A Baby Learns To Speak in Two Years, But It Takes a Lifetime To Learn To Keep Quiet

Ernest Hemingway? Mark Twain? Luke McLuke? Lydia DeVilbiss? Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.? Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.? Frederick B. Wilcox? Abigail Van Buren? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While searching the twitter database I encountered the following two similar jokes:

(1) Humans need two years to learn to speak and sixty years to learn to shut up.

(2) It takes two years to learn to talk, and the rest of your life to control your mouth.

Ernest Hemingway received credit for the first, and Mark Twain received credit for the second. I am skeptical of both of these ascriptions. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that either of these famous quotation magnets employed this quip. The expression is highly variable which makes this large family of quips difficult to trace, and this article will only present a snapshot of current research.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in a 1909 editorial published in a Wenatchee, Washington newspaper. The context indicated that the quip was already in circulation; hence, the ascription was anonymous. The word “exuberance” was misspelled as “exhuberance”: 1

It is unfortunate that Charles R. Crane, who was recently designated as minister to China should have been led by an exhuberance of enthusiasm and interest in Oriental affairs to make remarks which might prove embarrassing to the administration. His indiscretion gives emphasis to the remark that it takes a person two years to learn how to talk and all the rest of his life to learn to keep from talking too much.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Baby Learns To Speak in Two Years, But It Takes a Lifetime To Learn To Keep Quiet

Notes:

  1. 1909 October 13, The Wenatchee Daily World, A Diplomat Must Be Discreet, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Wenatchee, Washington. (Newspapers_com)