The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When

The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When

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by Ralph Keyes

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Our language is full of hundreds of quotations that are often cited but seldom confirmed. Ralph Keyes's The Quote Verifier considers not only classic misquotes such as "Nice guys finish last," and "Play it again, Sam," but more surprising ones such as "Ain't I a woman?" and "Golf is a good walk spoiled," as well as the origins of popular sayings such as "The


Our language is full of hundreds of quotations that are often cited but seldom confirmed. Ralph Keyes's The Quote Verifier considers not only classic misquotes such as "Nice guys finish last," and "Play it again, Sam," but more surprising ones such as "Ain't I a woman?" and "Golf is a good walk spoiled," as well as the origins of popular sayings such as "The opera ain't over till the fat lady sings," "No one washes a rented car," and "Make my day."

Keyes's in-depth research routinely confounds widespread assumptions about who said what, where, and when. Organized in easy-to-access dictionary form, The Quote Verifier also contains special sections highlighting commonly misquoted people and genres, such as Yogi Berra and Oscar Wilde, famous last words, and misremembered movie lines.

An invaluable resource for not just those with a professional need to quote accurately, but anyone at all who is interested in the roots of words and phrases, The Quote Verifier is not only a fascinating piece of literary sleuthing, but also a great read.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Who is credited for saying "You are what you eat?" Karl Marx? According to this amusing A-to-Z compendium of famous sayings, it was actually philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach who in 1850 said "Man is what he eats," but it was French politician Anthelme Brillat-Savarin who a whole quarter century earlier wrote "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." It is morsels of information like this that make up this inexpensive ready-reference source. Keyes (The Post-Truth Era) aims not only to set the record straight about who said what and when but to tell the story of how each quote was conceived and evolved over time. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

“The research in Ralph Keyes' The Quote Verifier is impressive, and each conclusion is like the solution to a real-life historical mystery. Who knew a reference book could be so entertaining?” —Will Shortz, Crossword Puzzle Editor of The New York Times

“Ralph Keyes has made it his mission to hunt down and expose false quotations, and in The Quote Verifier he does that brilliantly. The Quote Verifier is a much needed corrective to the countless 'quotations' that are misquoted, falsely attributed, or downright wrong. Keyes takes apart with surgical precision every dubious quotation, old and new. In the process, he tells engagingly the stories behind the quotes, stories that are often surprisingly funny and always interesting.” —Sol Steinmetz, co-author of The Life of Language

Nice Guys Finish Seventh established Ralph Keyes as one of our leading quote sleuthers. With The Quote Verifier, he's become our verifier-in-chief. If you want to know who actually said what, this book is indispensable.” —Rosalie Maggio, author of The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women

“Quotations are powerful tools. Michel de Montaigne, the father of all essayists, observed, 'I quote others only to better express myself.' Intrepid quotations detective Ralph Keyes helps us to discover the clear truth about exactly what was said and who exactly said it.” —Richard Lederer, author of Word Wizard

“Quotation tracers will find this an excellent book to consult. It provides all the known details about authorship and wording of a large number of quotes, maxims, observations, slogans, comments, and catch phrases. But this is not simply a reference work. Reading it is a real pleasure. The book is easy to use. Quotes are arranged alphabetically by key word and source references are provided in meticulous detail. As a valuable new scholarly resource, The Quote Verifier will take its place alongside standard books of quotations.” —Anthony Shipps, author of The Quote Sleuth

“'I never said half the things I said,' Yogi Berra said. Or did he? Ralph Keyes' The Quote Verifier is an invaluable and irresistible resource for determining the provenance of dubious quotations. These have always been around, but with the rise of the internet, on which anyone can attribute anything to anybody, they're spreading at a terrifying pace. Thanks, Keyes, we needed that.” —Ben Yagoda, author of About Town

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Chapter One "ACADEMIC politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." This observation is routinely attributed to former Harvard professor Henry Kissinger. Well before Kissinger got credit for that thought in the mid-1970s, however, Harvard political scientist Richard Neustadt told a reporter, "Academic politics is much more vicious than real politics. We think it's because the stakes are so small." Others believe this quip originated with political scientist Wallace Sayre, Neustadt's onetime colleague at Columbia University. A 1973 book gave as "Sayre's Law," "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue--that is why academic politics are so bitter." Sayre's colleague and coauthor Herbert Kaufman said his usual wording was "The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low." In his 1979 book Peter's People, Laurence Peter wrote, "Competition in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so small." He called this "Peter's Theory of Entrepreneurial Aggressiveness in Higher Education." Variations on that thought have also been attributed to scientist-author C. P. Snow, professor-politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and politician Jesse Unruh (among others). According to the onetime editor of Woodrow Wilson's papers, however, long before any of them strode the academic-political scene, Wilson observed often that the intensity of academic squabbles he witnessed while president of Princeton University was a function of the "triviality" of the issues being considered.

