Tag Archives: Sigmund Freud

Even Paranoiacs Have Real Enemies

Henry Kissinger? Delmore Schwartz? Sigmund Freud? Virginia McManus? Mark Harris? Buck Henry? Joseph Heller? Anonymous?


Dear Quote Investigator: A family of sayings with a humorous edge was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Here were two versions:

1) Even a paranoid can have enemies.
2) Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.

This adage has been attributed to Delmore Schwartz who wrote short stories and poetry and who also suffered from mental illness. In addition, the saying has been ascribed to the political scientist and negotiator Henry Kissinger. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match located by QI appeared in an article published in July 1967 about the rebellious young generation. The words were printed as a slogan on a button, and no ascription was provided. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

When it comes to expressing their views on life, they say by button: “I Want to Be What I Was When I Wanted To Be What I Now Am,” or “Neuroses Are Red, Melancholy Is Blue, I’m Schizophrenic, What Are You?,” or “End Poverty, Give Me $10.” They further advise: “Reality Is Good Sometimes for Kicks But Don’t Let It Get You Down,” and “Even Paranoids Have Real Enemies.”

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  1. 1967 July 21, Christianity Today, Dear Slogan-Lovers by Etychus III, Page 20, Christianity Today International, Carol Stream, Illinois. (Verified on microfilm)

The Man Who First Flung a Word of Abuse at His Enemy Instead of a Spear Was the Founder of Civilization

Sigmund Freud? An English Writer? Walt Menninger? Joyce Brothers? Robert Byrne? Apocryphal?

spear10Dear Quote Investigator: The control and deflection of violent impulses is central to the development of fruitful social interactions. A cogent remark on this topic has been attributed to the acclaimed father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Here are three versions:

1) The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.
2) The first man to hurl an insult rather than a spear was the founder of civilization.
3) The first human who hurled a curse instead of a weapon against his adversary was the founder of civilization.

I have not been able to find a precise citation. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: In 1893 Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer published an article titled “Ueber den psychischen Mechanismus hysterischer Phänomene” in a Vienna medical journal. The title could be rendered in English as “On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena”. The following was the pertinent passage in German about the beginning of civilization. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Aber, wie ein englischer Autor geistreich bemerkte, derjenige, welcher dem Feinde statt des Pfeiles ein Schimpfwort entgegenschleuderte, war der Begründer der Civilisation, so ist das Wort der Ersatz für die That und unter Umständen der einzige Ersatz (Beichte).

A comprehensive twenty four volume work in English called “The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud” was released during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The third volume published in 1962 contained a translation by James Strachey of the 1893 passage above: 2

But, as an English writer has wittily remarked, the man who first flung a word of abuse at his enemy instead of a spear was the founder of civilization. Thus words are substitutes for deeds, and in some circumstances (e.g. in Confession) the only substitutes.

A comment in the “Standard Edition” stated that the medical journal article was based on a shorthand report of a lecture delivered by Freud together with revisions by Freud. Importantly, Freud ascribed the remark about civilization to an unnamed English writer. So, one may say Freud popularized the saying, but he did not originate it.

Translation is often a complex operation, and here the identity of the weapon was arguably ambiguous. The words “arrow”, “dart”, and “spear” were each worthy of consideration as possible translations for “Pfeil”.

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  1. Date: 1893 January 29, Journal: Wiener Medizinische Presse: Organ für Praktische Ärzte, Volume 34, Number 5, Article: Ueber den psychischen Mechanismus hysterischer Phänomene, Authors: Von Dr. Josef Breuer und Dr. Sigm. Freud in Wien, Start Column Number 165, Quote Column Number 166, Publisher: Urban & Schwarzenberg, Wien. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1962, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Translated from German under the General Editorship of James Strachey, In Collaboration with Anna Freud, Assisted by Alix Strachey and Alan Tyson, Volume 3 (1893-1899): Early Psycho-Analytic Publications, German article title: Ueber den Psychischen Mechanismus Hysterischer Phänomene, English article title: On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena, Start Page 25, Quote Page 36, Published by Hogarth Press, London. (Verified on paper)

Before You Diagnose Yourself with Depression or Low Self-Esteem…

Sigmund Freud? William Gibson? @debihope? Anonymous?

bench07Dear Quotes Investigator: There is a saying about maintaining emotional health that is both heartfelt and sardonic. The words have been attributed to the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and the award-winning science fiction author William Gibson. Here are two versions:

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounding yourself with assholes.

