I Do Not Know What I Think Until I Read What I’m Writing

Flannery O’Connor? Graham Wallas? E. M. Forster? Inger Stevens? August Heckscher? Paul Samuelson? Shirley MacLaine? Joan Didion? E. L. Doctorow? John Gregory Dunne? Edward Albee? Wendy Wasserstein? William Faulkner? Virginia Hamilton Adair? Stephen King?

Question for Quote Investigator: The process of writing helps to clarify thoughts and ideas. For example, some novelists do not outline their plots in advance; instead, they spontaneously construct story arcs while writing. Here are two versions of a pertinent comment:

(1) I write to find out what I think.
(2) I don’t know what I think until I read what I write.

This remark has a humorous edge because thoughts are usually formulated before they are written down. This notion has been attributed to prominent short story writer and novelist Flannery O’Connor and to horror master Stephen King. Would you please explore this topic?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The full version of this article is available on the Medium website which is available by clicking here. This article provides an overview.

In 1948 Flannery O’Connor wrote a letter to her literary agent, and she included an instance of the saying. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1979, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, Edited by Sally Fitzgerald, Part I: Up North and Getting Home 1948-1952, Letter to: Literary agent Elizabeth McKee, Letter date: July 21, … Continue reading

What you say about the novel, Rinehart, advances, etc. sounds very good to me, but I must tell you how I work. I don’t have my novel outlined and I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again.

O’Connor’s mention of an “old lady” indicated that she was referencing an earlier cluster of similar remarks. Here are two of the earliest instances:

1926: How can I know what I think till I see what I say? (Attributed to unnamed little girl by educator Graham Wallas)[2]1926 Copyright, The Art of Thought by Graham Wallas (Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of London), Chapter 4: Stages of Control, Quote Page 106, Harcourt, Brace and Company, … Continue reading

1927: How can I tell what I think till I see what I say? (Attributed to an unnamed old lady by novelist E. M. Forster)[3] 1927 Copyright, Aspects Of The Novel by E. M. Forster, Chapter 5: The Plot, Quote Page 152, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

The two quotations above were about speaking instead of writing. A separate QI article about the family of sayings centered on oral expression is available here: How Can I Know What I Think Till I See What I Say?

This article will center on sayings about written expression. Below is an overview of this family of remarks.

1948 Jul 21: I don’t have my novel outlined and I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it over again. (Writer Flannery O’Connor)

1959 May 7: I have been writing down my thoughts about things—not for publication, but to find out what I’m thinking about. (Actress Inger Stevens)

1963: I did not really know what I thought until I read what I had written the next day. (Attributed to Journalist August Heckscher)

1969 Jan: How do I know what I really think until I read what my pen is writing? (Economist Paul Samuelson)

1976 Nov 18: Half the time I write to find out what I mean. (Actress and Author Shirley MacLaine)

1976 Dec 5: I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking. (Writer Joan Didion)

1981 Mar 31: You write to find out what it is that you’re writing. (Novelist E. L. Doctorow)

1982 May 3: I think you write to find out what you think. (Screenwriter John Gregory Dunne)

1983 Jun: I write the plays down to find out what I’m thinking about. (Playwright Edward Albee)

1985 Mar 17: I often write to find out what I’m thinking. (Playwright Wendy Wasserstein)

1989: I don’t know what I think until I read what I said. (Attributed to William Faulkner by Warren Bennis)

1994: I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it. (Attributed to William Faulkner by Tom Morris)

1995: I never know what I think until I read it in one of my poems. (Poet Virginia Hamilton Adair)

2005: I write to find out what I think. (Horror writer Stephen King)

Additional detailed information is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available by clicking here.

References

References
1 1979, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, Edited by Sally Fitzgerald, Part I: Up North and Getting Home 1948-1952, Letter to: Literary agent Elizabeth McKee, Letter date: July 21, 1948, Start Page 5, Quote Page 5, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, New York. (Verified with scans)
2 1926 Copyright, The Art of Thought by Graham Wallas (Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of London), Chapter 4: Stages of Control, Quote Page 106, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
3 1927 Copyright, Aspects Of The Novel by E. M. Forster, Chapter 5: The Plot, Quote Page 152, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

I Don’t Care Who Writes a Nation’s Laws . . . If I Can Write Its Economic Textbooks

Paul Samuelson? Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun? Percy Bysshe Shelley? Mary Shelley? Sylvia Nasar?

Question for Quote Investigator: The cultural impact of economic thought has been enormous. Apparently, a famous economist once said something like this:

I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws if I can write its economic textbooks.

Would you please help me to identify this economist and find a citation?

Reply from Quote Investigator: Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Samuelson published the perennially popular textbook “Economics” beginning in 1948. Twenty editions have appeared during subsequent decades.

In 1990 Samuelson wrote the foreword to “The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors”, and he employed the quotation. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[1]1990, The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors, Edited by Phillip Saunders and William B. Walstad, Section: Foreword by Paul A Samuelson, Date: October 1988, Quote Page ix, … Continue reading

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.” It was a poet who said that, exercising occupational license. Some sage, it may have been I, declared in similar vein: “I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws—or crafts its advanced treaties—if I can write its economic textbooks.” The first lick is the privileged one, impinging on the beginner’s tabula rasa at its most impressionable state.

