Tag Archives: Laurence J. Peter

If a Cluttered Desk Is a Sign of a Cluttered Mind, We Can’t Help Wondering What an Empty Desk Indicates

Albert Einstein? Truman Twill? Lyndon B. Johnson? Laurence J. Peter? Paul A. Freund? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Many sayings attributed to the scientific genius Albert Einstein concern the mind. Here is a funny example:

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?

I haven’t been able to find a solid citation. Would you please help me to determine whether Einstein said this?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this quip. It was attributed to him in the 2000s many years after his death in 1955. The most comprehensive reference about the physicist’s pronouncements is the 2010 book “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press, and the expression is absent. 1

This comical riposte was inspired by a family of admonishments about messy desks, and this website has a pertinent entry here: “A Cluttered Desk Produces a Cluttered Mind”.

The earliest match in this family known to QI appeared in 1911. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

Orderliness and cleanliness are two important factors in efficiency. A disordered desk is an evidence of a disordered brain and a disordered character.

In 1941 a newspaper in East Liverpool, Ohio printed a column titled “Confession” by Truman Twill who was critical of the common adage extolling well-organized desks: 3

A neat desk, they always say, is the sign of a well ordered mind. Important executives make it a point of pride never to have any clutter on their desks. Finally, the desk is immaculate. It is free of clutter as a bald head.

Yet, Twill thought that the cleanliness advice was inherently flawed:

There is a man who has cleaned himself out of the wherewithal to work with, whose empty desk reflects his empty mind, a man who won’t be worth his social security till his desk gets cluttered up again.

So, Twill articulated the idea of the quotation under examination. He employed two concise counterpoint phrases, but the overall column was prolix.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not By Einstein, (No page number because statement is absent), Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1911 December, The Mediator, Volume 3, Number 12, Editor: J. K. Turner, Section: Editorial, Two Men and a Pin, Quote Page 34, The Mediator Publishing Company, Cleveland, Ohio. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  3. 1941 April 9, East Liverpool Review (The Evening Review), Confession by Truman Twill, Quote Page 4, Column 7, East Liverpool, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)

The Only Thing More Painful Than Learning from Experience Is Not Learning from Experience

Archibald MacLeish? Laurence J. Peter? Earl Wilson? Eleanor Hoyt? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The American poet Archibald MacLeish apparently said that learning from experience was painful, but the alternative of not learning was worse. A similar remark has been ascribed to quotation collector Laurence J. Peter. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in 1966 in the widely syndicated column of Earl Wilson who presented it as an anonymous “Remembered Quote”: 1

“The only thing more painful than learning from experience is not learning from experience.”
–Anon.

More than a decade later in 1978 Archibald MacLeish received credit, and in 1982 Laurence J. Peter included an instance in one of his books.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1966 April 28, Reno Gazette-Journal, It Happened Last Night: Oscar-Winner Lee Marvin Has Bit of Bogart in His Style by Earl Wilson, Quote Page 17, Column 3, Reno, Nevada. (Newspapers_com)

Money Can’t Buy Love, But It Improves Your Bargaining Position

Christopher Marlowe? Laurence J. Peter? Evan Esar? Anonymous?

love09Dear Quote Investigator: Christopher Marlowe was a brilliant poet and dramatist of the 1500s whose works influenced the luminary William Shakespeare. I was astonished to find the following statement attributed to him:

Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.

In my opinion, this expression is not from the 1500s and crediting Marlowe is nonsensical. Nevertheless, many websites dedicated to quotations present this dubious ascription. Would you please explore this quotation? Perhaps you could uncover the source of this inanity.

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was published in the twentieth century and not the sixteenth. In 1954 a newspaper in Iowa printed an instance of the saying in a humor column. The phrasing differed somewhat from the common modern expression, and no attribution was given: 1

Money cannot buy love, but it places one in an excellent bargaining position.

