You Can Discover More About a Person in an Hour of Play than in a Year of Conversation

Plato? Richard Lingard? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Plato’s philosophical thoughts were explicated using the format of a dialogue in which the participants expressed clashing ideas. The following quotation attributed to Plato seems to be a comical twist on his true attitude:

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI and other researchers have found no substantive evidence that Plato wrote or spoke this remark.

The earliest significant match known to QI was contained in a short pamphlet published in 1670 titled “A Letter of Advice to a Young Gentleman Leaveing the University Concerning His Behaviour and Conversation in the World” by Richard Lingard. The following passage referred to “game” instead of “play”; also “game” was used in the specialized sense of “gambling game”. In addition, the period mentioned was seven years instead of one. The spelling and grammatical irregularities were in the original text. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1

Take heed of playing often or deep at Dice and games of chance, for that is more chargeable than the seven deadly sinns; yet you may allow your self a certaine easy sum to spend at play, to gratifie friends, and pass over the winters nights, and that will make you indifferent for the event. If you would read a mans disposition see him game, you will then learn more of him in one hour, than in seven years conversation, and little wagers will try him as soon as great stakes, for then he is off his Guard.

An individual might react with anger, agitation, surprise, or indifference when he or she has lost a small sum or a great sum of money. Each one of these variable responses would help to illuminate that person’s character suggested Lingard.

In 1857 a compilation titled “A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs” was published and the following anonymous concise saying was presented in Portuguese and English: 2

Mais descobre huma hora de jogo, que hum anno de conversação.

An hour of play discovers more than a year of conversation.

The statement above strongly matched the modern version of the expression, and it may have evolved from the advice given in 1670, but this connection remains hypothetical.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading You Can Discover More About a Person in an Hour of Play than in a Year of Conversation

Notes:

  1. 1670, Title: A Letter of Advice to a Young Gentleman Leaveing the University Concerning His Behaviour and Conversation in the World, Author: R. L. (Richard Lingard), Quote Page 50 and 51, Printed by Benjamin Tooke, Dublin, Ireland, Sold by Mary Crook. (Early English Books Online EEBO-TCP Phase 2)
  2. 1857, A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs, comprising French, Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Danish with English Translations by Henry G. Bohn, Section: Portuguese Proverbs, Quote Page 281, Section: Index, Quote Page 422, Published by Henry G. Bohn, London. (Google Books Full View) link