Tag Archives: Muhammad Ali

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men. . . Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing

Muhammad Ali? Laila Ali? David Beckham? Aimee Lehto? Boyd Coyner? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A forceful statement about overcoming obstacles and adversity begins with the following statement:

Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men . . .

These words are usually attributed to the famous U.S. boxer Muhammad Ali, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 2004 the athletic shoe and sportswear company Adidas ran a global advertising campaign. Aspirational sports figures such as Muhammad Ali, Laila Ali (his daughter), and David Beckham were featured in the blitz. The ad copy included the following striking passage which appeared in uppercase text superimposed on pictures of these sports heroes. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1



The header picture for this article shows images of Muhammad Ali and Laila Ali with the superimposed text. Further below is a picture of David Beckham with the text adjacent. Yet, none of these athletes crafted the passage.

The campaign was created for Adidas by the advertising organization TBWA. The manifesto was written by creative professional Aimee Lehto, and the keystone line “Impossible is nothing” was crafted by fellow creative Boyd Coyner. They both deserve credit for the memorable words as indicated in the “Advertising Age” citation presented together with other information below.

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  1. 2004 February 9, Sports Illustrated, Volume 100, Number 5, (Multipage advertisement inserted after the Letters section), Start Page 15, Time Inc., New York. (Verified with microfilm and scans)

The Man Who Views the World at 50 the Same as He Did at 20 Has Wasted 30 Years of His Life

Muhammad Ali? Apocryphal?

globe08Dear Quote Investigator: There is a statement attributed to Muhammad Ali about the natural changes in viewpoint an individual experiences during decades of growth and maturation. Ali stated that a person who does not change his or her perspective over a long period of time has wasted the years. Are you familiar with this statement?

Quote Investigator: In November 1974 the UPI wire service reported that Muhammad Ali spoke at a news conference in London for forty minutes non-stop. The promoter of Ali’s boxing tour feared that he might lose his voice, but Ali wished to continue, and he delivered a remark that matched the one specified by the questioner above. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Don’t you worry me,” said Ali, posing for the battery of TV and press cameras. “I can talk all night.”

He was finally cut short, but not before he had answered a question about his philosophy of life. “If a man looks at the world when he is 50 the same way he looked at it when he was 20 and it hasn’t changed, then be has wasted 30 years of his life,” he said.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1974 November 30, The News (The Port Arthur News), Ali wants both Joe, Foreman at same time (UPI news service), Quote Page 11, Column 3, Port Arthur, Texas. (Newspapers_com)

It Isn’t the Mountain Ahead That Wears You Out; It Is the Grain of Sand in Your Shoe

Muhammad Ali? Robert W. Service? Anonymous?

matterhorn02Dear Quote Investigator: The following quotation about perseverance is attributed to the famed boxer Muhammad Ali:

It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.

While I was researching this phrase I came across another version that was attributed to the popular poet Robert W. Service who died in 1958:

It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out — it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.

Could you provide clarification?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in 1916 in a trade publication for the insurance industry. The adage was printed with no accompanying text as a filler item, and no attribution was given: 1

It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it is the grain of sand in your shoe.

In 1920 the expression was published in “The Journal of the New York State Teachers Association”. Once again, no attribution was given. Other sayings emphasizing steadfastness and determination were printed adjacent to the statement: 2

It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it is the grain of sand in your shoe.

Back up your ideas with courage that will not back down, and there will be no way too long, no road too rough.

The reason most men and women do not accomplish more is that they do not attempt more.

By 1925 the saying had been extended with an explanatory sentence. This longer version was published in Forbes magazine together with the single word acknowledgment: “Service”. QI hypothesizes that this word referred to a magazine or newsletter called “Service” and not to the poet Robert W. Service. If Forbes wished to credit the “Bard of the Yukon” then his full name would have been listed: 3

It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out—it’s the grain of sand in your shoe. Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big worth while things.—Service.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1916 May 18, The Western Underwriter, Section: Life, (Freestanding quote without attribution), Quote Page 10, Column 2, Published by the Western Underwriter Company, Cincinnati, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1920 February, The Journal of the New York State Teachers Association, Volume 7, Number 1, (Freestanding short passage), Quote Page 31, Column 2, Published by The New York State Teachers Association, Rochester, New York. (Google Books full view) link
  3. 1925 May 1, Forbes, Thoughts on Life and Business, Quote Page 104, Column 3, Forbes Inc., New York. (Verified on microfilm)

When He Turned Out the Light He Was in Bed Before the Room Was Dark

Muhammad Ali? Satchel Paige? Cool Papa Bell? Hablarias? Moran and Mack? Abbott and Costello? Anonymous?

alilight01Dear Quote investigator: Renowned heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali was famous for his witty remarks which included humorous boasts such as this:

I’m so fast I hit the light switch in my room and jump into bed before my room goes dark.

