Albert Einstein? Helen Dukas? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Albert Einstein was asked to explain the abstruse theory of relativity so many times that he reportedly created a comical illustration involving a hot stove and a pretty girl. Would you please explore the provenance of this tale?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in “The New York Times” in March 1929. The phrase “nice girl’ was used instead of “pretty girl”: 1
Numerous anecdotes are being circulated concerning Einstein. He once told a girl secretary when she was bothered by inquisitive interviewers, who wanted to know what relativity really meant, to answer:
“When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.”
The quotation was not directly from Einstein. Indeed, the reporter simply noted that the tale was being circulated. Yet, the vivid comparison was very popular and many variants evolved in the following years. Einstein was still based in Germany in 1929, so earlier instances of the anecdote may have been published in German.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1929 March 15, New York Times, Einstein Is Found Hiding On Birthday: Busy With Gift Microscope, (Wireless to The New York Times), Quote Page 3, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest) ↩