Love, Anger, Sorrow, and a Cough Cannot Be Hid

Dorothy L. Sayers? George Eliot? Thomas Fuller? George Herbert? George Latimer Apperson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The ongoing pandemic reminded me of an eccentric proverb I once heard:

Love and a cough cannot be hidden.

The prominent mystery wrote Dorothy L. Sayers once referred to a statement like this. Would you please explore the history of this remark?

Quote Investigator: These types of adages have been circulating for several hundred years. Each variant lists a set of conditions or emotions which are difficult to conceal because they are expressed spontaneously or uncontrollably.

George Latimer Apperson’s important reference “English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases” contains an entry that that begins with a citation circa 1300: 1

Love and a cough cannot be hid.
c. 1300: Cursor Mundi, l. 4276

In 1590 a pertinent adage appeared in the book titled “The Royal Exchange Contayning sundry aphorismes of phylosophie, and golden principles of morrall and naturall quadruplicities”. This title reveals that spelling was not standardized in 1590. Here are standard spellings for three words that occur in the passage below: foure, four; hydden, hidden; loue, love. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 2

There are foure things cannot be hydden.

1. The cough.
2. Loue.
3. Anger.
4. And sorrow.

These affectons are addicted to much impatience, and maketh a man so passionate, as they are almost impossible to be concealed.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Love, Anger, Sorrow, and a Cough Cannot Be Hid


  1. 1929, English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases: A Historical Dictionary by G. L. Apperson (George Latimer Apperson), Topic: Love, Quote Page 384, Column 1, J. M. Dent and Sons Limited, London, Facsimile republished in 1969 by Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan. (Verified with hardcopy of 1969 edition)
  2. 1590, Title: The Royal Exchange Contayning sundry aphorismes of phylosophie, and golden principles of morrall and naturall quadruplicities, Author: Oraziofin Rinaldi, Publisher: Offered to the cittie of London. Rob. Greene, in Artibus Magister, Printer: Printed by I. Charlewood for William VVright At London. (Early English Books Online EEBO) link

Living Well Is the Best Revenge

Collector: Collected and published by George Herbert in 1640

Context: Perhaps you have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The adage above suggests that you should persevere to achieve success and enjoyment. In 1640 George Herbert’s compilation of “Outlandish Proverbs” appeared in London. Here is a small miscellaneous selection of expressions from the book: 1

Man Proposeth, God disposeth.
Living well is the best revenge.
Poverty is no sinne.
Hee begins to die, that quits his desires.
Every one is a master and servant.
He that trusts in a lie, shall perish in truth.

Image Notes: Mansion adjacent to water from psaudio at Pixabay.


  1. 1640, Outlandish Proverbs, Selected by Mr. G. H. (George Herbert), Proverb Number 524, Printed by T. P. (T. Paine) for Humphrey Blunden; at the Castle in Corn-hill, London. (Early English Books Online)

If I Shoot at the Sun, I May Hit a Star

P. T. Barnum? Britney Spears? George Herbert? Jane Russell? W. Clement Stone? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Norman Vincent Peale? Les Brown? John McEnroe?

Dear Quote Investigator: There exists a collection of sayings that uses celestial bodies to illustrate advice about setting goals. Here are three examples:

  1. If I shoot at the sun, I may hit a star.
  2. If we aim at the moon—we may hit a star!
  3. Shoot for the moon. If you miss it, you will still land among the stars.

The moon and sun are impressive objects in the sky while the stars are less luminous and therefore not as visually striking. Hence, I think that these adages mean the following: If you set a very difficult goal for yourself then even if you are only partially successful you will find that the result is still superb.

Modern astronomical knowledge makes the sayings more difficult to interpret. Stars (other than the sun) are much farther away from the Earth than the sun or the moon. Hence, hitting a star is actually much more difficult than hitting the sun or moon. Indeed, there is another set of aphorisms that switches the role of the moon and the stars:

  1. If you don’t aim for the stars, you’re not going to get to the moon.
  2. I’ll shoot for the stars, and I’ll settle for the moon.

These types of sayings have been credited to P. T. Barnum, Norman Vincent Peale, and others. Could you examine this class of quotations?

