How Many People Here Tonight Are Telekinetic? Raise My Hand

Steven Wright? Kurt Vonnegut? Emo Philips? Rich Siegel? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A speaker will typically ask audience members to raise their hands to signal an affirmative answer to a question. A humorist constructed a funny remark based on a transformation of this scenario:

If you believe in psychokinetic powers, please raise my hand.

This line has been attributed to Steven Wright, Kurt Vonnegut, and Emo Philips. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in a profile of the surrealist comedian Emo Philips published in “The Palm Beach Post” in January 1990. The journalist Peter Smith attended a performance of Philips and also had dinner with him. The following excerpt includes an instance of the quip. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Philips’ stage persona is a remarkable mixture of childlike innocence and almost otherworldly sophistication; the man who closes his act by thanking the audience for being his friend also enjoys oddly subtle wordplay and quizzically paradoxical jokes. (“How many people here tonight are telekinetic? Raise my hand.”)

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading How Many People Here Tonight Are Telekinetic? Raise My Hand

Notes:

  1. 1990 January 6, The Palm Beach Post, My dinner with Emo (continuation title: Philips keeps ’em laughing with surrealism, paradoxes) by Peter Smith (Palm Beach Post Staff Writer), Start Page 1D, Quote Page 7D, Column 1, West Palm Beach, Florida. (Newspapers_com)

If You Steal From One Author, It’s Plagiarism; If You Steal From Many, It’s Research

Wilson Mizner? Steven Wright? Wallace Notestein? Ralph Foss? Joseph Cummings Chase? Asa George Baker? Leslie Henson? Tom Lehrer? Bob Oliver? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Some of the websites I come across seem to produce their content by using cut and paste. They do not even bother to collect information from multiple sources. I am reminded of a very funny one-liner:

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.

In recent times these words have been credited to the brilliantly out-of-kilter comedian Steven Wright, but I have also seen the quip attributed to the playwright and confidence man Wilson Mizner. Could you investigate this saying?

Quote Investigator: An enjoyable precursor of the expression was printed in 1820. In the following humorous statement from Reverend Charles Caleb Colton the era of the material being appropriated was considered decisive. Thanks to a commenter named Jutta for pointing out this citation: 1

If we steal thoughts from the moderns, it will be cried down as plagiarism; if from the ancients, it will cried up as erudition.

The earliest strong match identified by QI appeared in November 1929 within a newsletter of the U.S. Forestry Service in California. Wallace Notestein, a Professor of English History at Yale University, received credit. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

WHAT IS RESEARCH?
To Prof. Notestein of the Yale faculty is attributed the following definition for research: “If you copy from one book, that’s plagiarism; if you copy from many books, that’s research.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Steal From One Author, It’s Plagiarism; If You Steal From Many, It’s Research

Notes:

  1. 1820, Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words; Addressed to Those Who Think by Rev. C. C. Colton (Charles Caleb Colton), Fifth Edition, Quote Page 229, Published by Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, London. (Google Books full view) link
  2. 1929 November 1, California District News Letter, Volume 10, Number 44, Quote Page 4, Published by U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, San Francisco, California. (Verified with scans from Library System of University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California)