse substituées les unes aux autres, sur-tout celles du même organe.

SEVENTH PRINCIPLE.
The corresponding consonants have been constantly substituted for each other, especially those of the same organ.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading In Etymology Vowels Count for Nothing and Consonants for Very Little

Notes:

  1. 1775 (MDCCLXXV), Title: Monde Primitif, Analysé et Comparé Avec le Monde Moderne, Considéré Dans l’Histoire Naturelle de la Parole; Ou Origine du Langage et de l’Écriture, Author: Antoine Court de Gébelin, (De la Société Economique de Berne & de l’Académie Royale de la Rochelle), Quote Page 47 and 48, Publication: L’Auteur, rue Poupée, maison de M. Boucher, Secrétaire du Roi, Boudet, Imprimeur-Libraire, rue Saint Jacques, etc. (HathiTrust Full View) link

No One Wants a Drill. What They Want Is the Hole

Clayton M. Christensen? Theodore Levitt? L. E. ‘Doc’ Hobbs? Percy H. Whiting? Leo McGivena? Robert G. Seymour? Zig Ziglar? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Companies sell products to solve the problems that their customers encounter. An emphasis on existing products and incremental changes causes an organization to ignore or misunderstand customer motivations. Here is one version of a popular business adage:

People don’t want quarter-inch drill bits. They want quarter-inch holes.

The message is cautionary. If a company obsessively focuses on selling drill bits and their customers start to cut holes with waterjets or lasers, then the company is in deep trouble.

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen has employed this adage; however, he credited Harvard Business School Professor Theodore Levitt. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: A thematic precursor that did not mention drills appeared in a Reno, Nevada newspaper in 1923 within an advertisement for plumbing. Several products were mentioned together with the implicit goals of customers: 1

When you buy a razor, you buy a smooth chin—but you could wear a beard. When you buy a new suit, you buy an improved appearance—but you could make the old one do. When you buy an automobile, you buy speedy transportation—but you could walk. But when you buy plumbing, you buy cleanliness—for which there is no substitute!

The earliest strong match for the adage located by QI occurred in an insurance advertisement in a Manhattan, Kansas newspaper in 1946: 2

We don’t want to sell you Life Insurance . . we want you to know and have what life insurance will do. A 1/4 million drills were sold last year, no one wants a drill. What they want is the hole.

Your Own Local Life Insurance Company has only the sincere desire to furnish food, clothing and shelter to your loved ones if you die too soon . . .

The advertisement was run by L. E. ‘Doc’ Hobbs who was the District Sales Manager of The Manhattan Mutual Life company. Yet, QI conjectures that the drill adage was already in circulation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading No One Wants a Drill. What They Want Is the Hole

Notes:

  1. 1923 August 18, Reno Evening Gazette, (Advertisement title: There is no Substitute! Advertisement for: Reno Master Plumbers Association), Quote Page 8, Column 6, Reno, Nevada. (“razor” was misspelled “rozar” in the original text) (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1946 November 10, Manhattan Mercury-Chronicle, (Advertisement title: Who Sells Life Insurance?, Advertisement for: L. E. “Doc” Hobbs, District Sales Manager of The Manhattan Mutual Life in Manhattan, Kansas), Quote Page 10, Column 6, Manhattan, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

Fires Can’t Be Made with Dead Embers, Nor Can Enthusiasm Be Stirred by Spiritless Men

James Baldwin? James Mark Baldwin? Stanley Baldwin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a quotation that begins with an assertion that fires cannot be made with dead embers. The quotation has often been credited to U.S. writer James Baldwin, but I haven’t been able to find a solid citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the “Elmira Star-Gazette” of New York in May 1942. The text was two sentences long, and it occurred within a box with a narrow black border. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Fires can’t be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men. Enthusiasm in our daily work lightens effort and turns even labor into pleasant tasks.
—Baldwin.

The single-name attribution was ambiguous, and over the years the quotation has been ascribed to at least three different people: U.S. philosopher James Mark Baldwin, British politician Stanley Baldwin, and U.S. author James Baldwin. The current evidence is too weak to definitively identify the creator. One may hope that future research will help solve this mystery.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Fires Can’t Be Made with Dead Embers, Nor Can Enthusiasm Be Stirred by Spiritless Men

Notes:

  1. 1942 May 2, Elmira Star-Gazette, Enthusiasm (Filler item), Quote Page 8, Co Elmira, New York. (Newspapers_com)

The Only Trouble With Coolidge Is That He Was Weaned on a Pickle

Alice Roosevelt Longworth? Bettina Borrmann Wells? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Alice Roosevelt Longworth was the daughter of Theodore Roosevelt and the wife of politician Nicholas Longworth III. For decades she was a well-known socialite in Washington D.C. who experienced praise and condemnation for her sharp wit which was sometimes caustic. Calvin Coolidge who became the U.S. President in 1923 occasionally displayed a sour disposition. Longworth apparently told a journalist:

Coolidge was weaned on a pickle.

