Whoever Does Not Visit Paris Regularly Will Never Truly Be Elegant

Honoré de Balzac? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: In 2018 “The Guardian” newspaper published an article titled “Chanel shoes, but no salary: how one woman exposed the scandal of the French fashion industry” by Stefanie Marsh. The piece contained a fascinating quotation about the “City of Lights” ascribed to the famous French novelist Honoré de Balzac: 1

France’s fashion industry is intensely bound up with national identity. “Whoever does not visit Paris regularly will never truly be elegant,” Balzac wrote in 1830, and it is an image that the world’s centre of luxury shopping is keen to uphold.

I have not been able to find a precise citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1830 Honoré de Balzac published chapters from the book he was writing in the Paris periodical “La Mode”. The book was called “Traité de la Vie Élégante” (“Treatise on Elegant Living”), and chapter three included the following saying: 2

L’être qui ne vient pas souvent à Paris, ne sera jamais complètement élégant.

One possible translation of the expression into English appeared in the 1967 autobiography “A Fashion of Life” by fashion maven Harry Yoxall. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

But as Balzac wrote in 1830, ‘The person who does not visit Paris often will never be completely elegant.’ And to cater to the completely elegant it is necessary to do more than visit Paris often; it is necessary to establish yourself there.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Whoever Does Not Visit Paris Regularly Will Never Truly Be Elegant


  1. 2018 September 2 (Modified: September 3, 2018), The Guardian (Website of U.S. Edition), Chanel shoes, but no salary: how one woman exposed the scandal of the French fashion industry by Stefanie Marsh, Guardian News and Media Limited, United Kingdom. (Accessed theguardian.com September 5, 2018) link
  2. 1830, La Mode: Revue des Modes, Volume 1, Chapter 3 of “Traité de la Vie Élégante” by Honoré de Balzac, Saying Number XVII, Start Page 57, Quote Page 64, Rue de Helder, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1967, A Fashion of Life by H. W. Yoxall (Harold Waldo Yoxall), Chapter 6: The Thing Called Fashion, Quote Page 54, Taplinger Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

Music Is the Most Unpleasant and the Most Expensive of All Noises

Théophile Gautier? Molière? Alphonse Karr? Alexander Dumas père? A Mathematician? Prince Albert? Joseph Coyne? Honoré de Balzac?Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Operas and orchestra concerts are quite expensive productions. A deprecatory wit once grumbled about the outlays. Here are three versions:

  • Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive.
  • Opera is the most expensive variety of noise.
  • Music is the most expensive of all noises.

This thought has been attributed to the prominent French playwright Molière, but I have been unable to find a good citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1845 book “Zigzags” by Théophile Gautier, a French dramatist, novelist, and critic; however, Gautier disclaimed credit and ascribed the barb to an unnamed “géomètre” (“mathematician”). Here is an excerpt in French followed by one possible English translation. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Un soir, j’étais à Drury-Lane. On jouait la Favorite, accommodée au goût britannique, et traduite dans la langue de l’île, ce qui produisait un vacarme difficile à qualifier, et justifiait parfaitement le mot d’un géomètre, qui n’était pas mélomane assurément. — La musique est le plus désagréable et le plus cher de tous les bruits. — Aussi j’écoutais peu, et j’avais le dos tourné au théâtre.

One night I was at Drury Lane. The opera was La Favorite, adapted to the British taste and translated into the language of the island. This produced a din that is difficult to categorize, and perfectly justified the quip of a mathematician, who was certainly not a music lover. — Music is the most unpleasant and the most expensive of all noises. — So I listened little, and my back was turned to the theater.

Molière (pen name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) died in 1673, and the earliest linkage of the playwright to the saying found by QI appeared many years later in 1956. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Music Is the Most Unpleasant and the Most Expensive of All Noises


  1. 1845, Zigzags par Théophile Gautier, Chapter VI: Têtes d’anges, Quote Page 243 and 244, Victor Magen, Éditeur, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link

Behind Every Great Fortune There Is a Crime

Honoré de Balzac? Mario Puzo? Pierre Mille? Frank P. Walsh? Samuel Merwin? James Henry Yoxall? C. Wright Mills? Jane Bryant Quinn? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The popular 1969 novel “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo recounted the violent tale of a Mafia family, and the epigraph selected by the author was fascinating:

Behind every great fortune there is a crime.

While searching I found a few different versions of this saying. Yet, I have been unable to locate this maxim in a work written by Honoré de Balzac:

  • Behind every great fortune lies a great crime
  • Every great fortune begins with a crime
  • At the root of every great fortune there was a crime.