Verdict: An old academic saw that may have originated with Woodrow Wilson but was put in modern play by Wallace Sayre.

"Half the money I spend on ADVERTISING is wasted. The trouble is I don't know which half." In the United States this business truism is most often attributed to department store magnate John Wanamaker (1838-1922), in England to Lord Leverhulme (William H. Lever, founder of Lever Brothers, 1851-1925). The maxim has also been ascribed to chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, adman George Washington Hill, and adman David Ogilvy. In Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963), Ogilvy himself gave the nod to his fellow Englishman Lord Leverhulme (Lever Brothers was an Ogilvy client), adding that John Wanamaker later made the same observation. Since Wanamaker founded his first department store in 1861, when Lever was ten, this seems unlikely. Fortune magazine thought Wanamaker expressed the famous adage in 1885, but it gave no context. While researching John Wanamaker, King of Merchants (1993), biographer William Allen Zulker found the adage typed on a sheet of paper in Wanamaker's archives, but without a name or source. Wanamaker usually wrote his own material longhand.

Verdict: A maxim of obscure origins, put in famous mouths.

"If you have to ask how much they cost, you can't AFFORD one." J. P. Morgan's alleged response to an inquiry about the cost of his yachts is considered the epitome of wealthy imperiousness. (Some attribute the thought to Cornelius Vanderbilt.) No dependable evidence exists that Morgan actually said this, however, and biographer Jean Strouse doubts that he did. Calling the mot "implausible," Strouse concluded, "Morgan was a singularly inarticulate, unreflective man, not likely to come up with a maxim worthy of Oscar Wilde." The closest analogue Strouse could find on the record was Morgan's response to oil baron Henry Clay Pierce: "You have no right to own a yacht if you ask that question."

Verdict: Morgan's sentiments, not his words.

"AFTER us, the deluge." ("Aprés nous le déluge.") This classic remark is generally thought to have been uttered by King Louis XV of France after his forces were defeated by those of Frederick the Great at the battle of Rossbach in 1757. Biographer Olivier Bernier calls the attribution "wholly apocryphal." At least two memoirs by contemporaries attributed these words in the plural to the king's mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour. Others to whom the saying has been attributed include Prince Metternich, Marie Antoinette, and Verdi. However "Aprés moi le déluge" was a French proverb in common use long before Louis XV or anyone else was alleged to have said it.

Verdict: An old proverb put in many mouths, especially that of Louis XV.

"AIN'T I a woman?" This is the phrase ex-slave Sojourner Truth used to bring an 1851 convention of feminists to its feet. Or so we like to imagine. Contemporary news accounts of her talk reported no such exclamation. After exhaustive research, biographer Carleton Mabee concluded that Truth's rallying cry was actually concocted by convention chair Frances Dana Gage, a poet and antislavery feminist who inserted the phrase "Ar'n't I a woman?" repeatedly into her subsequent account of Truth's speech. According to Mabee this account, which was published twelve years after the fact, is "folklore." Most likely Gage simply abridged an antislavery motto, "Am I not a Woman and a Sister?", and translated it into dialect for her report on Truth. Over time "Ar'n't I a woman?" mutated into "Ain't I a woman?" Far from being what Sojourner Truth actually said, concluded historian Nell Irvin Painter, these famous four words are "what we need her to have said."

Verdict: Credit Frances Dana Gage for this feminist saying, not Sojourner Truth.

"It AIN'T so much the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we know that just ain't so." In various forms this popular observation gets attributed most often to Mark Twain, as well as to his fellow humorists Artemus Ward, Kin Hubbard, and Will Rogers. Others to whom it's been credited include inventor Charles Kettering, pianist Eubie Blake, and--by Al Gore--baseball player Yogi Berra. Twain did once observe, "It isn't so astonishing the things that I can remember, as the number of things I can remember that aren't so," but biographer Albert Bigelow Paine said he was paraphrasing a remark by humorist Josh Billings. (In Following the Equator Twain also wrote, "Yet it was the schoolboy who said, 'Faith is believing what you know ain't so.'") Billings, whose real name was Henry Wheeler Shaw, repeated this theme often in different forms. On one occasion Billings wrote, "I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain't so." A handbill for one of his lectures included the line "It iz better to kno less than to kno so much that ain't so." Across this handbill Billings wrote longhand, "You'd better not kno so much than know so many things that ain't so." Apparently the humorist considered this his signature "affurism."

Verdict: Credit Josh Billings.

"I want to be ALONE." Greta Garbo did say this, to John Barrymore, in the 1932 movie Grand Hotel, whose screenplay was written by William A. Drake. That movie was based on a 1929 novel with the same title by Austrian author Vicki Baum. In the English translation of Baum's novel, the character eventually played by Garbo says, "But I wish to be alone." In time that sentiment was attributed to the reclusive actress herself. Garbo was not happy about this at all. She once told a friend, "I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said, 'I want to be let alone!' There is all the difference."