Did she actually say this? Did she originate this insult?

Quote Investigator: There is substantive evidence that Longworth did make a remark of this type in 1924; however, she disclaimed its creation in her 1933 autobiography. In addition, the core of the insult was circulating by the 1860s. See details provided below via selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Only Trouble With Coolidge Is That He Was Weaned on a Pickle

Kites Rise Against and Not With the Wind. Even a Head Wind Is Better than None

Winston Churchill? John Neal? Henry W. Davis? Chinese Proverb? Lewis Mumford? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An individual who faces opposition can grow in strength and resilience. This notion has been brilliantly expressed via a metaphorical kite in the wind. Here are three versions:

  1. Kites rise highest against the wind—not with it.
  2. Opposition is a great help to a man. Kites rise against and not with the wind.
  3. A kite can only rise against the wind. The best thing in a young man’s life is often adversity.

The first remark has been ascribed to the famous British leader Winston Churchill. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This saying is not present in the comprehensive quotation collection “In His Own Words: Churchill By Himself” compiled by Richard M. Langworth. 1 Churchill died in 1965 at age 90, and QI has located attributions to the statesman in 1963. However, the origins of the saying are much older than this.

In 1846 author and critic John Neal published an essay titled “Enterprise and Perseverance” in the “Weekly Mirror” 2 of New York City. In the following days and months the popular piece was reprinted in several other periodicals including the “Portland Advertiser” in Maine. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

There are people, who, having began life, by setting their boat against wind and tide, are always complaining of their bad luck, and always just ready to give up and for that very reason are always helpless and good for nothing, and yet, if they would persevere, hard as it may be, to work up steam all your life long, they would have their reward at last. Good voyages are made both ways!

A certain amount of opposition is a great help to a man. Kites rise against not with the wind. Even a head wind is better than nothing. No man ever worked his voyage anywhere in a dead calm.

Neal’s essay presented an eloquent instantiation of the metaphor which was remembered and cited by many during the ensuing years, yet the beginnings of this figurative framework can be traced further back in time.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Kites Rise Against and Not With the Wind. Even a Head Wind Is Better than None

Notes:

  1. 2013 (Kindle Edition), In His Own Words: Churchill By Himself by Winston S. Churchill, Compiled and edited by Richard M. Langworth, (No search match for “kite” or “kites”) RosettaBooks. (Verified with Kindle Ebook)
  2. 1846 January 31, The Evening Mirror, (Listing of contents for the “Weekly Mirror” of January 31, 1846 mentions: “Original Essay, — Enterprise and Perseverance by John Neal”; QI has not directly verified the essay text within a scan of the “Weekly Mirror”), Quote Page 2, Column 1, New York, New York. (Old Fulton)
  3. 1846 February 3, Portland Advertiser, Enterprise and Perseverance by John Neal, (Acknowledgement to N.Y. Mirror), Quote Page 3, Column 2, Portland, Maine. (GenealogyBank)

When It Sounds Good, It Is Good

Duke Ellington? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is an enormous literature dedicated to critiquing music using sophisticated methodologies. Yet, one famous musician had the confidence to advocate an aesthetic viewpoint based on direct experience and organic reaction:

When it sounds good, it is good.

Duke Ellington (Edward Kennedy Ellington) has received credit for this remark. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In April 1957 Duke Ellington performed a concert titled “Such Sweet Thunder” which was inspired by the works of William Shakespeare. The concert included a set of vignettes based on Othello, Caesar, Henry V, Lady Macbeth, and other characters. Ellington wrote a program containing the following passage: 1

Somehow, I suspect that if Shakespeare were alive today, he might be a jazz fan himself—he’d appreciate the combination of team spirit and informality, of academic knowledge and humor, of all the elements that go into a great jazz performance. And I am sure he would agree with the simple and axiomatic statement that is so important to all of us—when it sounds good, it is good.

The text above appeared in Ellington’s 1973 autobiography “Music Is My Mistress”. He also employed similar expressions over the years.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When It Sounds Good, It Is Good

Notes:

  1. 1973, Duke Ellington: Music Is My Mistress by Edward Kennedy Ellington, Chapter: Act Five, Section: Jump for Joy Extension, Quote Page 193, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)