Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once

Albert Einstein? Ray Cummings? Mark Twain? Arthur C. Clarke? John Archibald Wheeler? Arthur Power Dudden? Susan Sontag?

Dear Quote Investigator: Albert Einstein has received credit for a humorous remark about time:

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.

Would you please explore the provenance of this quip?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke the statement above. It is listed within a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest match known to QI appeared in 1919 within a story titled “The Girl in the Golden Atom” by Ray Cummings in the magazine “All-Story Weekly”: 2

“How would you describe time?”
The Big Business Man smiled. “Time,” he said, “is what keeps everything from happening at once.”
“Very clever,” said the Chemist, laughing.

The text above is from the 1970 reprint collection “Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of ‘The Scientific Romance'”. QI has not yet verified the quotation by directly examining the 1919 issue of All-Story Weekly”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not by Einstein, Quote Page 481, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1970, Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of “The Scientific Romance” in the Munsey Magazines: 1912-1920, Edited by Sam Moskowitz, The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings (All-Story Weekly, March 15, 1919), Start Page 175, Quote Page 205, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified with scans)

Fame Is a Vapor; Popularity an Accident; Riches Take Wings

Mark Twain? Horace Greeley? N. D. Hillis?

Dear Quote Investigator: Two interesting quotations begin with the same phrases but diverge to emphasize different ideas of impermanence:

Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; the only earthly certainty is oblivion.

Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wings, those who cheer today will curse tomorrow, only one thing endures–character.

These remarks have been credited to the well-known humorist Mark Twain and the prominent newspaper editor Horace Greeley. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Horace Greeley achieved his greatest fame as the founder and editor of the popular “New-York Tribune” of New York City. In his later years he published an autobiography titled “Recollections of a Busy Life” which was serialized in several newspapers. On December 4, 1867 the “Nashville Union and Dispatch” of Tennessee printed a section of Greeley’s book about the founding of the “Tribune” which included a discussion of the evanescence of fame. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Fame is a vapor; popularity an accident; riches take wings; the only earthly certainty is oblivion—no man can foresee what a day may bring forth; and those who cheer to-day will often curse to-morrow; and yet I cherish the hope that the journal I projected and established will live and flourish long after I shall have moldered into forgotten dust, being guided by a larger wisdom, a more unerring sagacity to discern the right, though not by a more unfaltering readiness to embrace and defend it at whatever personal cost; and that the stone which covers my ashes may bear to future eyes the still intelligible inscription, “Founder of The New York Tribune.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Fame Is a Vapor; Popularity an Accident; Riches Take Wings

Notes:

  1. 1867 December 4, Nashville Union and Dispatch, Horace Greeley and His Paper: Recollections of a Busy Life, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Nashville, Tennessee. (Newspapers_com)

My Idea of a Gentleman Is He Who Can Play a Cornet and Won’t

Oscar Wilde? Mark Twain? Frank Fiest? Will Rogers? Walter Armstrong? Herman Lindauer? William M. Lewis? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: What do the following musical instruments have in common: cornet, ukulele, saxophone, bagpipes, accordion, and banjo? Each of these instruments has a distinctive sound that is unpleasant to some listeners providing inspiration for a family of comical insults. Here are three typical barbs:

(1) A true gentleman is someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, and doesn’t.

(2) A considerate person is one who could play a saxophone but doesn’t wish to.

(3) A man who can play the accordion but won’t, is a good neighbor.

The well-known wits Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain have received credit for this kind of quip, but I have been unable to find any supporting citations. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in January 1917 within the pages of “The Atchison Weekly Globe” of Atchison, Kansas. A mellow brass instrument was disparaged by a joke ascribed to a local man named Frank Fiest. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Frank Fiest: “My idea of a gentleman is he who can play a cornet and won’t.” Well said, Mr. Fiest.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading My Idea of a Gentleman Is He Who Can Play a Cornet and Won’t

Notes:

  1. 1917 January 25, The Atchison Weekly Globe, Half Minute Interviews, Quote Page 1, Column 7, Atchison, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)

If There Is a God, He Is a Malign Thug

Mark Twain? Clara Clemens? Justin Kaplan? Harlan Ellison? Darrell Schweitzer? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Famous author Mark Twain was grief-stricken when his daughter Susy died at age 24. The following expression of bitter despair has been ascribed to him:

If there is a God, he is a malign thug.

Oddly, no one has presented a good citation, and I have become skeptical of this attribution. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find this precise statement in the writings, dictations, or speeches of Mark Twain. It does not appear on the Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2 Further, it does not appear in the specialized volume “The Bible According to Mark Twain: Writings on Heaven, Eden, and the Flood” edited by Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough. 3

QI conjectures that this statement was incorrectly derived from the 1966 book “Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography” by Justin Kaplan. The distinctive phrase “malign thug” occurred when Kaplan was attempting to depict the thoughts of Mark Twain. Kaplan was not directly quoting Twain. Details are given further below.

