George W. Loomis? Percy C. Buck? Harold Craxton? Julie Andrews? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The creator of the following insightful saying was listed as unknown:
Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.
While searching for background information I came across this interesting variation:
Amateurs practice till they get it right; professionals practice till they can’t get it wrong.
Could you find out more about this modern dictum?
Quote Investigator: Because this adage can be expressed in many ways it is difficult to trace. The earliest evidence located by QI was in the domain of education in 1902. A school superintendent named George W. Loomis whose talk was recorded in the “Michigan School Moderator” discussed the best way to teach students to spell properly and employed a precursor of the modern proverb. Boldface has been added to some excerpts below: 1
It must be admitted that spelling is not taught successfully; indeed, the difficulty lies in the fact that it is seldom taught at all. Spelling lessons are assigned, studied, recited, but not taught. Much of the time spent in hearing children recite—guess till they get it right—should be spent in a definite teaching process, until they can not get it wrong.
In 1922 the distinctive second half of the expression was used in an educational book titled “Swimming and Diving”: 2
This coordination of arms and legs is perhaps the most difficult as well as the most important thing about the breast stroke. After each element has been mastered separately, practice the combination on land until you cannot get it wrong.
In 1944 a full version of the adage appeared in the volume “Psychology for Musicians” by Percy C. Buck who was an organist and a prominent Professor of Music at the University of London. This popular book was reprinted several times in the succeeding decades. Buck did not take credit for the saying which was presented as an anonymous definition: 3 4
What is the real difference between a professional and an amateur? Does not your mind immediately turn to the shallow explanation of money-payments? Two definitions have been made which may help you to think deeper than that:
“An amateur can be satisfied with knowing a fact; a professional must know the reason why.”
“An amateur practises until he can do a thing right, a professional until he can’t do it wrong.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1902 March 20, Michigan School Moderator (The Moderator), Editor Henry R. Pattengill, Volume 22, Spelling, (Footnote describes article: A talk to the critic teachers of the Central State Normal Training School by George W. Loomis, Superintendent), Quote Page 432, Column 1, Lansing, Michigan. (Google Books full view) link ↩
- 1922, Swimming and Diving by Gerald Barnes, Quote Page 37, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Google Books full view) link ↩
- 1944, Psychology for Musicians by Percy C. Buck, Quote Page 102, Geoffrey Cumberlege: Oxford University Press, London. (Fourth Impression 1946) (Note about date: QI believes that the quotation appeared in the 1944 edition, but currently QI has only examined a 1946 impression. Author Percy C. Buck died in 1947, and the front matter does not list any other authors. It also does not mention any revisions to the first edition in 1944.)(Verified on paper) ↩
- 1944, Psychology for Musicians by Percy C. Buck, Quote Page 102, Oxford University Press, London. (Tenth Impression 1967)(Verified on paper) ↩