Dear Sir (Or Madam), You May Be Right

H. L. Mencken? Jack Dempsey? Peg Bracken? Bennett Cerf? Alexander Woollcott? Stewart Holbrook? William Safire? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Forceful newspaper columnists often receive opinionated and hostile responses. There is a powerful temptation to send a sharp retort. Yet, one famous journalist typically replied with a brief disarming note:

Dear Sir (or Madam ),
You may be right.

Would you please help me to determine the name of this columnist and locate a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest citation QI has found for this tale appeared in a letter dated November 23, 1942 which was sent from U.S. drama critic Alexander Woollcott to U.S jurist Felix Frankfurter. Woollcott described a tactic he had acquired from prominent journalist H. L. Mencken of Baltimore, Maryland. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1944, The Letters of Alexander Woollcott by Alexander Woollcott, Edited by Beatrice Kaufman and Joseph Hennessey, Letter to: Felix Frankfurter, Date: November 23, 1942, Location: New York City, Start … Continue reading

However, I learned from H. L. Mencken a happy formula for answering all controversial letters. He invented one which is final, courteous and can be employed without reading the letter to which it replies. He merely says: “Dear Sir (or Madam): You may be right.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order. The 1964 citation further below is particularly intriguing because it provides strong support for this tale.

Continue reading Dear Sir (Or Madam), You May Be Right

References

References
1 1944, The Letters of Alexander Woollcott by Alexander Woollcott, Edited by Beatrice Kaufman and Joseph Hennessey, Letter to: Felix Frankfurter, Date: November 23, 1942, Location: New York City, Start Page 382, Quote Page 383, The Viking Press, New York. (Verified with scans)

It’s a Great Life If You Don’t Weaken

John Buchan? Elizabeth Murray? Graham Greene? Dorothy Parker? Thomas Carter? H. L. Mencken? Sime Silverman? Karl Braun? Gene Byrnes? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: When you face a series of obstacles and successfully persevere you might employ the following saying. Here are three versions:

It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.
It’s a grand life if you don’t weaken.
It’s a joyful life if you don’t weaken.

Over time the meaning has shifted, and it has become ironic. The Scottish novelist and politician John Buchan often receives credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: John Buchan did use the expression in a 1919 novel. Details are given further below. But Buchan was not the originator.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1908 within an article published in “The Evening Telegram” of Salt Lake City, Utah. Police picked up a man who was acting like a hobo in Provo, Utah. He revealed to the officers that he was a wealthy individual named Thomas Carter, and he told them to contact his banker in Salt Lake City to verify his identity. In the following passage the word “jungle” is slang for a hobo encampment. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1908 November 19, The Salt Lake Evening Telegram, Provo Tramp Turns Out To Be Wealthy Salt Lake Man, Quote Page 7, Column 4, Salt Lake City, Utah. (GenealogyBank)

“You see,” he said, “this jungle life is a grand one if you don’t weaken. Talk about experience, why when I get back to the folks I will have had enough experience to fill a molasses barrel. When I get home I will sure have a bigger heart for these fellows you officers term tramps.”

A journalist heard this odd tale and asked Carter about his motivation:

“Well, I’ll tell you I am just paying an election bet. I bet that “Uncle Joe” Cannon would not be re-elected to the house and now I must make good as a hobo for sixty days or forfeit $5000. It’s a grand life if you don’t weaken.”

QI tentatively credits Thomas Carter with the saying although there is a substantial probability that the phrase was already in circulation, and future researchers may learn more.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It’s a Great Life If You Don’t Weaken

References

References
1 1908 November 19, The Salt Lake Evening Telegram, Provo Tramp Turns Out To Be Wealthy Salt Lake Man, Quote Page 7, Column 4, Salt Lake City, Utah. (GenealogyBank)

Time Is Too Slow for Those Who Wait; Too Swift for Those Who Fear

William Shakespeare? Henry van Dyke? Alice Morse Earle? Katrina Trask? H. L. Mencken? Lady Jane Fellowes? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following lines have been credited to the famous English playwright and poet William Shakespeare:

Time is very slow for those who wait
Very fast for those who are scared
Very long for those who lament
Very short for those who celebrate
But for those who love, time is eternal.