Yet, I believe that I heard a similar comical description employed by the famous baseball pitcher Satchel Paige who used it when characterizing another lightning-fast pitcher named James (Cool Papa) Bell. Could you explore this expression?

Quote Investigator: By the 1970s Muhammad Ali was using this jocular hyperbolic self-description. Some years earlier, in the 1960s Satchel Paige was using this gag when discussing James (Cool Papa) Bell. Interestingly, the remark has a very long history.

The earliest instance located by QI was printed in 1917 in “The Marines Magazine”, a monthly for United States Marine Corps personnel. A correspondent from Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania using the pseudonym Hablarias employed the jape: 1

Corporal Smith is still in training and, believe me, he is some speed merchant. Here is one record he holds: It is 20 feet from the switchboard to his pile of alfalfa and he can switch off the lights and be back in bed before the room gets dark!

In 1919 an article covering the vaudeville circuit in the Chicago Tribune stated that the comedy team of Moran and Mack were using a version of the joke: 2

“Are you quick?”
“Am I quick? Why, man, when I go to bed at night and turn out the light I’m in bed before the room is dark.”

In 1920 a newspaper in Kansas printed the remarkable tale of swiftness. Many individuals still relied on gas lighting rather than electric lighting in that year: 3

An Atchison woman: “I’ll say my husband is fast. He is so fast that when he turns off the gas light he is in bed before the room gets dark.”— Atchison Globe.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1917 April, The Marines Magazine, (Report from Fort Mifflin, PA by “HABLARIAS”), Quote Page 32, Edited at Marine Corps Headquarters, Washington, D.C. (HathiTrust full view) link
  2. 1919 March 9, Chicago Tribune, Vaudeville Wit: Majestic, Quote Page D5, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  3. 1920 February 25, Hutchinson News, (Freestanding short item), Quote Page 9, Column 3, Hutchinson, Kansas. (NewspaperArchive)

Age Is an Issue of Mind Over Matter. If You Don’t Mind, It Doesn’t Matter

Mark Twain? Jack Benny? Satchel Paige? Muhammad Ali? Unknown gerontology researcher?

bennysatchel075Dear Quote Investigator: On a popular website recently I saw a slide show of quotations ascribed to Mark Twain that included the following:

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

I thought this was said by the celebrated baseball pitcher Satchel Paige. Can you determine who should be credited?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain created this witticism. For example, it is not found on TwainQuotes.com, the important website of Mark Twain quotations and resources 1 nor in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips”. 2

The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an article about aging that was published in multiple newspapers in 1968. The saying was attributed to an anonymous scientific researcher. The prefatory phrase was somewhat shorter: 3

As one government researcher puts it: “Aging is a matter of mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

The quote above was printed in a North Carolina newspaper in June. The same article and saying were printed in a paper in Schenectady, New York in July. 4

The saying was memorable enough that the excerpt above was extracted from the article and printed by itself as a freestanding filler item in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana newspaper in July. 5

The adage continued to circulate and in 1970 it was ascribed to an anonymous physician in an article from the UPI news service: 6

“Aging is a matter of mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” With these words, one physician summed up one of the factors that means better health in the later years — the attitude that one has toward growing older, chronologically.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. TwainQuotes.com website edited by Barbara Schmidt. (Search performed December 17, 2012) link
  2. 1948, Mark Twain at Your Fingertips by Caroline Thomas Harnsberger, Cloud, Inc., Beechhurst Press, Inc., New York. (Search performed on scanned pages)
  3. 1968 June 28, Statesville Record and Landmark, Facts Listed On Aging, Quote Page 7-A, Statesville, North Carolina. (NewspaperArchive)
  4. 1968 July 11, Schenectady Gazette, Researchers Say Heredity Affects Aging, Quote Page 38, Column 3, Schenectady, New York. (Google News Archive)
  5. 1968 July 18, State Times (State Times Advocate), (Freestanding quote), Page 7-C, Column 3, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 1970 May 20, The Milwaukee Journal, Aging Called A Matter Of Mind Over Calendar, (UPI News), Part 2, Page 7, Column 3, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Google News Archive)