If You Take the ‘I’ Out of Illness, and Add ‘We’, You End Up With Wellness

Malcolm X? Charles Roppel? Mariel Hemingway? William Crosbie Hunter? Shannon L. Adler? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some health problems can be ameliorated via collaborative action such as installing a water treatment facility, controlling a mosquito population, or reducing the transmission of a contagious disease.

This notion can be expressed by using wordplay. When the letter “I” in “Illness” is replaced by “We”, the result is “Wellness”. Would you please explore the provenance of this witty remark which is sometimes attributed to prominent activist Malcolm X.

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana newspaper in March 1984. The quotation was spoken during a speech to local residents by Charles Roppel, the head of the Mental Health Promotion Branch of the California Department of Mental Health. The address highlighted the value of establishing and maintaining multiple relationships of friendship and love. Roppel presented his theme adroitly and compactly as follows: 1

He says, “Take the I out of illness, add W and E, and you have wellness.”

Malcolm X died in 1965. QI has not yet located any matches before 1984. The ascription to Malcolm X occurred by 2013. Thus, based on current evidence the linkage to Malcolm X is weak.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Take the ‘I’ Out of Illness, and Add ‘We’, You End Up With Wellness


  1. 1984 March 17, Morning Advocate, Speaker notes friends ‘good medicine’ by Annabelle Armstrong (Advocate staff writer), Quote Page D1, Column 2, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)

A Stumble Is Not a Fall

Malcolm X? Oprah Winfrey? Haitian Proverb? Portuguese Proverb? Henry Rich? Thomas Fuller? Thomas Dunn English? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: While pursuing an objective one may make errors and suffer setbacks, but these impediments to progress are not insurmountable. Here are two versions of an analogical proverb offering encouragement:

  • Stumbling is not falling.
  • A stumble is not a fall.

This saying has been attributed to entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey, and activist Malcolm X. It has also been called a Portuguese and Haitian Proverb. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: Malcolm X received credit in the 2000s which is very late. Oprah Winfrey did use the expression during a commencement speech in 2016.

The adage has a very long history. In 1643 Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland made an apologetic official declaration which included a thematically related proverb. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

And since I have made an uneven Step, from the Unclearness of my Information, more than from the Unfaithfulness of my Affections or Intentions, I hope it may be look’d upon and consider’d as the Proverb that saith, Whosoever stumbles, and falls not, gets rather than loses ground.

Interestingly, the above saying depicted a stumble positively. Another positive precursor occurred in the 1732 compilation “Gnomologia” edited by Thomas Fuller. The reference included the following four sequential items: 2

423 A stout Heart crushes ill Luck.
424 A Stumble may prevent a Fall.
425 A streight Stick is crooked in the Water.
426 A successful Man loses no Reputation.

The adage above has continued to circulate in books and periodicals up to the present day. Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Stumble Is Not a Fall


  1. 1692, Historical Collections: The Third Part: Volume 2, Containing the Principal Matters Which Happened from the Meeting of the Parliament November 3, 1640 to the End of the Year, 1644, Licensed: November 11, 1691, Edited by John Rushworth, Declaration made to the Kingdom by Henry Earl of Holland, Date of Declaration: 1643, Start Page 367, Quote Page 368, Printed for Richard Chiswell and Thomas Cockerill, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1732, Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs; Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Collected by Thomas Fuller, Quote Pages 16, Printed for B. Barker, A. Bettesworth, and C. Hitch, London. (Google Books Full View) link