I haven’t been able to find a citation and I am skeptical of this attribution. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive support for the ascription to William Shakespeare. QI conjectures these lines were derived from a sundial inscription crafted by the U.S. author and clergyman Henry van Dyke. Two separate poems by van Dyke appeared on the sundial, and both were recorded in a 1901 book by historian Alice Morse Earle titled “Old-Time Gardens Newly Set Forth”. Earle encountered the sundial in a rose garden at the Yaddo estate of Spencer and Katrina Trask in Saratoga Springs, New York. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1901, Old-Time Gardens Newly Set Forth by Alice Morse Earle, Large Paper Edition: Number 139 of 350, Quote Page 88, The Macmillan Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

The engraved metal dial face bears two exquisite verses — the gift of one poet to another — of Dr. Henry Van Dyke to the garden’s mistress, Katrina Trask. These dial mottoes are unusual, and perfect examples of that genius which with a few words can shape a lasting gem of our English tongue. At the edge of the dial face is this motto:

“Hours fly,
Flowers die,
New Days,
New Ways,
Pass by;
Love stays.”

At the base of the gnomon is the second motto:—

Time is
Too Slow for those who Wait,
Too Swift for those who Fear,
Too Long for those who Grieve,
Too Short for those who Rejoice;
But for those who Love,
Time is Eternity.

The lines under examination are similar to the lines immediately above. The three key words “scared”, “lament”, and “celebrate” semantically match the words “fear”, “grieve”, and “rejoice”. QI hypothesizes that van Dyke’s lines were rephrased to yield the lines attributed to Shakespeare. This rephrasing may have occurred because of a faulty memory. Alternatively, the modified statements may have been constructed deliberately with uncertain motivation.

The image at the top of this webpage shows the sundial. The words of the first poem are visible in the outermost ring around the sundial. The second poem appears on the left of the dial. The text is oriented sideways. Below is a picture of the second verse with proper orientation. The resolution is low, but the beginning word “Time” and ending word “Eternity” are clear.

A few years later van Dyke published a slightly different version of this poem about time. He omitted the word “Eternity” and changed the last line to say “Time is not”. See the 1904 citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Time Is Too Slow for Those Who Wait; Too Swift for Those Who Fear

References

References
1 1901, Old-Time Gardens Newly Set Forth by Alice Morse Earle, Large Paper Edition: Number 139 of 350, Quote Page 88, The Macmillan Company, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

If I Owned Hell and Texas, I Would Rent Texas and Live at the Other Place

Philip Sheridan? H. L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Texas is a beloved state to many, but it also has detractors. One comical remark compares the state unfavorably to Hades:

If I owned Hell and Texas, I’d rent out Texas and live in Hell.

Would you please explore the provenance of this joke?

Quote Investigator: Philip Sheridan was a General in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. In February 1866 a newspaper in Mobile, Alabama reported on a remark he made about Texas. The word “hell” was sanitized via the omission of two letters to yield “h—l” which fit contemporary sensibilities. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1866 February 22, The Mobile Daily Times, Communicated from TRAVELER to the Editor of Mobile Times, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Mobile, Alabama. (Newspapers_com)

So Gen. Sheridan, who was obliged to stop in Texas awhile on duty, said if “he owned Texas and h—l both, he would rent Texas and live in h—l!”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If I Owned Hell and Texas, I Would Rent Texas and Live at the Other Place

References

References
1 1866 February 22, The Mobile Daily Times, Communicated from TRAVELER to the Editor of Mobile Times, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Mobile, Alabama. (Newspapers_com)

The Trouble with Communism is the Communists, Just as the Trouble with Christianity is the Christians

H. L. Mencken? Martin Luther King Jr.? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The U.S. satirist and curmudgeon H. L. Mencken apparently employed the following saying. Here are two versions:

The trouble with communism are the communists.
The trouble with communism is the communists.

If this remark is authentic would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In August 1946 “LIFE” magazine published an interview with H. L. Mencken whose popularity had suffered because of his relentless hostility to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mencken stated that he found the idea of communism attractive. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1946 August 5, LIFE, Volume 21, Number 6, Mr. Mencken Sounds Off by Roger Butterfield, Start Page 45, Quote Page 51, Column 1, Published by Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

Mr. Mencken puffed meditatively on his cigar. “We might as well discuss Communism, too,” he said. “As an idea it is anything but bad. I can easily imagine a civilization purged of the profit motive. In fact, I am pretty well purged of it myself. Private property, after a certain low point, becomes a mere nuisance.”

