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

‘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

… 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

Notes:

  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)

This Just Shows What God Could Do If He Had Money

Wolcott Gibbs? George Bernard Shaw? Margaret Case Harriman? Alexander Woollcott? Ivor Brown? Frank Case? Peter Fleming? Brooks Atkinson? George S. Kaufman? Anonymous?

hearst08Dear Quote Investigator: A wit once travelled to the opulent country estate of a friend and was shown the surrounding grounds which were well-manicured and extensively landscaped. Several large trees had been transplanted to provide shade. The humorist was asked for a candid appraisal and said:

Well, it just goes to show you what God could do if he had money.

A remark of this type has been attributed to both George Bernard Shaw and Alexander Woollcott. Shaw supposedly said it while visiting the estate of William Randolph Hearst in California. Woollcott reportedly said it while visiting the country mansion of playwright Moss Hart. Is either of these anecdotes accurate?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence located by QI was printed in June 1933 in a London periodical called “The Fortnightly Review”. An article by drama critic Ivor Brown discussed the spectacular productions of Shakespeare plays staged by Herbert Beerbohm Tree. The critic was particularly impressed by the simulation of a storm in “The Tempest”. Brown employed a version of the saying and credited an unnamed wag. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Tree’s storm might vulgarly be described as “a corker”. A wit, when asked what he thought of Long Island, said, “It’s what God would have done with Nature, if He had had the money”. My memory suggests that the remark perfectly fitted Prospero’s island as conceived by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree.

In the above passage the joke was not applied to a specific estate; instead, an entire region of the U.S. known for expensive property and impressive homes was named.

Earlier indirect evidence of the quip also exists. In 1974 a biography of Peter Fleming by Duff Hart-Davis was released. Fleming was a British travel writer who was the brother of famed spy-thriller author Ian Fleming. Peter Fleming was credited with using the saying in a letter dated 1929. If this date was accurate then Fleming either crafted the comical remark, or he was relaying a witticism that was already circulating on Long Island. The name “Rupert” in the following referred to Fleming’s friend Rupert Hart-Davis who was a publisher: 2 3

‘Long Island represents the Americans’ idea of what God would have done with Nature if he’d had the money,’ Peter wrote to Rupert on September 29th, 1929 from the Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, where he spent the first weekend of his stay in America

The joke has been ascribed to a variety of sharp individuals in addition to Fleming, including: Wolcott Gibbs, Alexander Woollcott, George S. Kaufman, and George Bernard Shaw.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading This Just Shows What God Could Do If He Had Money

Notes:

  1. 1933 June, The Fortnightly Review, New Series Volume 139, Old Series Volume 139, Producing Shakespeare by Ivor Brown, (Footnote for article: A paper recently read before the Shakespeare Association at Kings College, London), Start Page 759, Quote Page 760, Published by Horace Marshall & Son, London. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1974, Peter Fleming: A Biography by Duff Hart-Davis, GB Page 67, Jonathan Cape, London. (Google Books Snippet View; not yet verified on paper; the quotation credited to Peter Fleming with the same date is listed in an entry of the 1989 edition of “The Macmillan Dictionary of Quotations”)
  3. 1989, The Macmillan Dictionary of Quotations, Section: United States, Quote Page 585, Column 1, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York. (Verified on paper)