Twain’s thoughts about religion were complex, contradictory, and heterodox. He did not want some of his controversial opinions to be published until many years after his death which occurred in 1910. Yet, the 1912 book “Mark Twain: A Biography: The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens” by Albert Bigelow Paine did contain some previously unpublished theological material written by Twain. Paine estimated that the following text was written in the early 1880s: 4

I do not believe in special providences. I believe that the universe is governed by strict and immutable laws. If one man’s family is swept away by a pestilence and another man’s spared it is only the law working: God is not interfering in that small matter, either against the one man or in favor of the other.

This conception of an aloof God-like being does not really fit the notion of a “malign thug”. Yet, Twain did use the adjectives “malign” and “malignant” when describing the Biblical deity during dictations recorded later in his life in 1906. See the passages from “The Bible According to Mark Twain” presented further below.

Below are additional selected citations.

Continue reading If There Is a God, He Is a Malign Thug

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched February 19, 2019) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. 1995, The Bible According to Mark Twain: Writings on Heaven, Eden, and the Flood, Edited by Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough, (Quotation is absent), University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1912, Mark Twain: A Biography: The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens by Albert Bigelow Paine, Volume 4, Chapter 295: Mark Twain’s Religion, Quote Page 1583, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans)

Never Argue With a Fool, Onlookers May Not Be Able To Tell the Difference

Mark Twain? Biblical Proverb? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Conflict on social media is now endemic, but it is not really new. Acrimonious exchanges between participants during the primeval days of online forums were known as “flame wars”.

Famed humorist Mark Twain has received credit for a germane cautionary remark:

Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

Unfortunately, no one has presented a good citation for Twain. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find substantive evidence crediting this remark to Mark Twain. It does not appear on the Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2

The Bible contains a thematically related passage in Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5: 3

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.
Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes.

Statements that were closer to the modern template emerged in the 1800s. Here is a sampling with dates which shows the variation in phrasing and the evolution over time. All of the earliest citations were anonymous.

1878: Don’t argue with a fool, or the listener will say there is a pair of you.

1878: Don’t argue with a fool or listeners will think there are two of you.

1896: Arguing with a fool shows that there are two.

1930: When you argue with a fool, he’s doing the same thing.

1930: When you argue with a fool be sure he isn’t similarly occupied.

1937 Never argue with a fool. But if you must, the safest way is to carry on the debate with yourself.

1938: Never argue with a fool in public lest the public not know which is which.

1943: When you argue with a fool, be sure he isn’t similarly engaged.

1951: It isn’t smart to argue with a fool; listeners can’t tell which is which.

1954: Never argue with a fool. Bystanders can’t tell which is which.

1966: Don’t argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

1999: Never argue with an idiot. You’ll never convince the idiot that you’re correct, and bystanders won’t be able to tell who’s who.

2012: Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Never Argue With a Fool, Onlookers May Not Be Able To Tell the Difference

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched February 19, 2019) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. Website: BibleHub, Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5, Translation: New American Standard Bible. (Accessed BibleHub.com on February 18, 2019) link

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

They Eked Out a Precarious Livelihood by Taking in Each Other’s Washing

Mark Twain? William Morris? Edward Dicey? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Skeptics have questioned the economic viability of small isolated or insular communities by derisively envisioning rudimentary economies based on simple tasks, e.g., individuals would wash clothes for one another. This notion has been credited to humorist Mark Twain and socialist activist William Morris. In modern times this scenario has been used to criticize measures of economic activity such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the book “The Battle-Fields of 1866” within an essay by Edward Dicey about Heligoland, a small German archipelago in the North Sea near Germany and Denmark. Dicey compared the activities on Heligoland to those on the Isle of Man, an island in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

What the inhabitants do during the winter is a subject too awful for contemplation. Somebody once suggested that the dwellers in the Isle of Man earned a precarious livelihood by taking in each other’s washing. A similar occupation is the only one I can suggest for the Heligolanders. Robinson Crusoe upon his rock can hardly have been more cut off from the outer world.

The locution “somebody once suggested” indicates that the origin is anonymous. Dicey’s essay was dated September 8, 1866 and it was published contemporaneously in newspapers such as “The Sheffield Daily Telegraph” of Sheffield, England which acknowledged “The London Telegraph’s correspondent”. 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Eked Out a Precarious Livelihood by Taking in Each Other’s Washing

Notes:

  1. 1866, The Battle-Fields of 1866 by Edward Dicey, The Island of Heligoland, Location: Heligoland, Date: September 8, 1866, Start Page 247, Quote Page 254, Tinsley Brothers, London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1866 September 17, The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Heligoland, Quote Page 3, Column 4, Yorkshire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

This World Is the Lunatic Asylum of the Universe

Mark Twain? Thomas Jefferson? Voltaire? Edward Young? George Bernard Shaw? Laird MacKenzie? Elsie McCormick? Bertrand Russell? Kurt Vonnegut? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Several thinkers have offered an anguished explanation for the dangerously disordered state of the world. Here are four versions:

  • This world is the lunatic asylum for other planets.
  • Earth is a madhouse for the Universe
  • The other planets use Earth as an insane asylum.
  • Our world is bedlam for other worlds.

