To Avoid Criticism, Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing

Aristotle? Elbert Hubbard? William Pitt? Fred Shero? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Receiving criticism is an unpleasant experience, but it is also inevitable. If your actions in the world are significant then you will draw detractors. This notion is cleverly expressed in the following pointed remark:

To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

This statement of anti-advice has been attributed to two very different figures: the ancient Greek sage Aristotle and the American aphorist publisher Elbert Hubbard. Who do you think deserves credit?

Quote Investigator: QI has not found any substantive evidence to support an ascription to Aristotle.

The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in an 1898 collection of short essays titled “Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen” by Elbert Hubbard. A piece about the abolitionist politician William H. Seward noted that he was the target of an assassination attempt. But Hubbard suggested that one must brave censure and danger to live a full and meaningful life. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

If you would escape moral and physical assassination, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing—court obscurity, for only in oblivion does safety lie.

Hubbard crafted multiple versions of the expression, and the saying was often attributed to him in the early decades of the 1900s.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading To Avoid Criticism, Say Nothing, Do Nothing, Be Nothing


  1. 1898, Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen by Elbert Hubbard, Section: William H. Seward, Start Page 363, Quote Page 370, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York; The Knickerbocker Press, New York. (Edition copyright 1898; Reprint date November 1901) (HathiTrust Full View) link link