I Never Argue with a Man Who Buys Ink by the Barrel

Roger Branigin? Mark Twain? Charles Brownson? Irving Leibowitz? William I. Greener Jr.? H. L. Mencken? Benjamin Franklin?

Dear Quote Investigator: If a newspaper editor or publisher dislikes a viewpoint you are advocating then you may have to endure a long series of negative articles. The following three statements express this notion:

  • Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel
  • I never quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel.
  • Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.

Many famous wordsmiths have been credited with this saying, e.g., Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and H. L. Mencken. I become very suspicious when so many luminaries receive credit. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest citation located by QI appeared in “The Indianapolis News” of Indiana in 1962. Attorney Roger Branigin delivered a speech to more than 600 listeners at a conference. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Branigin, active for years in Democratic politics and an aspirant for the nomination for governor in 1955, said in referring to newspaper publishers, “I never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”

Branigin’s policy of avoiding arguments with news people may have helped him. He became the governor of Indiana a few years later in 1965, and he served for one four-year term. Currently, Branigin is the leading candidate for creator of this saying although there is evidence that others used it in roughly the same timeframe.

Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and H. L. Mencken had all died before 1962; there is no substantive evidence that they employed the saying.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1962 January 15, The Indianapolis News, Economy, Precision Urged on Pressmen, Quote Page 17, Column 7 and 8, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)

Life Is a Shipwreck, But We Must Not Forget To Sing in the Lifeboats

Voltaire? Peter Gay? William F. Bottiglia? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Many dubious quotations have been ascribed to the preeminent French satirist and philosopher Voltaire. One popular saying depicts life as a metaphorical shipwreck. The survivors are exhorted to sing while sitting in the lifeboats. Is this saccharine guidance really from the acrid pen of Voltaire?

I have also seen the words credited to a fictional character named Bottiglia. Does that ascription make sense?

Quote Investigator: Voltaire did employ the shipwreck metaphor in his letters; for example, in 1760 he wrote: 1

Comptez que le monde est un grand naufrage, et que la devise des hommes est, sauve qui peut.

Here is one possible translation: 2

The world, my friend, is one great shipwreck: and man’s motto, “Save yourself if you can.”

Voltaire’s remark did not mention lifeboats or singing; thus, his tone was quite different.

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in 1963 within the introductory section of “Voltaire’s Candide: A Bilingual Edition”. Professor of History Peter Gay performed the translation of “Candide” from French to English, and he also wrote the introduction which contained the following passage. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

Indeed, Voltaire preached—by example rather than by precept—that the recognition of the truth that this world is filled with evils leads to a certain good humor. If this life is a desert, it is our duty to make an oasis in it; if this life is a shipwreck, we must rescue as many as we can, and not forget to sing in the lifeboats. This, I think, is the message of Candide; its continuing popularity rests not only on its wit, its pace, its color, but also on its enduring relevance.

In 1966 Peter Gay restated his analysis of “Candide” within his book “The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Rise of Modern Paganism”. Gay reprinted the final line of Voltaire’s satirical tale: “That’s well said, but we must cultivate our garden”, and he added the following commentary: 4

Here, in that concluding sentence of the tale, Voltaire has fused the lessons of ancient philosophy into a prescription: Men are thrown into the world to suffer and to dominate their suffering. Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats; life is a desert, but we can transform our corner into a garden.

