When I Hear Artists or Authors Making Fun of Business Men I Think of a Regiment in Which the Band Makes Fun of the Cooks

H. L. Mencken? Robert E. Adams? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Acerbic commentator H. L. Mencken has received credit for a figurative remark that mentions military bands and military cooks. Yet, I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1942 H. L. Mencken published a massive compilation titled “A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources”, and he included the following entry: 1

When I hear artists or authors making fun of business men I think of a regiment in which the band makes fun of the cooks. IBID.

The term “IBID” meant that the source for the quotation was the same as the source for the previous quotation. Interestingly, the previous quotation listed in the book specified “Author unidentified”. Thus, the quotation under analysis is anonymous.

The 1944 occurrence is the earliest one located by QI. The confusion about authorship is due to the presence of the quotation in Mencken’s compilation. Some readers ignored or misunderstood the fact that Mencken had labeled the statement anonymous.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When I Hear Artists or Authors Making Fun of Business Men I Think of a Regiment in Which the Band Makes Fun of the Cooks

Notes:

  1. 1942, A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, Selected and Edited by H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken), Topic: Business, Quote Page 134, Column 2, Alfred A. Knopf. New York. (Verified with hardcopy)

Like Two Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb

Jorge Luis Borges? Phaedrus? Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian? Clarke Jervoise? Leo Tolstoy? H. L. Mencken? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following trenchant simile is the best description of a futile conflict that I have ever heard:

The clash was like two bald men fighting over a comb.

The prominent Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges employed this figure of speech, but I do not think he coined it. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: A precursor tale about two bald men has been ascribed to the ancient Roman fabulist Phaedrus who wrote in the style of Aesop. The translation into English given below was published in 1761. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

A Bald Man chanced to find a Comb upon the publick Way. One equally destitute of Hair came Up, and claim’d his equal Share. The first immediately produced the Booty, and withal added: “The Gods ’tis plain favour us, but envious Fate has made us find (as the Proverb is) a Coal instead of a Treasure.”

The Complaint of this Fable suits the Man who has been disappointed in his Hopes.

The two men did not fight in this tale. One man simply bemoaned their joint fate because neither could use the comb.

The Eighteenth century French writer Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian was best known for the fables he published. A tale of two bald men fighting over a piece of ivory appeared in 1792. The winner of the fisticuffs unhappily determined that the prize was a comb: 2

Un jour deux chauves dans un coin
Virent briller certain morceau d’ivoire:
Chacun d’eux veut l’avoir; dispute et coups de poing.
Le vainqueur y perdit, comme vous pouvez croire,
Le peu de cheveux gris qui lui restoient encor
Un peigne étoit le beau trésor
Qu’il eut pour prix de sa victoire.

In 1806 an English translation of the tale appeared in “Select Fables. Written for the Purpose of Instilling Into the Minds of Early Youth a True Sense of Religion and Virtue”: 3

On a certain day, two bald-headed men saw a piece of ivory shining in a corner:—each wished to have it; they disputed which of the two had the best right to it, and which had first perceived it. Both maintained their claims, and, from small words, came to blows; and the blows were so violent, that the battle was soon ended.

You will easily suppose, that the conqueror lost, in the contest, the few straggling grey hairs he had left. —

The object of the quarrel was brought forward to the light:—it was an ivory comb!

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Like Two Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb

Notes:

  1. 1761, The Fables of Phædrus in Latin and English: The Translation as Literal as the Idioms of the Two Languages Will Admit by Mr. Hoadly and Several Other Eminent Hands, For Use In Schools, Book 5, Fable 7, Quote Page 137, Printed for John Exshaw, Dublin, Ireland. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1792, Ouvres de M. de Florian (Works by M. de Florian), Fables de M. de Florian: De l’Académie Françoise de celles de Madrid, Florence, etc. (M. de Florian’s Fables: From the French Academy of Madrid, Florence, etc.) by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian, Livre 5, Fable 7: Les deux Chauves, Quote Page 172, De l’imprimerie de P. Didot, Paris, France, Chez Girod et Tessier, Paris, France. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1806, Select Fables. Written for the Purpose of Instilling Into the Minds of Early Youth a True Sense of Religion and Virtue, Translated from the French of Mons. Florian, Fable 28: The Two Bald Heads, Quote Page 90, Printed for J. Harris, London. (Google Books Full View) link

