David Foster Wallace? Olin Miller? Lee Traveler? Ethel Barrett? Mark Twain? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: An astute quotation about insecurity is often attributed to the novelist and teacher David Foster Wallace:
You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.
Versions of this statement have also been credited to famous figures such as Mark Twain and Eleanor Roosevelt, but I have not yet seen a precise citation for anyone. Would you please examine this saying?
Quote Investigator: David Foster Wallace did express this idea using a different phrasing in his 1996 novel “Infinite Jest”, and the details are given further below.
The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the widely syndicated newspaper column of Walter Winchell in January 1937. The words were credited to a jokesmith named Olin Miller. Boldface has been added to excerpts below. The ellipsis was present in the original text of the following: 1 2
Olin Miller’s thought should comfort the victims of self-pity, etc. . . . “You probably,” he submits, “wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do!”
QI believes that Olin Miller was the most likely originator of this remark. Other individuals such as David Foster Wallace and Ethel Barrett employed the saying after it was already in circulation. The phrasing has varied as the quotation has evolved over the decades. The linkages to Mark Twain and Eleanor Roosevelt appear to be spurious.
Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik who located the key Winchell citation above and other valuable citations. 3
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1937 January 7, Logansport Pharos-Tribune, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 8, Column 1, Logansport, Indiana. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1937 January 8, The Evansville Courier (Evansville Courier and Press), On Broadway by Walter Winchell, Quote Page 8, Column 3, Evansville, Indiana. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “You wouldn’t worry about what people may think of you if you could know how seldom they do”, Date on website: September 01, 2013, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik.com on September 9, 2014) link ↩