When You Want To Fool the World, Tell the Truth

Otto von Bismarck? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? George Bernard Shaw? Gaston Means? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: An individual who is distrusted can tell the absolute truth and experience solid skepticism. This is particularly accurate when the truth is difficult to believe or comprehend. This observation is reflected in the following adage. Here are four versions:

  • When you have to fool the world, tell the truth.
  • To fool the world tell the truth.
  • The way to fool the people is to tell the truth.
  • When you want to fool the world, tell the truth.

This saying has been attributed to Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In February 1885 the “Democrat and Chronicle” of Rochester, New York reported on a confusing stock transaction executed by a financial partner of the powerful speculator Jay Gould. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The entire street was puzzled by the performance. The general opinion seemed to be that the transactions were “wash” sales and that Gould had simply sold the stock with one hand and bought with the other. Others held that Gould was simply acting on Bismarck’s principle: “When you have to fool the world, tell the truth.”

Gould’s partner and confidential broker sold a large number of shares of Western Union. Normally, this would cause the share price to drop significantly, but Wall Street denizens suspected that something secret was occurring, and the price only fell a small amount. This outcome pleased Gould.

In 1885 Bismarck was still a powerful figure in European politics; he lived until 1898. QI has not yet found a contemporary German version of this quotation ascribed to the statesman. The newspaper referred to the adage as “Bismarck’s principle”; hence, it remains possible that he never said it; instead, observers synthesized the statement to describe the behavior of Bismarck.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When You Want To Fool the World, Tell the Truth

Notes:

  1. 1885 February 16, Democrat and Chronicle, Mystifying Wall Street: Selling Out Western Union, Quote Page 1, Column 3, Rochester, New York. (Newspapers_com)

If You Marry the Spirit of Your Own Generation You Will Be a Widow in the Next

William Ralph Inge? Fulton J. Sheen? Leonard Cohen? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? E. Luccock? Joseph R. Sizoo?

Dear Quote Investigator: Any organization that aspires to multi-generational longevity must not become enmeshed in evanescent enthusiasms and fashions. Long-term steadiness and perspective are required. Here are two pertinent sayings:

  1. If you marry the spirit of your age, you will be a widow in the next.
  2. If you marry the spirit of your generation, you will be a widower in the next.

This notion has been credited to two prominent religious figures: William Ralph Inge who was Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London and U.S. Catholic Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who was a popular broadcaster. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: William Ralph Inge known as Dean Inge or “The Gloomy Dean” delivered a series of lectures at Sion College in 1911 titled “Co-operation of the Church with the Spirit of the Age”. He cautioned that the church must not be caught up in transient worldly affairs: 1

. . . the Church must not be identified with any particular institution or denomination, or any tendencies which seemed to be dominant in our generation. The Church was a Divine idea which required tens of thousands of years to reach its full development. They must not secularise its message and endeavour to reach men’s souls through their stomachs.

For several decades Dean Inge kept a diary, and in 1911 he wrote a contemporaneous entry about the lecture series. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

I was moved to tell them that there are many spirits of the age, most of them evil; that we were not agreed what the Church means; and that it is not certain that religious bodies ought to co-operate with secular movements at all. Also, if you marry the Spirit of your own generation you will be a widow in the next.

This diary entry serves as evidence that Inge originated the saying under analysis; however, the entry only appeared publicly many years after its 1911 composition in the 1949 book “The Diary of a Dean”. The text above is from “The Manchester Guardian” which printed extracts from the book shortly before its publication.

Inge’s lecture series was discussed and quoted in 1911, but QI has not yet found a close match for the saying in periodicals of that period.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Marry the Spirit of Your Own Generation You Will Be a Widow in the Next

Notes:

  1. 1911 December 14, The Wells Journal, Christian Ministers and Politics, Quote Page 6, Column 2, County: Somerset, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  2. 1949 December 3, The Manchester Guardian, The Diary of a Dean by the Very Rev. W. R. Inge, (Extracts from “The Diary of a Dean” which is to be published by Messrs. Hutchinson on December 8, 1949), Date of entry: November 10, 1911, Quote Page 6, Column 6 and 7, London, England. (Newspapers_com)

Life Is Like Riding a Bicycle. To Keep Your Balance You Must Keep Moving

Albert Einstein? Walter Isaacson? J. Benson Hamilton? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? Dorothy Tucker? William Whiting?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous physicist Albert Einstein reportedly used a wonderful simile that compared riding a bicycle with living successfully. Here are three versions:

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

People are like bicycles. They can keep their balance only as long as they keep moving.

It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.

Would you please explore this topic? Which version is the most accurate?

Quote Investigator: On February 5, 1930 Albert Einstein wrote a letter to his son Eduard that included a remark that has been translated in different ways. In 2007 Walter Isaacson published a biography titled “Einstein: His Life and Universe”; the notes section at the end of the book printed an excerpt from the original text of the letter in German together with a translation by the Information Officer of the Einstein Archives. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The exact quote is: “Beim Menschen ist es wie beim Velo. Nur wenn er faehrt, kann er bequem die Balance halten.” A more literal translation is: “It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.” Courtesy of Barbara Wolff, Einstein archives, Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

Further below supplementary citations are presented for alternative versions of the saying ascribed to the acclaimed scientist.

