Stupidity Is the Same as Evil If You Judge by the Results

Margaret Atwood? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Foolish actions can lead to disastrous results. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the actions of a stupid individual versus a malevolent individual. The prominent Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood once made a statement of this type. Would you please help me to find it?

Quote Investigator: Margaret Atwood published the novel “Surfacing” in 1972. One of her characters expressed the notion under examination. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

But I admit I was stupid, stupidity is the same as evil if you judge by the results, and I didn’t have any excuses, I was never good at them. My brother was, he used to make them up in advance of the transgressions; that’s the logical way.

QI has also examined a thematically related saying that provides a distinct perspective: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Stupidity Is the Same as Evil If You Judge by the Results

Notes:

  1. 1983 (First Published 1972), Surfacing by Margaret Atwood, Chapter 3, Quote Page 31, General Publishing Company, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Verified with scans)

Remember You Are Half Water. If You Can’t Go Through an Obstacle, Go Around It

Creator: Margaret Atwood, prominent Canadian novelist and essayist

Context: Atwood’s 2005 novella “The Penelopiad” re-envisioned the myth of Odysseus by re-centering the tale on Penelope who was the wife of the ancient hero. Penelope’s father was King Icarius of Sparta, and her mother was a Naiad, i.e., a water nymph. Commenting on her partially divine status, Penelope stated: 1

Water is our element, it is our birthright. Although we are not such good swimmers as our mothers, we do have a way of floating, and we’re well connected among the fish and seabirds.

Penelope’s mother attended her wedding and delivered a short speech which her daughter described as “nothing if not oblique; but then, all Naiads are oblique”. The address included the following. Emphasis added to excerpts: 2

Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.

A substantial fraction of the human body consists of water; estimates vary from 50 to 70 percent depending on age, gender, and measurement technique. Yet, Atwood was probably referring to the parentage of Penelope and not to the scientific evaluation of H2O in body tissue.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Linda Carson who pointed to a sequence of tweets one of which mentioned a water bottle in London displaying the quotation.

Notes:

  1. 2005 Copyright, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood, Chapter 3: My Childhood, Quote Page 9, Canongate, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 2005 Copyright, The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood, Chapter 7: The Scar, Quote Page 43, Canongate, New York. (Verified with scans)

Life Is a Sexually Transmitted Terminal Disease

Margaret Atwood? Posy Simmonds? Guy Bellamy? Marilyn Duckworth? R. D. Laing? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following quotation may be morbid, but I still consider it cleverly humorous:

Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease.

Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Tracing this statement is difficult because it emerged from a family of related sayings. Here is a summary snapshot showing quotations with dates:

1656: Life is an Incurable Disease. —Abraham Cowley
1943: Some people think of life as a fatal disease. —Francis T. Cunningham
1968: Life is a hereditary disease. —Anonymous Graffito
1971: Life is a terminal disease. —Anonymous Graffito
1980: Life is a sexually transmitted disease. —Anonymous Graffito
1981: Life is just another sexually transmitted social disease. —Margaret Atwood
1982: Life is a sexually transmitted disease. — attributed to Posy Simmonds
1982: Life is a sexually transmitted disease. —Guy Bellamy
1984: Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease. —Marilyn Duckworth
1985: Life is a sexually transmitted disease & there’s a 100% mortality rate. —R. D. Laing

The prominent New Zealand author Marilyn Duckworth combined expressions about transmission and mortality to yield the target quotation by 1984.

Below are selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading Life Is a Sexually Transmitted Terminal Disease