Quote Investigator: An important precursor to this collection of sayings was written by the poet and Anglican priest George Herbert who died in 1633. In the poem “The Church-Porch” a verse exhorted the reader to be humble but also to “aimeth at the sky”. Herbert contended that one would achieve more by targeting the sky instead of adopting the easier task of aiming at a tree: 1

Pitch thy behaviour low, thy projects high;
So shalt thou humble and magnanimous be:
Sink not in spirit; who aimeth at the sky,
Shoots higher much, than he that means a tree.
A grain of glory mix’d with humbleness
Cures both a Fever, and Lethargickness.

The advice that one should aim at the moon to achieve something great has been proffered for many years. In 1846 an instance of this type of guidance suggested that one may not hit the moon but still “hit a high mark”. The following words were credited to George Herbert, and QI hypothesizes that this expression evolved from Herbert’s verse given above: 2

…still George Herbert’s advice on a higher matter is applicable to this, that we had better shoot at the moon if we want to hit a high mark.

In 1859 an expression of this kind was already labeled an “old saying”. In the following excerpt the result of shooting at the moon was not as impressive as landing among the stars; nevertheless, it was portrayed as desirable: 3

You remember the old saying, Beatrice, “Shoot at the moon and you will hit the top of the highest tree.” If you could not be a genius you may, nevertheless, have made greater progress by the effort to be one.

In 1865 a statement mentioned shooting at the stars instead of the moon. The conceptual pattern of the aphorism was the same. The result of pursuing an exalted goal was the achievement of a less impressive but useful goal: 4

Probably the ingenious author goes on the principle that if you shoot at the stars you may hit a tree. If you cram your novel with Cabinet Ministers and Latin and Greek and Lafitte, you may get the public to listen to your substantial but prosaic grievance, that an inmate of Whitecross Street prison may not receive visitors on a Sunday.

In 1876 another astronomical object was presented as an unreachable but valuable aspirational target: the sun: 5

Again, he would say, “shoot an arrow at the sun every morning.” “But we can’t hit it,” was the answer. “You will hit higher than if you aimed lower,” he would reply.

In 1879 the name of George Herbert was invoked again. This time the saying credited to him concerned the moon and a tree: 6

This was an ideal scheme, but nothing great is ever accomplished by the man who has not a high ideal: and George Herbert’s words were never forgotten by the bishop, “that it is good to shoot at the moon even though you only hit a tree.”

Finally, in 1891 an expression matching a version given by the questioner was printed in a collection of quotations and short writings that had been “Compiled by Ladies of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, California”. The words were ascribed to the famous American showman Phineas T. Barnum: 7

If I shoot at the sun, I may hit a star.
—P. T. Barnum

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If I Shoot at the Sun, I May Hit a Star


  1. 1709, “The Temple, Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations” by George Herbert, [The Thirteenth Edition Corrected; First Edition was published in 1633], The Church-Porch, Start Page 1, Quote Page 12, Printed for John Wyat, London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1846 December, The English Review, Englishwomen of the 17th and 19th Centuries, Start Page 285, Quote Page 330, Francis & John Rivington, London. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1859, “Beatrice; or, Six Years of Childhood and Youth” by Mrs. S. Valentine [Laura Valentine], Quote Page 127, William Tegg & Co., London. (Google Books full view) link
  4. 1865 September 30, The Saturday Review, Volume 20, Who is the Heir? [Book Review], Start Page 429, Quote Page 430, Column 1, Published at the Saturday Review Office, London. (Google Books full view) link
  5. 1876 September 8, Kalamazoo Weekly Gazette, “Picnicing Pioneers. The Fifth Annual Re-Union a Success Socially and Numerically” Quote Page 2, Column 6, Kalamazoo, Michigan. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 1879, “Memoir of the Life and Episcopate of George Augustus Selwyn, D.D.” by Rev. H. W. Tucker [Henry William Tucker], Volume 2 of 2, Quote Page 256, William Wells Gardner, London. (Google Books full view) link
  7. 1891, More Borrowings, Compiled by Ladies of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland, California, Quote Page 24, [Copyright 1891 by Sarah S. B. Yule and Mary S, Keene], C. A. Murdock & Co., Printers, San Francisco, California. (Google Books full view) link