Thus, the quotation under examination was crafted by Peter Gay who was presenting his interpretation of the central thesis of Voltaire’s story “Candide”. The misattribution illustrates a known error mechanism. Person A summarizes, condenses, or restates the opinion of person B. At a later time the restatement is directly ascribed to person B.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1785, Oeuvres Complètes de Voltaire, Tome Cinquante-Sixième, Letter CLXXXVIII, From: Voltaire, To: M. Le Chevalier de R___X, à Toulouse, Date: 1760, 20 de Septembre, Start Page 376, Quote Page 377, De L’Imprimerie de la Société Littéraire-Typographique. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1773, Letters from M. de Voltaire to Several of His Friends, Translated from the French by The Reverend Dr. Franklin, (Thomas Francklin, D.D., Rector of Brasted), Second Edition, Letter XXXI, From: Voltaire, To: Mr. the Chevalier de R___X, at Toulouse, Date: Sept. 20, 1760, Start Page 183, Quote Page 184, Printed for T. Davies, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1963, Voltaire’s Candide: A Bilingual Edition by Voltaire, Translated and Edited by Peter Gay, Introduction by Peter Gay, Start Page v, Quote Page xxvi, St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Seventh Printing 1981) (Verified with hardcopy)
  4. 1966, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Rise of Modern Paganism by Peter Gay, Book One: The Appeal to Antiquity, Chapter Three: The Climate of Criticism, Quote Page 201, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)

Long Enough to Cover the Subject and Short Enough to Create Interest

Winston Churchill? Ronald Knox? Gerald K. Rudulph? C. H. McNider? Richard N. Elliott? Louis Sobol? Frances Langford? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous statesman and orator Winston Churchill was asked about the length of an ideal address, and he supposedly said:

A speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.

Yet, a similar remark about sermons is often attributed to the theologian Ronald Knox. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: This quip is difficult to trace because it has many variants, and the phrasing is highly variable. The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in May 1920 in “The Buffalo Enquirer” of Buffalo, New York. The columnist Gerald K. Rudulph employed quotation marks to signal that the joke was already in circulation. This version used a simile comparing the length of a newspaper column and a woman’s skirt. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

. . . we will do our best and try to make this column like a woman’s skirt, “short enough to be attractive, but long enough to cover the subject.”

An instance was attributed to Churchill by 1942. He probably used it after it had been coined. Pertinent citations are presented further below. QI has been unable to find substantive evidence that Ronald Knox used the expression.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1920 May 21, The Buffalo Enquirer, The Port Side Column by Gerald K. Rudulph, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Buffalo, New York. (Newspapers_com)

Every Individual Is an Exception to the Rule

Carl Jung? James L. McAllister Jr.? Malcolm Gladwell? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following postulate embodies a flexible outlook on life:

There is an exception to every rule.

The famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung promulgated an even stronger adage about people:

Every individual is an exception to the rule.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1925 a collection of papers under the title “Problems of Personality” was published to honor the prominent psychologist Morton Prince. The collection included Carl G. Jung’s article “Psychological Types”. His typology was based on a distinction between extraverted and introverted attitudes. He also distinguished between four fundamental functions: sensation, thinking, feeling, and intuition. The psychological types corresponded to combinations, e.g., “introverted sensation”, “extraverted intuition”, and “introverted feeling”. Yet, Jung realized it was difficult to impose a rigidly defined typology onto complex human beings. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

As a rule only careful observation and a weighing of the evidence permits a sure classification. Clear and simple though the fundamental principle of the two opposing attitudes may be, nevertheless their concrete reality is complicated and obscure, for every individual is an exception to the rule. Therefore, one can never give a description of a type, no matter how complete, which applies to more than one individual despite the fact that thousands might, in a certain sense, be strikingly described thereby. Conformity is one side of a man, uniqueness is the other.

The article excerpted above was based on a presentation Jung made at the International Congress of Education held in Territet, Switzerland in 1923. Jung was discussing and outlining his 1921 German book titled “Psychologische Typen”. The English title of the book and the article title were both “Psychological Types”.

It would be natural to assume that the quotation appeared in the famous 1921 book, but it did not. The quotation appeared in neither the German nor the English translation of the 1921 book. Instead, the quotation appeared in the 1925 article based on the 1923 lecture. The situation is somewhat confusing because the book and article used the same title “Psychologische Typen” (in English “Psychological Types”).

