Art Buchwald? Henry James Lee? Mrs. Kenneth Clarke? Linda Godeau? Laurence J. Peter? Anonymous?
Dear Quote investigator: A popular modern adage de-emphasizes materialism:
The best things in life aren’t things.
This phrase has been attributed to the humorist Art Buchwald and the quotation collector Laurence J. Peter. What do you think?
Quote investigator: This saying is difficult to trace because it can be expressed in many ways. The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in the “Illinois State Journal and Register” of Springfield, Illinois in 1948. An editorial piece about “The Fine Things of Life” employed a version of the saying without a precise ascription. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
A person recently bereaved of an only sister, wrote to a friend: “Isn’t it wonderful that the really fine things of life are not things at all.” And so it is. Love, friendship, appreciation, kindness, honesty, thrift, and a multitude of life’s finest qualities, are intangible and spiritual but nevertheless, very real.
Laurence J. Peter placed the saying in one of his collections in 1982, but it was already in circulation. Art Buchwald was connected to the saying by 1989, but there was no substantive evidence that he crafted it.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1948 October 24, Illinois State Journal and Register, The Fine Things of Life, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Springfield, Illinois. (GenealogyBank) ↩