Interestingly, the simile has a long history that reaches back into the 1800s in the English language. The early citations found by QI referred to the religious lives of individuals. Later citations referred to business and secular pursuits.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Life Is Like Riding a Bicycle. To Keep Your Balance You Must Keep Moving

Notes:

  1. 2007, Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, Section: Notes, Epigraph: 1, Quote Page 565, Location 10155, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Kindle Edition)

A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes

Mark Twain? Jonathan Swift? Thomas Francklin? Fisher Ames? Thomas Jefferson? John Randolph? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? Winston Churchill? Terry Pratchett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An insightful remark about the rapid transmission of lies is often attributed to Mark Twain. Here are two versions:

(1) A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.

(2) A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on

I have not found this statement in any of the books written by Twain; hence, I am skeptical of this ascription. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: A version of this adage was attributed to Mark Twain in 1919, but Twain died in 1910. QI believes that this evidence of a linkage was not substantive. Details of the 1919 citation are given further below.

Metaphorical maxims about the speedy dissemination of lies and the much slower propagation of corrective truths have a very long history. The major literary figure Jonathan Swift wrote on this topic in “The Examiner” in 1710 although he did not mention shoes or boots. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…

The phrasing and figurative language used in these sayings have been evolving for more than three hundred years. In 1787 “falsehood” was reaching “every corner of the earth”. In 1820 a colorful version was circulating with lies flying from “Maine to Georgia” while truth was “pulling her boots on”. By 1834 “error” was running “half over the world” while truth was “putting on his boots”. In 1924 a lie was circling the globe while a truth was “lacing its shoes on”.

Top researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake identified the passage by Swift listed above and several other important items covered in this article.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes

Notes:

  1. 1710 November 2 to November 9, The Examiner, Number 15, (Article by Jonathan Swift), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Printed for John Morphew, near Stationers-Hall, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Military Intelligence is a Contradiction in Terms or an Oxymoron

Groucho Marx? George Carlin? John Charteris? Theodor Reik? Doctor Who? Shirley Hazzard? Niall MacDermot? Sam Ervin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous comedians Groucho Marx and George Carlin are both credited with a joke that can be expressed in many ways. Here are some examples:

Military Intelligence is an oxymoron.
Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms.
Military Intelligence are two mutually exclusive words.
Military Intelligence are two terms that do not go together.

Did either of these well-known humorists make a remark of this type?

Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that both Groucho Marx and George Carlin employed a version of this quip. However, the earliest evidence located by QI points to a surprising person. John Charteris was a British Brigadier-General and the primary intelligence officer for Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the leader of the British Expeditionary Forces during World War I. 1

In 1931 Charteris wrote “At G.H.Q.” which described his experiences at the military general headquarters during the war. Charteris employed an instance of the expression when he recounted the dismissive attitude of a statesman toward information obtained via intelligence work. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 2

Curzon did not give much time to Intelligence work. I fancy Military Intelligence to him is a contradiction in terms.

The entry containing the text above appeared in a section dated February 5, 1916, but it may have been updated and amplified later, sometime between 1916 and 1931.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Military Intelligence is a Contradiction in Terms or an Oxymoron

Notes:

  1. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Entry: John Charteris, (1877–1946) by J. M. Bourne, Oxford University Press. (First published 2004; online edition dated October 2008) (Accessed oxforddnb.com on June 20 2012) link
  2. 1931, At G.H.Q. by John Charteris, (Diary entry is dated February 5, 1916 but the content may have been amplified at a later date), Quote Page 135 and 136, Cassell and Company, Ltd., London. (Verified on paper; Thanks to the librarians at Denison University)

You Can Easily Judge the Character of a Man by How He Treats Those Who Can Do Nothing for Him

Ann Landers? Abigail Van Buren? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe? Samuel Johnson? Malcolm Forbes? Paul Eldridge? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? James D. Miles? Dan Reeves?

Dear Quote Investigator: I am attempting to verify the following quotation because it will appear in a forthcoming book, but I have discovered multiple attributions:

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

As I searched further I found a similar quotation with additional attributions:

The true measure of an individual is how he treats a person who can do him absolutely no good.

Can you help determine the origin of this saying?

Quote InvestigatorQI agrees that these two expressions and several others can be grouped together because they are semantically closely aligned. Interestingly, members of this set have been employed by (or attributed to) a wide variety of individuals including: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Samuel Johnson, Ann Landers, Abigail Van Buren, Malcolm Forbes, Paul Eldridge, James D. Miles, and Dan Reeves.

The earliest close match for this saying that QI has located appeared in the popular newspaper column of Earl Wilson. He credited the well-known magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes in 1972 [EWMF]:

Remembered Quote: “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”—Malcolm S. Forbes.

In 1978 Forbes published a collection of his own quotations called “The Sayings of Chairman Malcolm” [SCMF]. This title was constructed as wordplay on the well-known doctrinal work “The Sayings of Chairman Mao” also called “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung” or “The Little Red Book”.

A close variant of the saying under investigation was presented in the book and featured prominently in multiple advertisements that appeared in the New Yorker magazine for the collection in 1979 [SCMF] [NYMF]:

“You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them or to them.”

—from The Sayings of Chairman Malcolm

Today a visitor to the Forbes magazine website can search a quotation database maintained by the publisher called “Thoughts on the Business of Life” that contains more than 10,000 entries. The version of the adage in “The Sayings of Chairman Malcolm” is available in the database [TBMF].

The famous advice giving sisters Abigail Van Buren and Ann Landers used versions of this saying in the 1970s. But QI has not yet located any evidence of use before 1974 for either woman. The attachment of the quotation to the notable figures Samuel Johnson and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe appears to be unsupported by current evidence.

QI has also examined a related saying: If you want to know what a man’s like, look at how he treats his inferiors. Click here to read the other article.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Can Easily Judge the Character of a Man by How He Treats Those Who Can Do Nothing for Him