Nevertheless, Mencken distrusted the advocates of communism and labeled them hypocrites:[2] 1946 August 5, LIFE, Volume 21, Number 6, Mr. Mencken Sounds Off by Roger Butterfield, Start Page 45, Quote Page 51, Column 1, Published by Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

The trouble with Communism is the Communists, just as the trouble with Christianity is the Christians. They really do not believe in it and hence are hypocrites. All of them pant for money and hope to collar it by changing the rules. This fundamental false pretense colors their whole propaganda. They have no more sense of honor than so many congressmen and engage constantly in wholesale lying.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Trouble with Communism is the Communists, Just as the Trouble with Christianity is the Christians

References

References
1, 2 1946 August 5, LIFE, Volume 21, Number 6, Mr. Mencken Sounds Off by Roger Butterfield, Start Page 45, Quote Page 51, Column 1, Published by Time Inc., Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link

Politician: Straddling the Fence With Both Ears To the Ground

H. L. Mencken? Arthur Stanwood Pier? L. Curry Morton? Life Magazine? Sylvester K. Stevens? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A startling and funny depiction of a politician has been constructed by mixing two vivid metaphors:

A politician is an animal who can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.

This remark has been credited to the influential Baltimore curmudgeon H. L. Mencken. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: When faced with a significant decision some people refuse to make a commitment. These indecisive people inspired three eloquent figurative phrases: “sitting on the fence”, “standing on the fence”, and “straddling the fence”. Widespread use of these phrases occurred in the nineteenth century.

People who carefully monitor trends and listen to rumors inspired the descriptive phrase “keeping an ear to the ground” which also achieved widespread use in the nineteenth century. Eventually, a physically impossible version emerged: “keeping both ears to the ground”.

The comical remark under examination evolved over time as the metaphors were combined, enhanced, and applied to politicians.

In 1901 teacher and novelist Arthur Stanwood Pier published “The Sentimentalists”. During one scene the character Virginia criticized her brother Vernon. She comically combined five different figurative phrases. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1901, The Sentimentalists: A Novel by Arthur Stanwood Pier, Chapter 11: The Hero Gains in Knowledge and Loses in Wisdom Quote Page 125 and 126, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Google … Continue reading

“You’re always straddling a fence, with one ear to the ground to see which way the wind blows,” said Virginia. “It’s a picturesque attitude, but you don’t get much leverage. You’d do better if you came out into the open and showed your hand.”

“My sister talks like a monologue artist in a vaudeville show,” complained Vernon.

The above instance cleverly combined metaphors, but it referred to one ear and not two. Also, the remark was not applied to politicians in general.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Politician: Straddling the Fence With Both Ears To the Ground

References

References
1 1901, The Sentimentalists: A Novel by Arthur Stanwood Pier, Chapter 11: The Hero Gains in Knowledge and Loses in Wisdom Quote Page 125 and 126, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

The United Voice of Myriads Cannot Lend the Smallest Foundation To Falsehood

Oliver Goldsmith? H. L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: In the Internet Age a falsehood is sometimes repeated incessantly and propagated across the world. Yet, the collective voice of one million people cannot transform a falsehood into a truth. This insight has a long history. The prominent Anglo-Irish novelist and playwright Oliver Goldsmith said something like this in the 1700s. Would you please help me to find a citation.

Quote Investigator: In 1766 Oliver Goldsmith published the novel “The Vicar of Wakefield” which contained the following statement. Boldface added to excerpts:[1] 1766, The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith, Part 2 of 2, Chapter 8, Quote Page 121, Printed by B. Collins for F. Newbery, London. (Eighteenth Century Collections Online ECCO) link

. . . the united voice of myriads cannot lend the smallest foundation to falsehood.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The United Voice of Myriads Cannot Lend the Smallest Foundation To Falsehood

References

References
1 1766, The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith, Part 2 of 2, Chapter 8, Quote Page 121, Printed by B. Collins for F. Newbery, London. (Eighteenth Century Collections Online ECCO) link

I Never Vote For Anybody. I Always Vote Against

W. C. Fields? Franklin P. Adams? H. L. Mencken? Richard Croker? Franklin D. Roosevelt? Will Rogers?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a family of sardonic sayings about the behavior of voters. Here are three examples:

  • I never vote for anybody. I always vote against.
  • People vote against somebody rather than for somebody.
  • The people never vote for anything. They always vote against something.

This viewpoint has been attributed to popular columnist Franklin P. Adams, curmudgeonly commentator H. L. Mencken, and star comedian W. C. Fields. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a Pennsylvanian newspaper in 1893. Richard Croker, a powerful New York City politician, applied the saying to a group of political activists. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1893 October 30, Harrisburg Telegraph, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Boss Croker, of Tammany, defines a mugwump as a man who always votes against somebody and never votes for anybody. That’s a pretty clever description.