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1925, Problems of Personality: Studies Presented to Dr. Morton Prince Pioneer in American Psychopathology, Series: International Library of Psychology Philosophy and Scientific Method, Psychological Types by C. G. Jung (Paper read at the International Congress of Education), Start Page 289, Quote Page 295, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company, London. (Verified with scans)

Taxation Is the Art of Plucking the Goose without Making It Squeal

Jean-Baptiste Colbert? Anne Robert Jacques Turgot? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Governments face resistance and resentment when they attempt to raise funds through taxation. Apparently, a French wit crafted the following vivid figurative expression. Here are two versions:

  • Taxation is the art of plucking the goose without making it squeal.
  • The art of taxation is procuring feathers from a goose with the least amount of hissing.

Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared within a 1766 letter about governance sent from the French economist and statesman Anne Robert Jacques Turgot to the Scottish philosopher and economist David Hume. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

… vous savez aussi tout comme moi quel est le grand but de tous gouvernemens de la terre—Soumission et argent. On cherche, comme on dit, à plumer la poule sans la faire crier—or, ce sont les propriétaires qui crient, et l’on a toujours mieux aimé les attaquer indirectment, parce qu’alors ils ne s’aperçoivent du mal que quand la chose a passé en droit…

The letter above was published in 1849 many years after it was written within a collection called “Letters of Eminent Persons Addressed to David Hume”. A translation of the 1766 letter into English appeared in the 1914 book “Reflections on the Formation and the Distribution of Riches” by Turgot: 2

You know, also, as well as I do, what is the great aim of all the governments of the earth: obedience and money. The object is, as the saying goes, to pluck the hen without making it cry out; but it is the proprietors who cry out, and the government has always preferred to attack them indirectly, because then they do not perceive the harm until after the matter has become law…

As indicated in the translation, the figurative phrase about plucking was already circulating, but Turgot who lived between 1727 and 1781 popularized its application to governments seeking funds.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
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  1. 1849, Letters of Eminent Persons Addressed to David Hume, Date: September 7, 1766, Letter from: Turgot, Letter to: David Hume, Start Page 144, Quote Page 148, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1914, Reflections on the Formation and the Distribution of Riches by Turgot, (Quotation is in appendix and not in main text), Section: Appendix: Excerpts from Turgot’s Correspondence, Letter from Turgot to Hume on September 7, 1766, Start Page 102, Quote Page 103, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

In Theory There Is No Difference Between Theory and Practice, While In Practice There Is

Yogi Berra? Albert Einstein? Richard Feynman? Benjamin Brewster? Charles F. Kettering? Walter J. Savitch? Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut? Dave Jeske? Chuck Reid?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following popular adage balances unsteadily between brilliance and absurdity:

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

This notion has been attributed to many people including famous baseball player Yogi Berra, scientific genius Albert Einstein, and prominent physicist Richard P. Feynman. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive reason to credit Berra, Einstein, or Feynman. The expression was coined before Einstein had reached his third birthday and before the other two were born.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in “The Yale Literary Magazine” of February 1882 which was written and edited by students. Benjamin Brewster who was a member of the class of 1882 wrote about an argument he had engaged in with a philosophical friend about theory versus practice. His companion accused him of committing a vulgar error. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I heard no more, for I was lost in self-reproach that I had been the victim of “vulgar error.” But afterwards, a kind of haunting doubt came over me. What does his lucid explanation amount to but this, that in theory there is no difference between theory and practice, while in practice there is?

Brewster was humorously summarizing the position of his friendly opponent, and QI believes that the saying should be credited to Brewster.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1882 February, The Yale Literary Magazine, Conducted by the Students of Yale College, Volume 47, Number 5, Portfolio: Theory and Practice by Benjamin Brewster, Quote Page 202, New Haven, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link

What Might Have Happened, If That Which Did Happen, Had Not Happened, I Cannot Undertake To Say

Lord Palmerston? George Ward Nichols? John Moncure? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Describing a counterfactual world typically requires a comically twisted statement:

What would have happened if what did happen had not happened?

These words have been attributed to British statesman Lord Palmerston, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1850 Lord Palmerston delivered a speech in the House of Commons in London. The original phrasing of the expression differed a bit from the modern version given by the questioner. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We have been told, however, that if it had not been for the war in Lombardy, the indispensable interference of Russia in Hungary, would not have taken place. What might have happened, if that which did happen, had not happened, I cannot undertake to say. (Hear, and laughter.)