QI believes that the flawed attribution to Christopher Marlowe originated with the misreading of an influential book of quotations that was compiled by Laurence J. Peter and published in 1977. The details of this citation are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1954 March 18, The Elgin Echo, Rich’s “Pipe Dreams”, Quote Page 2, Column 1, Elgin, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)

Speak When You’re Angry and You’ll Make the Best Speech You’ll Ever Regret

Ambrose Bierce? Henry Ward Beecher? Laurence J. Peter? Groucho Marx? Harry H. Jones? Anonymous?

bierce06Dear Quote Investigator: The rant of an enraged person often contains statements that necessitate contrite apologies later. Here is an adage reflecting this insight:

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.

These words have been attributed to the preacher Henry Ward Beecher, the humorist Ambrose Bierce, and the quotation compiler Laurence J. Peter. Do you know who should receive credit?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI points to a famous comedian who is rarely mentioned in conjunction with this saying. In June 1954 a column titled “Inside TV” by Eve Starr was published in a North Carolina newspaper, and Starr reported on two jokes told by Groucho Marx during his show. Boldface has been added: 1

Groucho quips: “It takes a heap of spending to make a house a home.” His best advice to contestants is: “If you speak when angry, you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

Ambrose Bierce did write a parody fable that was tangentially related to this theme, and a detailed citation for this short tale is given below. However, QI has found no substantive evidence that Bierce wrote or spoke this quotation. Oddly, a major reference work stated that the expression appeared in Bierce’s “The Cynic’s Word Book” of 1906 which is better known under its later title “The Devil’s Dictionary”. However, QI has examined multiple editions of this book and the quotation was absent.

The misattribution to Henry Ward Beecher was based on an incorrect reading of an entry in a 1977 quotation collection created by Laurence J. Peter. Details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1954 November 3, Greensboro Record, Inside TV by Eve Starr, Quote Page B3, Column 4, Greensboro, North Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

Academic Politics Are So Vicious Because the Stakes Are So Small

Henry Kissinger? Wallace Sayre? Charles Frankel? Samuel Johnson? Jesse Unruh? Courtney Brown? Laurence J. Peter?

kissinger03Dear Quote Investigator: The following saying is often attributed to the prominent U.S. foreign policy figure and Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger:

Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.

But I have also seen it attributed to the political scientist Wallace Sayre. Could you examine this adage?

Quote Investigator:
There are many different ways to state this basic idea. Here are some additional forms to help depict the range of possible expressions:

Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.

Politics on the university campus are the worst of all kinds of politics because the stakes are so small.

Campus politics are so nasty because the stakes are so small.

The republic of learning and letters works by especially bitter squabbling because the stakes are so small.

This exploration begins with a fascinating precursor in 1765 from the pen of the lexicographer and celebrated man of letters Samuel Johnson. In the following excerpt a “scholiast” referred to an academic commentator: 1 2

It is not easy to discover from what cause the acrimony of a scholiast can naturally proceed. The subjects to be discussed by him are of very small importance; they involve neither property nor liberty; nor favour the interest of sect or party. The various readings of copies, and different interpretations of a passage, seem to be questions that might exercise the wit, without engaging the passions.

But whether it be, that small things make mean men proud, and vanity catches small occasions; or that all contrariety of opinion, even in those that can defend it no longer, makes proud men angry; there is often found in commentaries a spontaneous strain of invective and contempt, more eager and venomous than is vented by the most furious controvertist in politicks against those whom he is hired to defame.

Another precursor was delivered in 1964 by Robert M. Hutchins whose long career included service as Dean of Yale Law School and President of the University of Chicago. Hutchins called academic politics “the worst kind”, but he did not include the sardonic explanation given in the full version of the saying: 3

Though I do not know much about professional politics, I know a lot about academic politics — and that is the worst kind. Woodrow Wilson said that Washington was a snap after Princeton.

