Tag Archives: Vince Lombardi

The Dictionary Is the Only Place Where Success Comes Before Work

Vince Lombardi? Mark Twain? Arthur Brisbane? Vidal Sassoon? Stubby Currence? Anonymous?

dict10Dear Quote Investigator: There is an astute saying about gaining achievements through effort that deftly refers to the alphabetical order of a dictionary. Here are two versions:

1) Success comes before work only in the dictionary.
2) The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work.

This expression has been attributed to football coach Vince Lombardi, humorist Mark Twain, newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane, hair stylist Vidal Sassoon, and others. Would you please explore its origin?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Mark Twain made this statement. It is not listed on Barbara Schmidt’s TwainQuotes.com website, an important reference tool for checking expressions ascribed to the luminary. Also, it does not appear in the large compilation “Mark Twain at Your Fingertips”.

The earliest strong match for this saying located by QI was published in 1935 by a newspaper columnist named Stubby Currence. The details are given further below.

QI conjectures that the expression emerged from a precursor statement that was in circulation by the 1920s. The following was printed in a New Castle, Pennsylvania newspaper in 1925, and the same statement with the words “for it” deleted was printed in a Humboldt, Iowa newspaper in 1926: 1

One way to find success without working for it is to look it up in the dictionary.

Three key vocabulary items were shared with the saying under investigation: “success”, “working”, and “dictionary”. But the meaning here was somewhat different. The reader might find the word “success” simply by looking it up in a dictionary, but this action was distinct from actually obtaining worldly success. The wordplay and joke structure here were distinguishable, but there were multiple points of similarity with the phrase being traced.

In 1932 “The News-Herald” newspaper of Franklin, Pennsylvania printed another version of the precursor quip. This instance semantically matched the 1925 citation, but syntactically it was closer to the next citation in 1935: 2

In a dictionary is the only place one can find success without working for it.

In 1935 an expression solidly matching the one given by the questioner was published in the “Bluefield Daily Telegraph” of Bluefield, West Virginia. The words appeared in a column called “The Press Box” by Stubby Currence who covered sports for the paper. QI does not know whether Currence was the crafter of the jape or simply the transmitter: 3

BUFF SAYS: “The dictionary is the only place where you come to SUCCESS before you get to WORK.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1925 July 27, New Castle News, Hints and Dints, Quote Page 4, Column 3, New Castle, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive) 4 1926 February 12, The Humboldt Republican (Humboldt Independent), Office Dog Barks, Quote Page 2, Column 3, Humboldt, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1932 May 5, The News-Herald, Looking at the News of Today by William J. Crawford, Quote Page 4, Column 4, Franklin, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1935 February 17, Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Fodder For Sports From: The Press Box by Stubby Currence, Section 2, Quote Page 1, Column 6, Bluefield, West Virginia. (Newspapers_com)

Our Greatest Glory Is Not in Never Falling, But in Rising Every Time We Fall

Confucius? Nelson Mandela? Vince Lombardi? Oliver Goldsmith? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Christian Nestell Bovee?

goldsmith08Dear Quote Investigator: The following adage about motivation and perseverance has been attributed to an oddly eclectic group: Chinese philosopher Confucius, football coach Vince Lombardi, activist politician Nelson Mandela, Irish author Oliver Goldsmith, and transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here are four versions. The fourth uses “failing” instead of “falling”:

1) The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

2) The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.

3) Our greatest strength lies not in never having fallen, but in rising every time we fall.

4) Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.

I have no idea if any of these ascriptions is correct because I have not seen any documentation listing a source. Would you please help me with this frustrating situation?

Quote Investigator: In 1760 and1761 a series of letters written by an imaginary Chinese traveler based in London named Lien Chi Altangi was published in “The Public Ledger” magazine of London. The actual author was an Irishman named Oliver Goldsmith who used the perspective of an outsider from China to comment on and satirize the life and manners of the city. Goldsmith later achieved fame with his novel “The Vicar of Wakefield” and his play “She Stoops to Conquer”. 1

The letters were collected and released in book form in 1762 under the title “The Citizen of the World: or, Letters from a Chinese Philosopher, Residing in London, to His Friends in the East “. The seventh letter from Lien Chi Altangi included an instance of the adage: 2

Our greatest glory is, not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

A different phrasing of the maxim was included in the twenty-second letter:

True magnanimity consists not in NEVER falling, but in RISING every time we fall.

QI has located no substantive evidence that the ancient sage Confucius constructed this saying in either form, and QI believes that Goldsmith crafted it. However, the context of these simulated exotic letters led many readers to believe that the author was relaying aphorisms from China. Indeed, the introductory note for the seventh letter specifically referred to Confucius:

The Editor thinks proper to acquaint the reader, that the greatest part of the following letter seems to him to be little more than a rhapsody of sentences borrowed from Confucius, the Chinese philosopher.

By 1801 an edition of “The Miscellaneous Works of Oliver Goldsmith” included the letters that were originally ascribed to Lien Chi Altangi. Hence, the words were properly credited to Goldsmith. 3

Yet, by 1831 the saying had been reassigned to Confucius. In later years, the phrasing evolved, and the adage was attributed to a variety of individuals including Ralph Waldo Emerson. In modern times, there is evidence that both Vince Lombardi and Nelson Mandela used the expression. Details for these citations are given further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature (Third edition), Entry: The Citizen of the World, Oxford University Press, Oxford Reference Online. (Accessed May 26, 2014)
  2. 1762, The Citizen of the World: or, Letters from a Chinese Philosopher, Residing in London, to His Friends in the East by Lien Chi Altangi (Oliver Goldsmith), Letter VII and Letter XXII, Printed for George and Alex. Ewing, Dublin, Ireland. (ECCO TCP: Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Text Creation Partnership) link link link
  3. 1801, The Miscellaneous Works of Oliver Goldsmith, Volume 3 of 4, Letter VII, Quote Page 21, Letter XXI, Quote Page 75, Printed for J. Johnson, G. and J. Robinson, W. J. and J. Richardson, et al, Printed by Nichols and Son, Red Lion Passage, Fleet Street, London. (Google Books Full View) link