I think that the ascription to Freud is unlikely. Would you please examine this topic?

Quotes Investigator: QI believes that this saying was crafted relatively recently, and it first appeared online. Because electronic text is malleable, and attached dates are sometimes inaccurate the task of tracing recent expressions is difficult. In this case, the database of tweets seems to provide solid information.

The earliest evidence located by QI was the following tweet from 2010: 1

Twitter Handle: Notorious d.e.b. @debihope
Timestamp: 12:23 PM – 24 Jan 2010

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.

When QI communicated with @debihope she indicated that she was the originator of the expression, and she provided the following insight to its formulation: 2

Popped right out of my own head and based on a past boyfriend.

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  1. Tweet, From: Notorious d.e.b. @debihope, Time: 12:23 PM, Date: January 24, 2010, Text: Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes. (Accessed on twitter.com on October 25, 2014) link
  2. Tweet, From: Notorious d.e.b. @debihope, Time: 2:39 PM, Date: October 17, 2014, Text: @QuoteResearch Popped right out of my own head and based on a past boyfriend. (Accessed on twitter.com on October 25, 2014) link

The Only Unnatural Sex Act Is That Which One Cannot Perform

Alfred Kinsey? Richard Brinsley Sheridan? Xaviera Hollander? William Burroughs? Sigmund Freud? Anonymous?

kinsey02Dear Quote Investigator: Years ago I read a statement credited to the researcher Alfred Kinsey who was famous for producing the Kinsey Reports on sexual behavior. I do not remember the exact phrasing but the expression was similar to this:

The only unnatural act is one you cannot perform.

Kinsey’s book “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” was released in 1948, and “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” was published in 1953. Both of these books were very controversial when they were published. I looked through them but was unable to find the quotation. Could you explore this saying?

Quote Investigator:  A precursor to this statement appeared in a satirical comedy by the prominent Irish playwright and poet Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1779. “The Critic: or, A Tragedy Rehearsed” was first performed in London, and it included the following line in Act 2, Scene 1:

Certainly nothing is unnatural that is not physically impossible.

This statement appeared within the comedy when a character named Puff was explaining the plot of another play which contained a love match between two characters of different nationalities: 1 2

SNEER. No scandal about Queen Elizabeth, I hope?
PUFF. O Lud! no, no.—I only suppose the Governor of Tilbury Fort’s daughter to be in love with the son of the Spanish admiral.
SNEER. Oh, is that all?
DANGLE. Excellent, Efaith!—I see it at once.—But won’t this appear rather improbable?
PUFF. To be sure it will—but what the plague! a play is not to shew occurrences that happen every day, but things just so strange, that tho’ they never did, they might happen.
SNEER. Certainly nothing is unnatural, that is not physically impossible.

QI has not yet located the statement in a work written by Alfred Kinsey. The earliest evidence known to QI of a close match appeared in 1963 in an article in the Mattachine Review by Harold L. Call who was President of the Mattachine Society. The words were credited to Alfred Kinsey: 3

I suggest that the varied forms of sexual behavior are simply a part of nature. I urge others to regard them so. I remember Dr. Kinsey once said that the only unnatural sex act is that which one cannot perform. Then let’s start accepting the fact, and chuck into the rubbish can a lot of the prudish nonsense the anti-sexualists are feeding us.