A Newspaper Is a Device for Making the Ignorant More Ignorant and the Crazy Crazier

H. L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: H. L. Mencken worked as a journalist and columnist for newspapers in Baltimore, Maryland for several decades. Yet, his candid assessment of dailies was remarkably harsh. Apparently, he believed that newspapers made the crazy crazier. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1920 “The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness” published a piece titled “Répétition Générale” by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. One section called “The Jazz Webster” included a set of comical definitions for a jazz-age dictionary. This was the tenth item. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Newspaper: A public organ for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Newspaper Is a Device for Making the Ignorant More Ignorant and the Crazy Crazier

Notes:

  1. 1920 March, The Smart Set: A Magazine of Cleverness, Répétition Générale by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, Start Page 47, Quote Page 48, Smart Set Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

I Had More Fun Doing News Reporting Than in Any Other Enterprise. It Is Really the Life of Kings

H. L. Mencken? Theo Lippman Jr.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Newspaperman H. L. Mencken is famous for his insightful and acerbic commentaries, but he also spent the early years of his career as a reporter, and he looked back upon that period with fondness. Apparently, he nostalgically described reporting as “the life of kings” and “fun”. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1946 Stanley Walker who had been a reporter and editor at the “New York Herald Tribune” for many years wrote a piece titled “What Makes a Good Reporter?” which included strong praise for Mencken. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The name H. L. Mencken to most Americans doubtless means either the scholarly “Sage of Baltimore,” or the iconoclast, or the expert on the American language. Actually, whenever he has turned his hand to it, he has produced some of our finest reporting.

Walker extolled Mencken’s reportage during the Scopes Trial in 1925, and he spoke highly of several other journalists. Yet, the article ended with melancholy words about the upcoming generation of reporters:

They do not seem to have much fun, and newspaper work for them is hardly the high adventure that we used to fancy it. But maybe they are right and maybe we were wrong.

In 1946 Mencken read the article, and he sent a letter to Walker containing recollections of happiness: 2

I needn’t tell you that I was delighted by your Christian mention of me in “What Makes a Good Reporter”. As I look back over a misspent life I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings.

A tweet on August 10, 2018 from the account of “The Baltimore Sun” included an image showing the full text of the 1946 letter from Mencken to Walker. 3

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Had More Fun Doing News Reporting Than in Any Other Enterprise. It Is Really the Life of Kings

Notes:

  1. 1946 February, The American Mercury, What Makes a Good Reporter? by Stanley Walker, Start Page 207, Quote Page 209 and 213, The American Mercury, Inc., New York. (Unz)
  2. Letter, Date: January 30, 1946, From: H. L. Mencken, To: Stanley Walker of New York Herald Tribune, New York City, Provenance: H.L. Mencken papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library; Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations; Courtesy of the Enoch Pratt Free Library/State Library Resource Center Mencken Collection, Image of letter was attached to a tweet, Tweet from The Baltimore Sun on August 10, 2018. (Accessed on twitter.com on August 13, 2018) link
  3. Tweet, From: The Baltimore Sun @baltimoresun, Tweet Time: 11:19 PM, Tweet Date: August 10, 2018, Text of tweet: We’ve published Mencken’s letter, dated Jan. 30, 1946, here for the first time, to set the record straight once and for all. Just in time, as we leave Calvert Street for Sun Park in Port Covington. On to the next chapter. (Accessed on twitter.com on August 13, 2018) link

The Most Fun You Can Have Without Laughing

H. L. Mencken? Woody Allen? Walter Winchell? Alfred Lunt? Sarah Bernhardt? E. V. Durling? Jim Bishop? Colonel Stoopnagle? Frederick Chase Taylor? Leo Rosten? Humphrey Bogart? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following declaration of high praise has been applied to love making:

The most fun you can have without laughing.