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1850, Speech of Viscount Palmerston in the House of Commons, on Tuesday, The 25th of June, 1850, on Mr. Roebuck’s Motion on the Foreign Policy of the Government by Henry John Temple Palmerston (Viscount), Quote Page 73, John Ollivier, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Any Success in Life Is Made by Going into an Area with a Blind, Furious Optimism

Sylvester Stallone? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Dreamers with visions of riches and success were recently encouraged by advertisements to attend a “Wealth Expo” held in Toronto which covered the topics of real estate and bitcoin.

I saw a sign with a motivational quotation attributed to the Hollywood star Sylvester Stallone who was one of the featured speakers. Apparently, he stated that success in life was eased by an attitude of “blind, furious optimism”. Would you please determine whether Stallone really said this?

Quote Investigator: In 1985 “People” magazine published an article about Sylvester Stallone and his family. Stallone and his wife Sasha had learned that one of their children was affected by autism. The family set up a research fund administered by a non-profit society. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

So far, through two premieres (Staying Alive, Rhinestone), a telethon and private donations, the Stallones have raised about $1 million. “I believe any success in life is made by going into an area with a blind, furious optimism,” he said. “I am not the richest, smartest or most talented person in the world, but I succeed because I keep going and going and going….”

The conclusion and acknowledgments appear below.

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  1. 1985 June 3, People, Sly’s Silent Son by Carl Arrington, Time Inc., New York. (Accessed via archive if People magazine at people.com on April 9, 2018) link

Ballot Box, Jury Box, Cartridge Box

Frederick Douglass? Stephen Decatur Miller? Woody Jenkins? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A prominent public speaker once asserted that the preservation of liberty depended on three boxes:

The ballot box, the jury box, and the cartridge box.

This statement employed metonymy: the “ballot box” referred to input from the populace via the electoral process; the “jury box” referred to oversight via the judicial process; and the cartridge box referred to control via firearms.

This saying has been attributed to the famous anti-slavery orator Frederick Douglass. Also, the Governor of South Carolina Stephen Decatur Miller has received credit. Would you please explore the expression’s provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the “Niles’ Weekly Register” on October 9, 1830. Stephen Decatur Miller had recently delivered a speech in the Sumter district of South Carolina which included the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

There are three and only three ways, to reform our congressional legislation. The representative, judicial and belligerent principle alone can be relied on; or as they are more familiarly called, the ballot box, the jury box and the cartouch box. The two first are constitutional, the last revolutionary.

The word “cartouch” is an alternative spelling of “cartouche” which is a cartridge for firearms. Many other commentators have used variants of this expression over the years. Frederick Douglass employed an instance by 1863, and details are given below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1830 October 9, Niles’ Weekly Register, Edited by H. Niles, Volume 39, Number 7, Governor Miller of South Carolina (Extracts from speech by Miller at a late celebration in Sumter district, South Carolina), Start Page 117, Quote Page 118, Published by H. Niles & Son, Baltimore, Maryland. (Google Books Full View) link

Like Blackbirds on a Telephone Line: As One Flies Away They All Fly Away, When One Comes Back, They All Come Back

Eugene J. McCarthy? Shana Alexander? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Leading journalists often display a surprising uniformity of judgement. An exasperated politician referred to reporters as birds who flocked together when deciding whether to alight on a telephone wire. Would you please explore this figurative expression?

Quote Investigator: In February 1963 U.S. Senator Eugene J. McCarthy of Minnesota spoke before a convention of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, and a local newspaper quoted from McCarthy’s prepared remarks. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

There is the “ever-present disposition to oversimplification and to editorialize in the news reports.”

Columnists particularly “run to certain fads. They are like blackbirds on a telephone pole: As one flies away they all fly away, when one comes back, they all come back.”

McCarthy also included a version of this observation in his 1969 book “The Year of the People”. Details are given further below within the following collection of selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1963 February 22, The Minneapolis Star, Senator Sees Danger in Control of News, Quote Page 3A, Column 2, Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Newspapers_com)