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  1. 1781, “The Critic Or a Tragedy Rehearsed: A Dramatic Piece in Three Acts as it is performed at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane” by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Quote Page 49, Printed for T. Becket, London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. Oxford Reference Online, Quick Reference: The Critic by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Information from The Oxford Dictionary of Plays, Entry: The Critic, Oxford University Press. (Accessed oxfordreference.com on March 20, 2013)
  3. 1963 August, Mattachine Review, Volume 9, Number 8, The Hypocrisy of Sexual Morality by Harold L. Call, Start Page 4, Quote Page 12, Published by the Mattachine Society, San Francisco, California. (Reprint edition from Arno Press, New York, 1975) (Verified with scans; thanks to Stephen Goranson and Duke University library system)

Show Me a Sane Man and I Will Cure Him

Carl Jung? Sigmund Freud? Guy Bellamy? Jolande Jacobi? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: As part of a book project I have been tracking down quotations credited to the famed psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. One of the most interesting was:

Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.

The best citation I have found appeared in a newspaper article in 1975. The words were attributed to Jung, but this date is fourteen years after his death. So I am handing this task off to you, if you chose to accept it. This is a somewhat extreme statement with a humorous edge; hence, it probably did not appear in a monograph or journal article.

Quote Investigator: There is evidence that Jung made a remark of this type. The English author Vincent Brome has written a large number of biographies including some about individuals in Sigmund Freud’s circle. In 1978 he published a volume about Jung that included information from an interview with Jolande Jacobi, a long-time assistant to the psychiatrist. Jung died in 1961, and the interview was conducted in 1963 according to Brome. Here is an excerpt describing Jung from the biography together with a footnote [JJCJ]:

It was the explosive person who said one day to his wife, ‘If I get another perfectly normal adult malingering as a sick patient I’ll have him certified!’ And to George Beckwith, his American friend, ‘I’m sometimes driven to the conclusion that boring people need treatment more urgently than mad people.’ Witty on some occasions, he commented to one of his assistants, ‘Show me a sane person and I’ll cure him for you.’ [Footnote 1]

[Footnote 1 for Chapter 23] Jolande Jacobi, author’s interview, 24 Nov 1963.

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Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar

Sigmund Freud? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, was famous for interpreting symbols with special emphasis on the imagery in dreams. In photos he was often shown smoking a cigar, and that is why I always found the following quotation from him very amusing:

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Did Freud really say this, or was it made up by a prankster?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this saying that QI has located appeared in a footnote in the medical journal “Psychiatry” in 1950. In an article titled “The Place of Action in Personality Change” the author Allen Wheelis discussed the importance of considering both the conscious and the unconscious aims of an action. He stated that sometimes the conscious aims were largely a cover for the unconscious aims, but he cautioned in a footnote that the analyst should not always assume that is true [SFAW]:

This is still an occupational hazard of psychoanalysis—thirty years after Freud’s famous remark that “a cigar is sometimes just a cigar.”

Based on the “thirty years” time span indicated by Wheelis the comment by Freud would have been made in 1920. Yet, no evidence for an earlier statement has been uncovered to date. Freud lived from 1856 to 1939. This lack of documentation is particularly odd because of the assertion that the saying was “famous” in 1950. The word order differs slightly from the most popular modern version.

In 2001 Alan C. Elms, a psychology professor at the University of California at Davis, published an article about three well-known sayings attributed to the renowned psychoanalyst: “Apocryphal Freud: Sigmund Freud’s Most Famous ‘Quotations’ and Their Actual Sources.” Elms reported on an extensive investigation of the cigar quip, and he argued that it was almost certainly apocryphal [SFAE]:

In this case, however, not only do we lack any written record of Freud as the direct source, but also there are many reasons to conclude that Freud never said it or anything like it.

Elms also asked a German colleague, Eva Schepeler, if she had seen a German version of the saying:

But despite her wide reading of psychoanalytic and popular literature in her native language, she does not recall ever having seen the quotation printed in a German publication.

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