The earliest direct evidence known to QI of a full statement that fits in the grouping above was printed in the transcript of a speech given in February 1969 at the annual convention of the American Association of School Administrators. The speaker was Charles Frankel who was a Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, but his phrasing indicated that the adage was already in circulation, and he provided no attribution: 4 5

It used to be said of politics on the university campus that it was the worst of all kinds of politics because the stakes were so small. We should be able to take at least minor comfort, then, from the present situation in the educational world: The stakes today are not at all small.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1765, Mr. Johnson’s Preface to His Edition of Shakespear’s Plays by Samuel Johnson, Page lvii, Printed for J. and R. Tonson, H. Woodfall, J. Rivington, etc., London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1997, After the Death of Literature by Richard B. Schwartz, Quote Page 12 and 13, Published by Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, Illinois. (Questia: Gale, Cengage Learning)
  3. 1964 October, The Journal of General Education, Volume 16, Number 3, “Science, Scientists, and Politics” by Robert M. Hutchins, Start Page 197, Quote Page 197, Published by: Penn State University Press. (JSTOR) link
  4. 1969, Official Report of AASA (Your AASA), Report on the 1969 Annual Convention of American Association of School Administrators, (Convention held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, February 15 to 19, 1969), Speech: Education and the Barricades by Charles Frankel, (Speech by Charles Frankel, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University; delivered February 17, 1969 during the Sixth General Session), Start Page 75, Quote Page 75, Published by American Association of School Administrators, Washington D.C. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1971, In Defense of Academic Freedom, Edited by Sidney Hook, “Education in Fever” by Charles Frankel, (Reprinted from Official Report of AASA, Report on the 1969 Annual Convention of the American Association of School Administrators), Start Page 35, Quote Page 35, Pegasus (Division of Bobbs-Merrill Company), New York. (Verified on paper)

Time You Enjoy Wasting is Not Wasted Time

John Lennon? Bertrand Russell? Laurence J. Peter? Marthe Troly-Curtin?

russelllennon06Dear Quote Investigator: I like to enjoy life and sometimes I am criticized for spending too much time on amusements and diversions. My favorite response is attributed to the legendary free-spirit John Lennon:

Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

An acquaintance told me recently that the saying is actually from the brilliant philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell. It is clear that you enjoy tracing quotations, so could you please look into this one? I am certain you will not be wasting your time.

Quote Investigator: In addition to John Lennon and Bertrand Russell, the saying has been attributed to T. S. Elliot, Soren Kierkegaard, Laurence J. Peter, and others. The attribution to Russell was a mistake that was caused by the misreading of an entry in a quotation book compiled by Peter. The details of this error are given further below in this post.

The first instance of the phrase located by QI was published in 1912, a year that occurred before Laurence J. Peter and John Lennon were born. The expression appeared in the book “Phrynette Married” by Marthe Troly-Curtin. This novel was part of a series by Troly-Curtin that began with “Phrynette” in 1911. The image to the left is the frontispiece of this earlier novel. 1 An advertisement in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine grandly proclaimed that “Phrynette” was “The Most Talked-About Book in London Today” in July 1911. 2

In the following excerpt from “Phrynette Married” a character is reproved for wasting the time and energy of others: 3 4

“… Your father, for instance, don’t you think he would have done three times as much work if it had not been for your—what shall I say—’bringing up’?”
“He liked it—time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”
“Oh, but it was in his case—wasted for him and for many lovers of art.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1911, Phrynette‎ by Marthe Troly-Curtin, J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. July 1911, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Section: Lippincott’s Magazine Advertiser: [Advertisement for Phrynette by Marthe Troly-Curtin], Page not numbered, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia. (HathiTrust) link  link
  3. 1912, Phrynette Married by Marthe Troly-Curtin, Quote Page 256, Grant Richards Ltd, London; Riverside Press, Edinburgh. (Google Books snippet view) (Thanks to Eric at the Stanford University Information Center for verification of the text on paper) link
  4. 1912, Phrynette Married by Marthe Troly-Curtin, Quote Page 256, Published by The Macmillan Company of Canada, Toronto, Canada. (Note that a flaw is present in the digital image of the microfilm image of page 256; some words are repeated)(Internet Archive archive.org; digitized from University of Alberta Libraries Microfilm; accessed December 3, 2013) link