If You Take the ‘I’ Out of Illness, and Add ‘We’, You End Up With Wellness

Malcolm X? Charles Roppel? Mariel Hemingway? William Crosbie Hunter? Shannon L. Adler? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some health problems can be ameliorated via collaborative action such as installing a water treatment facility, controlling a mosquito population, or reducing the transmission of a contagious disease.

This notion can be expressed by using wordplay. When the letter “I” in “Illness” is replaced by “We”, the result is “Wellness”. Would you please explore the provenance of this witty remark which is sometimes attributed to prominent activist Malcolm X.

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana newspaper in March 1984. The quotation was spoken during a speech to local residents by Charles Roppel, the head of the Mental Health Promotion Branch of the California Department of Mental Health. The address highlighted the value of establishing and maintaining multiple relationships of friendship and love. Roppel presented his theme adroitly and compactly as follows: 1

He says, “Take the I out of illness, add W and E, and you have wellness.”

Malcolm X died in 1965. QI has not yet located any matches before 1984. The ascription to Malcolm X occurred by 2013. Thus, based on current evidence the linkage to Malcolm X is weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Take the ‘I’ Out of Illness, and Add ‘We’, You End Up With Wellness


  1. 1984 March 17, Morning Advocate, Speaker notes friends ‘good medicine’ by Annabelle Armstrong (Advocate staff writer), Quote Page D1, Column 2, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)