Franklin P. Adams used an instance of the saying in 1916, but he disclaimed credit for the expression. H. L. Mencken used an instance in 1925, but he also disclaimed credit. A version was ascribed to W. C. Fields in a 1949 biography. Detailed information appears further below.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Never Vote For Anybody. I Always Vote Against

References

References
1 1893 October 30, Harrisburg Telegraph, (Untitled filler item), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

Television? No Good Will Come of This Device. The Word Is Half Greek and Half Latin

C. P. Scott? Kenneth Adam? Bernard Levin? Harvey W. Wiley? Ivor Brown? H. L. Mencken? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading a book about woefully inaccurate predictions I came across a humorously incongruous statement about a wildly successful gadget:

Television? The word is half Greek, half Latin. No good can come of it.

British journalist C. P. Scott has received credit for this remark. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: C. P. Scott (Charles Prestwich Scott) was the editor of “The Manchester Guardian” beginning in 1872. He relinquished the editorship in 1929 while continuing to work at the paper. He died a few years later in 1932.

The earliest germane citation known to QI occurred in “The Listener” magazine in 1955. Kenneth Adam wrote about his experiences as a neophyte journalist at “The Manchester Guardian” starting in 1930. Adam presented the words of C. P. Scott who described a groundbreaking invention worthy of a newspaper article. The term “cuttings” in the following excerpt referred to folders full of categorized articles clipped from periodicals which could be used to research a topic. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1955 July 7, The Listener, Volume 54, Number 1375, Memories of ‘The Manchester Guardian’ by Kenneth Adam, Start Page 19, Quote Page 19, Column 1, Published by British Broadcasting Corporation, … Continue reading

‘Now here’s something promising. A new development in wireless broadcasting. They propose to add sight to sound. That raises interesting possibilities, don’t you think? There won’t be many cuttings, I’m afraid. But do your best. By the way, they seem to be calling it “television”. Not a nice word. Greek and Latin mixed. Clumsy. You might like to have a dig at that, eh? ’

Adam was unsure whether his article about television was published because many short pieces assigned by the inquisitive Scott were never printed. Interestingly, Adam did not mention the retrospectively humorous line “No good can come of it”. In 1956 another journalist, Bernard Levin, did attribute this line to Scott within the pages of “The Manchester Guardian”:[2] 1956 June 9, The Manchester Guardian, The Traveling Eye by Bernard Levin, Quote Page 5, Column 6, Manchester, England. (Newspapers_com)

… C. P. Scott turning in his grave. (“Television?” he said. “No good will come of this device. The word is half Greek and half Latin.”)

Unfortunately, both of these citations appeared many years after the death of C. P. Scott. Numerous people have criticized the hybrid etymology of “television”, and QI finds the report from Adam credible. Yet, the support for the comical line about the fate of television is weaker.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Television? No Good Will Come of This Device. The Word Is Half Greek and Half Latin

References

References
1 1955 July 7, The Listener, Volume 54, Number 1375, Memories of ‘The Manchester Guardian’ by Kenneth Adam, Start Page 19, Quote Page 19, Column 1, Published by British Broadcasting Corporation, London. (Gale Cengage “The Listener” Historical Archive)
2 1956 June 9, The Manchester Guardian, The Traveling Eye by Bernard Levin, Quote Page 5, Column 6, Manchester, England. (Newspapers_com)

When They Say It’s Not About Money, It’s About Money

Abe Martin? Kin Hubbard? H. L. Mencken? Jim Courier? George Young? Gary Shelton? Mike Lupica? Dale Bumpers? Shannon Sharpe?

Dear Quote Investigator: Contract negotiations are tough, and disputes usually involve money. Yet, participants sometimes highlight other issues as paramount. Jaded observers have crafted the following dictum:

When they say it’s not about the money. Just remember, it is about the money.

Would you please explore the provenance of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the widely-syndicated newspaper feature “Abe Martin” in 1916. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1] 1916 November 24, Franklin Evening News, Abe Martin, Syndicate: National Newspaper Service, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)

When a feller says: “It hain’t th’ money, but th’ principle o’ th’ thing,” it’s th’ money.

The “Abe Martin” illustration and accompanying words were crafted by Frank McKinney Hubbard who was best known as Kin Hubbard.
Thanks to quotation researcher Barry Popik who located the Hubbard citation.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When They Say It’s Not About Money, It’s About Money

References

References
1 1916 November 24, Franklin Evening News, Abe Martin, Syndicate: National Newspaper Service, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)