Influential commentator H. L. Mencken and popular comedian Woody Allen have both received credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: H. L. Mencken did place a version of this saying into his massive 1942 compendium of quotations, but he did not take credit; instead, he asserted that the author was unidentified. More than three decades later Woody Allen employed an instance in his 1977 Oscar-winning movie “Annie Hall”.

The earliest match located by QI occurred in the widely-syndicated column of Walter Winchell in January 1938. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The latest definition of necking: How you can have the most fun without laughing.

QI hypothesizes that a comparable statement referring to sex was circulating at the time. Winchell or his informant bowdlerized the remark to yield the version about “necking”. Taboos of the period restricted depictions of carnality in newspapers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Most Fun You Can Have Without Laughing

Notes:

  1. 1938 January 25, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, On Broadway Walter Winchell, Quote Page 24, Column 6, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

I Never Argue with a Man Who Buys Ink by the Barrel

Roger Branigin? Mark Twain? Charles Brownson? Irving Leibowitz? William I. Greener Jr.? H. L. Mencken? Benjamin Franklin?

Dear Quote Investigator: If a newspaper editor or publisher dislikes a viewpoint you are advocating then you may have to endure a long series of negative articles. The following three statements express this notion:

  • Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel
  • I never quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel.
  • Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.

Many famous wordsmiths have been credited with this saying, e.g., Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and H. L. Mencken. I become very suspicious when so many luminaries receive credit. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest citation located by QI appeared in “The Indianapolis News” of Indiana in 1962. Attorney Roger Branigin delivered a speech to more than 600 listeners at a conference. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Branigin, active for years in Democratic politics and an aspirant for the nomination for governor in 1955, said in referring to newspaper publishers, “I never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”

Branigin’s policy of avoiding arguments with news people may have helped him. He became the governor of Indiana a few years later in 1965, and he served for one four-year term. Currently, Branigin is the leading candidate for creator of this saying although there is evidence that others used it in roughly the same timeframe.

Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and H. L. Mencken had all died before 1962; there is no substantive evidence that they employed the saying.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Never Argue with a Man Who Buys Ink by the Barrel

Notes:

  1. 1962 January 15, The Indianapolis News, Economy, Precision Urged on Pressmen, Quote Page 17, Column 7 and 8, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Newspapers_com)

It Is Difficult to Get a Man to Understand Something When His Salary Depends Upon His Not Understanding It

Upton Sinclair? H. L. Mencken? William Jennings Bryan? C. E. M. Joad? Christopher Matthews? Paul Krugman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Financial incentives can compromise the critical faculties of an individual. Here are four versions of this insight:

  1. Never argue with a man whose job depends on not being convinced.
  2. It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
  3. It can be very hard to understand something, when misunderstanding it is essential to your paycheck.
  4. It is rather pointless to argue with a man whose paycheck depends upon not knowing the right answer.

I think either muckraker Upton Sinclair or curmudgeon H. L. Mencken employed this expression. Would you please trace it?

Quote Investigator: Upton Sinclair ran for Governor of California in the 1930s, and the coverage he received from newspapers was unsympathetic. Yet, in 1934 some California papers published installments from his forthcoming book about the ill-fated campaign titled “I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

I used to say to our audiences: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Is Difficult to Get a Man to Understand Something When His Salary Depends Upon His Not Understanding It

Notes:

  1. 1934 December 11, Oakland Tribune, I, Candidate for Governor and How I Got Licked by Upton Sinclair, Quote Page 19, Column 3, Oakland, California. (Newspapers_com)

Sure, We’ll Have Fascism in This Country, and We’ll Call It Anti-Fascism

Huey Long? Winston Churchill? Bruce Bliven? H. L. Mencken? Lawrence Dennis? Jimmy Street? Robert Cantwell? Lawrence Dennis? Halford Luccock

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous populist Huey Long and British leader Winston Churchill have both been credited with a bold prediction about political deception. Here are two versions:

  • When the United States gets fascism, it will call it anti-fascism.
  • The fascists of the future will be called anti-fascists.

Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence supporting the ascription to Winston Churchill.

