Beauty Is Only Skin-Deep, But Ugly Goes Clean To the Bone

Dorothy Parker? Jean Kerr? Charles Whitehead? Simon Suggs Jr.? Sam Stackpole? Abe Martin? Kin Hubbard? Herbert Spencer? Mort Walker? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Beauty is only skin-deep according to an adage that can be traced back to the 1600s. This assertion has inspired a wide variety of twisted reactions and elaborations. Here are three closely related instances:

  • Beauty’s only skin-deep, but ugliness goes to the bone.
  • Beauty is only skin-deep and ugly goes clear to the bone.
  • Beauty is only skin-deep but ugly goes clean through.

This insight has often been attributed to the prominent wit Dorothy Parker. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1824 “American Farmer” of Baltimore. Maryland published a piece by “A Backwoodsman” about a fictional court case. An instance of the adage appeared together with the phrases “trite saying” and “I have heard it said” signaling familiarity and anonymity. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

It is a trite saying that beauty is but skin deep, yet I have heard it said that ugly goes to the bone, and I am sure there is nothing in this doctrine so beautiful as to prevent its penetrating even to the marrow.

Dorothy Parker died in 1967, and the earliest linkage, known to QI, between Parker and the saying occurred in 1977. This evidence was not substantive, and QI believes that the attribution to Parker is currently unsupported.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Beauty Is Only Skin-Deep, But Ugly Goes Clean To the Bone

Notes:

  1. 1824 January 23, American Farmer, Volume 5, Number 44, To the Editor of the American Farmer from A Backwoodsman, Pleas Before the Hon. Chief Justice Rational, In the Vale of Kentucky, Start Page 349, Quote Page 350, Column 1, Printed by J. Robinson, Baltimore. Maryland. (Google Books Full View) link

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

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

Notes:

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

It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So

Mark Twain? Josh Billings? Artemus Ward? Kin Hubbard? Will Rogers? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Oscar-winning 2015 film “The Big Short” begins with a display of the following statement:

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

The brilliant humorist Mark Twain receives credit, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. This quip is very popular. Would you please investigate?

Quote Investigator: Scholars at the Center for Mark Twain Studies of Elmira College have found no substantive evidence supporting the ascription to Mark Twain. 1

The observation has been attributed to several other prominent humorists including: Josh Billings (pseudonym of Henry Wheeler Shaw), Artemus Ward (pseudonym of Charles Farrar Browne), Kin Hubbard (pen name of Frank McKinney Hubbard), and Will Rogers. Yet, it is unlikely then any of them said it. The creator remains anonymous based on current evidence.

The saying is difficult to trace because it falls within an evolving family of remarks concerning faulty knowledge and memory. Three processes operate on members of the family to generate new members and ascriptions incrementally:

  1. Statements are rephrased over time.
  2. Statements are hybridized together to produce new statements.
  3. Attributions are shifted from one prominent humorist to another.

The family contains some comments with genuine ascriptions. For example, in 1874 a compendium of wit and humor from Josh Billings was published. The work employed dialectal spelling which causes headaches for modern researchers who are attempting to find matches using standard spelling. The following pertinent item appeared in a section labeled “Affurisms”, i.e., “Aphorisms”. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.

Here is the statement written with standard spelling:

I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.

This remark partially matched the saying under investigation, and it acted as a seed in the evolving family of remarks.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So

Notes:

  1. Website: Center for Mark Twain Studies, Article title: The Apocryphal Twain: “Things We Know That Just Ain’t So.”, Article author: Matt Seybold, Date on website: October 6, 2016, Website description: Center dedicated to fostering and supporting scholarship and pedagogy related to all aspects of Mark Twain based at Elmira College in Elmira, New York. (Accessed marktwainstudies.com on November 18, 2018) link
  2. 1874, Everybody’s Friend, Or; Josh Billing’s Encyclopedia and Proverbial Philosophy of Wit and Humor, Section: Affurisms: Sollum Thoughts, Quote Page 286, American Publishing Company, Hartford, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link