A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes

Mark Twain? Jonathan Swift? Thomas Francklin? Fisher Ames? Thomas Jefferson? John Randolph? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? Winston Churchill? Terry Pratchett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: An insightful remark about the rapid transmission of lies is often attributed to Mark Twain. Here are two versions:

(1) A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.

(2) A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on

I have not found this statement in any of the books written by Twain; hence, I am skeptical of this ascription. Would you please examine this saying?

Quote Investigator: A version of this adage was attributed to Mark Twain in 1919, but Twain died in 1910. QI believes that this evidence of a linkage was not substantive. Details of the 1919 citation are given further below.

Metaphorical maxims about the speedy dissemination of lies and the much slower propagation of corrective truths have a very long history. The major literary figure Jonathan Swift wrote on this topic in “The Examiner” in 1710 although he did not mention shoes or boots. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Besides, as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…

The phrasing and figurative language used in these sayings have been evolving for more than three hundred years. In 1787 “falsehood” was reaching “every corner of the earth”. In 1820 a colorful version was circulating with lies flying from “Maine to Georgia” while truth was “pulling her boots on”. By 1834 “error” was running “half over the world” while truth was “putting on his boots”. In 1924 a lie was circling the globe while a truth was “lacing its shoes on”.

Top researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake identified the passage by Swift listed above and several other important items covered in this article.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes

Notes:

  1. 1710 November 2 to November 9, The Examiner, Number 15, (Article by Jonathan Swift), Quote Page 2, Column 1, Printed for John Morphew, near Stationers-Hall, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Confused on a Higher Level and About More Important Things

Enrico Fermi? Bernt Øksendal? Earl C. Kelley?

Dear Quote Investigator:  My favorite quotation should resonate with anyone who has tried to master a difficult subject:

We have not succeeded in answering all our problems. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole set of new questions. In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever, but we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things.

I first saw it several years ago, but I cannot remember where. So I searched for it on the internet and discovered a reference to a math textbook: Stochastic Differential Equations. The information provided about the provenance of the quote is very limited [SDE]:

Posted outside the mathematics reading room, Tromsø University

Could you find out where this quotation came from?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this humorous quote located by QI is in a book for teachers about workshops and the educational process. The 1951 volume is titled “The Workshop Way of Learning”, and it discusses a long-running series of workshops. The passage in the book has been streamlined over the years to yield the modern version. (Thanks to top-notch urban-legend researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake for verifying the citation on paper.)

Continue reading Confused on a Higher Level and About More Important Things