Huey Long died on September 10, 1935. The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in an article with the byline “J. F. McD.” published on February 22, 1936 in “The Cincinnati Enquirer” of Cincinnati, Ohio. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Norman Thomas said recently in a speech made in Cincinnati “Fascism is coming in the United States most probably, but it will not come under that name.” In this statement he was repeating the words of the late Huey Long, but Huey added: “Of course we’ll have it. We’ll have it under the guise of anti-fascism.”

The ascription to Long is popular but the phrasing has been highly-variable, Also, QI has not yet found direct instances in Long’s writings, speeches, or interviews. This article presents a snapshot of current incomplete knowledge.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading Sure, We’ll Have Fascism in This Country, and We’ll Call It Anti-Fascism

Notes:

  1. 1936 February 22, The Cincinnati Enquirer, A “Lively Age” To Come? by J. F. McD., (Book Review of “In the second Year” by Storm Jameson), Quote Page 7, Column 1, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Newspapers.com)

On Some Great and Glorious Day the Plain Folks of the Land Will Reach Their Heart’s Desire at Last . . .

H. L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: For many years H. L. Mencken was an influential and acerbic commentator with a national reputation in the U.S. His sharp witted and ferocious columns appeared in either “The Evening Sun” or “The Sun” of Baltimore, Maryland. Mencken’s low opinion of the general populace led him to predict that one day a “downright moron” would be elected President of the United States. This prophecy has periodically been highlighted by individuals who supported losing candidates. Would you please locate a precise citation?

Quote Investigator: On July 26, 1920 H. L. Mencken published a column in “The Evening Sun” of Baltimore titled “Bayard vs. Lionheart”. In the final two paragraphs of his essay Mencken elaborated on misgivings about the democratic process. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by the force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre—the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

“The Evening Sun” has not yet been digitized, and QI wholeheartedly thanks the librarians of the “Enoch Pratt Free Library” in Baltimore who accessed Mencken’s article on microfilm.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading On Some Great and Glorious Day the Plain Folks of the Land Will Reach Their Heart’s Desire at Last . . .

Notes:

  1. 1920 July 26, The Evening Sun (Baltimore Evening Sun), Bayard vs. Lionheart, Quote Page 8, Column 5, Baltimore, Maryland. (Verified with scans; thanks to the Enoch Pratt Free Library)

There Is Always a Well-Known Solution to Every Human Problem—Neat, Plausible, and Wrong

Mark Twain? H. L. Mencken? Peter Drucker? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular saying presents a vivid warning about apparent solutions which are too good to be true. Here are four versions:

  1. There is a solution to every problem: simple, quick, and wrong.
  2. For every problem there is a solution that is simple, neat—and wrong.
  3. Every complex problem has a solution which is simple, direct, plausible—and wrong.
  4. There’s always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible and wrong.

These expressions have been attributed to the famous humorist Mark Twain, the witty curmudgeon H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken), and the insightful management guru Peter Drucker. Which version is correct and who should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: The third version above was a close match to a remark written by H. L. Mencken in a 1920 collection of essays called “Prejudices: Second Series”. The third chapter titled “The Divine Afflatus” discussed the mysterious spark of inspiration and creativity in the arts and letters. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong. The ancients, in the case at bar, laid the blame upon the gods: sometimes they were remote and surly, and sometimes they were kind. In the Middle Ages lesser powers took a hand in the matter, and so one reads of works of art inspired by Our Lady, by the Blessed Saints, by the souls of the departed, and even by the devil.

Mencken’s original statement used the phrase “well-known solution”, but modern instances sometimes substitute “easy solution”. Latter-day expressions have been constructed with a variable set of adjectives including: “simple”, “direct”, “clear”, “obvious”, “neat”, “quick”, “plausible”, and “straight-forward”. The stinging final word “wrong” has usually been preserved.

Mencken published an earlier version of the essay “The Divine Afflatus” in “The New York Evening Mail” on November 16, 1917, but quotation expert Fred R. Shapiro of “The Yale Book of Quotations” stated that the quotation was absent from this initial work. 2

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is Always a Well-Known Solution to Every Human Problem—Neat, Plausible, and Wrong

Notes:

  1. 1920, Prejudices: Second Series by H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken), Chapter 4: The Divine Afflatus, Start Page 155, Borzoi: Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section H. L. Mencken, Quote Page 511, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)