This notion has been credited to Mark Twain, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, George Bernard Shaw and others. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: This is a complex topic; hence, QI will split the response into three articles; an article centered on Voltaire’s quotation is available here; an article centered on George Bernard Shaw’s quotation is available here; an overview article is presented below.

A thematic match occurred in a lengthy work by the English poet Edward Young. The poem was called “The Complaint, Or, Night-thoughts on Life, Death, & Immortality”, and it was split into a sequence of numbered “Nights”. The expression appeared in “Night Nine” which was serialized in “The Scots Magazine” in 1747. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

But what are we? You never heard of Man,
Or Earth; the Bedlam of the universe!
Where Reason, undiseas’d with you, runs mad,
And nurses Folly’s children as her own;

Voltaire wrote a story “Memnon ou La Sagesse Humaine” (“Memnon or Human Wisdom”) in the late 1740s and published it by 1749. The main character Memnon mentions Earth’s place in the universe. Here is an English translation from 1807: 2

“I am afraid,” said Memnon, “that our little terraqueous globe here is the mad-house of those hundred thousand millions of worlds, of which your Lordship does me the honour to speak.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading This World Is the Lunatic Asylum of the Universe

Notes:

  1. 1747 May, The Scots Magazine, Volume 9, Section: Poetical Essays, The Complaint, Night 9 and Last: The Consolation, (by Edward Young), Continuation of Complaint, Night 9, Start Page 221, Quote Page 225, Printed by W. Sands, A. Murray, and J. Cochran, Edinburgh, Scotland. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1807, Classic Tales: Serious and Lively, Volume 2, Voltaire, Story: Memnon the Philosopher; or Human Wisdom, Start Page 181, Quote Page 188 and 189, Printed and Published by and for John Hunt & Carew Reynell, London. (Google Books Full View) link

To My Embarrassment I Was Born in Bed with a Lady

Mark Twain? Groucho Marx? Wilson Mizner? Sydney J. Harris? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A funny man once said that he was embarrassed to discover that his behavior had always been scandalous; he had been born in bed with a lady. This line has been connected to Mark Twain, Groucho Marx, and Wilson Mizner. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI occurred in the 1930 book “Beds” by Groucho Marx. One section contained letters sent by Groucho in response to questions. The ellipsis in the following appeared in the original text: 1

It is Wilson Mizner, and not I, who recalls his embarrassment when he first came into the world, and found a woman in bed with him. . . . I wasn’t embarrassed.

Thus, Groucho credited the playwright, rogue, and wit Wilson Mizner. This citation is listed in the valuable reference “The Yale Book of Quotations” edited by Fred R. Shapiro. 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading To My Embarrassment I Was Born in Bed with a Lady

Notes:

  1. 1976 (Copyright 1930 on original edition), Beds by Groucho Marx, Quote Page 70 and 71, Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Wilson Mizner, Quote Page 526, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

Politicians Are Like Diapers. They Should Be Changed Regularly

Mark Twain? Dick Nolan? Ad Schuster? Betty Carpenter? Bumper Sticker? Jake Ford? Bill Quraishi? John Wallner? Robin Williams? Barry Levinson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The number of sayings spuriously ascribed to Mark Twain seems to grow every year. Here are two versions of a remark credited to the famous son of Hannibal, Missouri:

  • Politicians and diapers should be changed often.
  • Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed regularly and for the same reason.

The Wikiquote webpage for Twain contends that the statement is misattributed. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain who died in 1910 said or wrote this joke. It does not appear on the important Twain Quotes website edited by Barbara Schmidt, 1 nor does it appear in “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips” edited by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger. 2

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in a column by Dick Nolan in “The San Francisco Examiner” of California in 1966. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

Seasoned politics-watchers can only remind the gloomies that a more or less regular turnover is good for the Republic. In a sound democracy, our rulers ought to be changed routinely, like diapers for the same reason.

QI hypothesizes that this expression evolved from an earlier family of sayings based on the replacement of socks instead of diapers.

Multiple researchers have cooperatively explored this topic, e.g., Barry Popik has found several valuable citations, and this article includes citations located by other researchers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Politicians Are Like Diapers. They Should Be Changed Regularly

Notes:

  1. Website: TwainQuotes.com, Editor: Barbara Schmidt, Description: Mark Twain quotations, articles, and related resources. (Searched October 17, 2018) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Verified with search)
  3. 1966 November 10, The San Francisco Examiner, See—I’ve Still Got a Neck by Dick Nolan, Quote Page 41, Column 4, San Francisco, California. (Newspapers_com)