Should Balzac really be credited with this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI believes that this adage was inspired by a sentence that was written by Honoré de Balzac, but the expression has been simplified in an evolutionary process. Here is the original in French from a serialization of “Le Père Goriot” published in “Revue de Paris” in 1834: 1

Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu’il a été proprement fait.

Balzac published a series of interlinked novels called “La Comédie Humaine” or “The Human Comedy”, and “Le Père Goriot” was part of this series. Eventually all were translated into English, and here is a rendering of the statement above published in 1896: 2

The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed.

Here is another translation into English that was published in 1900: 3

The secret of a great fortune made without apparent cause is soon forgotten, if the crime is committed in a respectable way.

Note that Honoré de Balzac did not pronounce a general rule that larceny was at the root of all large fortunes. However, the simplified statement that is popular in modern times is arguably more provocative and consequently more memorable.

The simplification process is illustrated by an instance of the saying printed in a periodical in 1912. The following words were credited to an unidentified “French writer”. QI hypothesizes that they were inspired by a schematic memory of Balzac’s words: 4

At the base of every great fortune there is a great crime.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Behind Every Great Fortune There Is a Crime


  1. 1834, Revue de Paris, Volume 12, Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac, Seconde Partie: L’entrée dans le monde, Start Page 237, Quote Page 258, Au Bureau De La Revue De Paris, Paris, France. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1896, Comédie Humaine by Honoré de Balzac, Edited by George Saintsbury, Old Goriot (Le Père Goriot), Translated by Ellen Marriage, Quote Page 124, J. M. Dent and Co., London and New York. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1900, The Standard Wormeley Edition: La Comédie Humaine of Honoré de Balzac, Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley, Père Goriot, Quote Page 142, Hardy, Prat & Co., Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books full view) link
  4. 1912 May 18, Charleston News and Courier, Conan Doyle’s Yarn, (Paris Correspondence New York Sun), Quote Page 8, Column 5, Charleston, South Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

You Only Live Once – YOLO

Drake? Schlitz Beer? Fritz Lang? Honoré de Balzac? Joe E. Lewis? Frank Sinatra? Fyodor Dostoevsky? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: In 2011 a song called “The Motto” by Drake was released, and it contained this expression:

You only live once.

The acronym YOLO was popularized by this song, I think. But I have heard the catch phrase for decades. I recall that the famous crooner Frank Sinatra entertained concert goers with the following version:

You only live once, and the way I live, once is enough.

Could you tell me about the history of this aphorism?

Quote Investigator: The actor and hip hop artist Aubrey Drake Graham records music under the name Drake. The song “The Motto” by Drake featuring Lil Wayne was released in November 2011 and was a hit. The lyrics included the phrase “You only live once” and the term YOLO along with the following repeated chorus “We bout it every day, every day, every day.”

The acronym YOLO was popularized by Drake, but it has been circulating for decades. The Associated Press news service in 1968 published an article titled “Fort Lauderdale: The City of Boats” which included a discussion of the creative names assigned to yachts and other watercraft. Emphasis in excerpts added by QI: 1

Naming the vessels, plain or fancy, is a chore that delights some owners. One fad is acronyms, initials of a phrase that spell a word of sorts.

The Pitoa translates “Patience is the Only Answer.” Tica is not named for an Aztec chieftain: It means, “This I Can’t Afford.” Yolo is short for “You Only Live Once.”

The above citation is the earliest evidence known to QI of the acronym together with its modern meaning. Thanks to top researcher Peter Reitan who located it and shared it with QI.

The general expression: “You only live once” (without YOLO) has a very long history. The precise phrasing of the sentiment is variable. For example, sometimes the pronoun “we” is used instead of “you” to yield: “We only live once”. Also, sometimes the word order is altered to produce: “We live only once”.

The earliest exact match for “You only live once” found by QI occurred in an 1896 English translation of the French work “La Comédie Humaine” (“The Human Comedy”) by the famed novelist Honoré de Balzac. The statement appeared in a passage describing a free-spending pair of characters: 2

… the couple made up, counting their New Year’s gratuities an income of sixteen hundred francs, all of which they spent, for they lived better than the majority of the common people. “You only live once,” said Madame Cibot.

Here are additional selected citations and details in chronological order.
Continue reading You Only Live Once – YOLO


  1. 1968 June 30, Florida Today, Fort Lauderdale: The City of Boats (Associated Press), Quote Page 42, Column 3, Cocoa, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1896, The Edition Definitive of the La Comédie Humaine by Honoré de Balzac, Translated into English, [The Human Comedy], Volume 5, Page 74, Printed for Subscribers only by George Barrie & Son, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books full view) link