Tag Archives: Quin Ryan

The Man Who Does Not Read Has No Advantage Over the Man Who Cannot Read

Mark Twain? Inland Steel Company? Quin Ryan? Abigail Van Buren? Anonymous?

twainread01Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain is credited with a marvelous saying about the importance of reading:

A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.

I was unable to determine when this saying was created, but I did find another version while searching:

The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.

Now, I am suspicious that this adage may not be from Twain. Could you take a look?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Mark Twain said or wrote this maxim. Quotation expert Ralph Keyes and Twain specialist Barbara Schmidt both indicate that the connection to Twain is unsupported. 1 2

The earliest conceptual match for the expression located by QI was printed in “The Southern Workman” in 1910. The words of the state superintendent of public instruction in Virginia were recorded as he advocated support for libraries that would provide quality books for children. The superintendent used rhetorical questions that equated individuals who cannot read with those who do not read: 3

Who can see the barely perceptible line between the man who can not read at all and the man who does not read at all? The literate who can, but does not, read, and the illiterate who neither does nor can?

The earliest close match found by QI was published in October 1914 in an item reprinted from the periodical “The Dodge Idea”. Oddly, the context was advertising. An exponent of delivering advertisements through the mail was unhappy that these messages were often thrown away unread. The adage was used twice in the article: once in the header and once in the body, but the statement was not attributed: 4

A Man Who Does Not Read Has No Appreciable Advantage Over the Man Who Cannot Read

The man who doesn’t read hasn’t any advantage over the man who can’t read; yet there are many men who consider that the waste basket is the only place for second-class mail. The circular matter that goes through the mails is not intended to be a filler for waste baskets, but its purpose is to suggest a solution of certain problems.

The first ascription to Mark Twain found by QI was published in 1945. The details are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2006, The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, Page 16, 116 and 274, St Martin’s Griffin, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. TwainQuotes.com website edited by Barbara Schmidt, Comment at bottom of webpage titled “Reading”. (Accessed December 11, 2012) link
  3. 1910 July, The Southern Workman, Volume 39, Number 7, [Comment by Joseph D. Eggleston, Jr. state superintendent of public instruction in Virginia], Start Page 383, Quote Page 384, The Press of The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, Hampton, Virginia. (Google Books full view) link
  4. 1914 October, Mill Supplies, Volume 4, Number 10, The Waste Basket Waster, [Acknowledgement to “The Dodge Idea”], Quote Page 24, Column 2, Crawford Publishing Group, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books full view) link

Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

John Lennon? Allen Saunders? Quin Ryan? Walter Ward? Henry Cooke? Robert Balzer? L. S. McCandless?

Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, a medical emergency threw all my carefully constructed plans into complete disarray. I was reminded of a remarkably astute and ruefully humorous saying credited to the musical superstar John Lennon:

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

When did he say this? Was he the first to express this idea?

Quote Investigator: John Lennon did compose a song containing this saying and released it in 1980. The song was called “Beautiful Boy” or “Darling Boy” and it was part of the album “Double Fantasy”. Lennon wrote the lyrics about his experiences with his son Sean whose mother is Yoko Ono. YouTube has a streamable version of the song, and the phrase can be heard at 2 minutes 16 seconds into the track which has a total length of 4 minutes 12 seconds. Lennon sings [BBJL]:

Before you cross the street take my hand.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

But the general expression can be traced back more than two decades before this time. The first known appearance was in an issue of Reader’s Digest magazine dated January 1957. The statement was printed together with nine other unrelated sayings in a section called “Quotable Quotes” [RDAS]:

Allen Saunders: Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.
—Publishers Syndicate

The newspaper comic strip “Steve Roper” was written by an individual named Allen Saunders and distributed by Publishers Syndicate. It is likely that the attribution above was referencing him. Saunders also worked on the strips “Mary Worth” and “Kerry Drake.” But the saying has not yet been located in any of these comics. Three important reference works list the Reader’s Digest citation to Saunders: The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs [DPAS], The Quote Verifier [QVAS], and The Yale Book of Quotations [YQAS].

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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