Paul Samuelson’s phrasing was humorously tentative, but QI believes that he deserves credit for the remark under examination. When Samuelson crafted his remark he was deliberately alluding to a family of previous remarks about the powerful cultural influence of music and poetry.

In 1704 Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun published “An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind”, and he attributed a pertinent remark about music to an anonymous wise man. This remark used the same template as Samuelson’s comment:[2]1704, An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind: In a Letter to the Marquiss of Montrose, the Earls of Rothes, Roxburg, and Hadington, … Continue reading

. . . a very wise man . . . believed if a man were permitted to make all the Ballads, he need not care who should make the Laws of a Nation. And we find that most of the antient Legislators thought they could not well reform the manners of any City without the help of a Lyric, and sometimes of a Dramatic Poet.

Additional detailed information is available in the Quote Investigator article on the Medium website which is available here.

References

References
1 1990, The Principles of Economics Course: A Handbook for Instructors, Edited by Phillip Saunders and William B. Walstad, Section: Foreword by Paul A Samuelson, Date: October 1988, Quote Page ix, McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
2 1704, An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind: In a Letter to the Marquiss of Montrose, the Earls of Rothes, Roxburg, and Hadington, from London the 1st of December, 1703, Author: Andrew Fletcher, Quote Page 10, Printed in the Year 1704 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Google Books Full View) link

The Eighth Wonder of the World Is Compound Interest

Albert Einstein? Napoleon Bonaparte? Baron Rothschild? Paul Samuelson? John D. Rockefeller? Advertising Copy Writer? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Salespeople and advertisers invoke the name of the scientific genius Albert Einstein when they wish to impress gullible individuals. The following grandiose statement has been attributed to Einstein:

Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.

Sometimes the remark is credited to financial luminaries such as Baron Rothschild or John D. Rockefeller. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The saying appeared in a section titled “Probably Not By Einstein” in the authoritative volume “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press.[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)

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in an advertisement for The Equity Savings & Loan Company published in the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” of Ohio in 1925. No attribution was specified. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[2] 1925 April 27, Cleveland Plain Dealer, (Advertisement for The Equity Savings & Loan Co., 5701 Euclid Ave.) Quote Page 26, Column 6, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

The Eighth Wonder of the World—is compound interest. It does things to money. At the Equity it doubles your money every 14 years, but here is an even greater wonder of it—

Deposit five dollars a week for twenty years, say, and let the interest accumulate. You will have actually put away only $5,200, but you will have $8,876.80. The difference of $3,676.80 is what 5% compound interest has done for you.

QI hypothesizes that the statement was crafted by an unknown advertising copy writer. Over the years it has been reassigned to famous people to make the comment sound more impressive and to encourage individuals to open bank accounts or purchase interest-bearing securities.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Eighth Wonder of the World Is Compound Interest

References

References
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 1925 April 27, Cleveland Plain Dealer, (Advertisement for The Equity Savings & Loan Co., 5701 Euclid Ave.) Quote Page 26, Column 6, Cleveland, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)

When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?

John Maynard Keynes? Paul Samuelson? Winston Churchill? Joan Robinson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: John Maynard Keynes was an enormously influential economist, but some of his detractors complained that the opinions he expressed tended to change over the years. Once during a high-profile government hearing a critic accused him of being inconsistent, and Keynes reportedly answered with one of the following:

When events change, I change my mind. What do you do?

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?

When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?

Because there are so many different versions of this rejoinder I was hoping you might determine if any of them is real. Is there any truth to this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: No direct evidence that Keynes made a comment of this type has been located by QI or other researchers. The earliest statement found by QI that fits this template was not spoken by Keynes but by another prominent individual in the same field, Paul Samuelson who was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in economics. He was well-known to students for creating a best-selling economics textbook.

On December 20, 1970 he was interviewed by a panel on the television program “Meet the Press.” The transcript of the show was published the next day in the “Daily Labor Report” from the Bureau of National Affairs, Washington. Austin Kiplinger of Kiplinger Publications asked Samuelson about inflation. Boldface has been added to excerpts [PSDR]:

KIPLINGER: Returning to this matter of how much inflation we can absorb effectively, you may remember that Dr. Sumner Schlicter at Harvard shocked, I guess, the American Public after World War II when he said some inflation was not only inevitable but perhaps also desirable to promote growth. My question is do you agree with that general assessment and if so, how much should we have and how much is acceptable?

DR. SAMUELSON: I do agree with it and I suffer for expressing my agreement. Different editions of my textbook have been quoted. In the first edition I said a five percent rate is tolerable. Then I worked it down to three percent and then down to two percent and the AP carried a wire “Author Should Make Up His Mind.” Well when events change, I change my mind. What do you do?

Intriguingly, in 1978 Samuelson used a version of this expression again, and this time he credited the words to Keynes. His statement was reported in the Wall Street Journal in an article by Lindley H. Clark Jr. [PSWJ]:

Paul Samuelson, the Nobel laureate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recalled that John Maynard Keynes once was challenged for altering his position on some economic issue. “When my information changes,” he remembered that Keynes had said, “I change my mind. What do you do?”

It is possible that Samuelson was consciously or unconsciously echoing a remark of Keynes when he spoke in 1970, but there is no compelling support for this because he did not credit Keynes during the television interview.

Here are some additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?