Verdict: Credit novelist Vicki Baum and screenwriter William A. Drake for Greta Garbo's most famous line.

"AMERICA is great because America is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." Like presidents Eisenhower and Reagan before him, Bill Clinton was fond of attributing these words to Alexis de Tocqueville. Many another political figure, news commentator, and patriotic orator has cited this observation, said to have been made by America's most famous tourist. (The lines are thought to be preceded by "Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the greatness and genius of America.") Library of Congress researchers call the attribution "unverified." They did find the complete quotation, attributed to de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, in a 1941 book called The Kingdom of God and the American Dream by evangelist Sherwood Eddy (1871-1963). Claremont McKenna College political scientist John Pitney has devoted two essays to the misattributed quotation and its many uses. Who actually wrote these words remains a mystery. Sherwood Eddy gave no source for his de Tocqueville attribution. According to biographer Rick L. Nutt, Eddy tended to work from memory. Perhaps he'd read the 1908 copy of The Methodist Review in which de Tocqueville was quoted as saying he'd searched in vain for the sources of America's distinction until he entered a church: "It was there, as I listened to the soul-equalizing and soul-elevating principles of the Gospel of Christ as they fell from Sabbath to Sabbath upon the masses of the people, that I learned why America is great and free, and why France is a slave." These uncharacteristic words are not de Tocqueville's either.

Verdict: Words put in de Tocqueville's mouth.

"AMERICA is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization." In a 1945 magazine article, Danish writer Hans Bendix said his aunt told him French Premier Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) made this observation about America. Bendix's article seems to be the only source for that attribution, which now appears in many a quotation collection. (The saying has also been attributed to Oscar Wilde, Henry James, H. L. Mencken, and John O'Hara.) Judging from France's often stormy alliance with America during and after World War I, Clemenceau might well have reached such a conclusion. It "sounds like" the irascible French politician. However, as a young man, Clemenceau spent several years in the United States. He married a local woman, and considered America his "second country." Whoever was the first to say this owed an intellectual debt to Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1688-1744), who concluded that societies progressed in cyclical stages from barbarism to civilization, then back again.

Verdict: Author unknown; possibly Georges Clemenceau.

"We are not AMUSED." The only evidence that Queen Victoria ever made this imperious statement consists of a 1900 diary entry in an anonymously authored 1919 book called The Notebooks of a Spinster Lady. This British book--now known to have been written by Caroline Holland (1878-1903)--included, as "a tale" once told to the author, the queen's "we are not amused" response to an inappropriate jest. Victoria's supposed comment was in circulation long before this book was published, however, having appeared in a magazine article as early as 1902. It did not take long for this reported remark to become synonymous with imperious gravitas. Biographer Stanley Weintraub could not verify that Victoria said any such thing, and doubted that she did. "In fact," Weintraub told a reporter, "she was often amused."

Verdict: Words put in Victoria's mouth.

"An ARMED society is a polite society." This slogan is beloved by opponents of gun control, few of whom know where it originated: Robert Heinlein's Beyond This Horizon. In this 1942 magazine serial, which became a 1948 novel, one character says to another, "Well, in the first place an armed society is a polite society."

Verdict: Credit Robert Heinlein.

"An ARMY travels on its stomach." This bedrock axiom of military science is generally attributed to Napoleon. No one knows where or when the French emperor made that observation, however. He may not have done so. An editor of Napoleon's many observations couldn't find this one and concluded it wasn't his. (The closest comment by Napoleon he could find was "The basic principle that we must follow in directing the armies of the Republic is this: that they must feed themselves on war at the expense of the enemy territory.") An earlier saying, "An army, like a serpent, travels on its belly," is credited to Frederick the Great, but probably was not original to him.

Verdict: Not Napoleon, possibly Frederick the Great, probably someone else.

"Be ASHAMED to die until you have won some victory for humanity." Educator Horace Mann made this stirring plea as the conclusion of his last "Baccalaureate Sermon," given to students at Antioch College in 1859, where Mann was president. It is often misquoted as "some great victory."

Verdict: Credit Mann, avoid "great."

"ASK not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." The most eloquent line in John Kennedy's inaugural address has a rich legacy. In 1884, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., asked an audience to "recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return." Nearly a decade later, in 1893, a British parliamentarian named St. John Broderick told a Leeds audience, "The first duty of a citizen is to consider what he can do for the state and not what the state will do for him." A decade after that, in 1904, Harvard professor LeBaron Russell Briggs said that when it came to their college, students should always ask, "not 'What can she do for me?' but 'What can I do for her?'" Warren Harding subsequently told the 1916 Republican convention, "We must have a citizenship less concerned about what the government can do for it and more anxious about what it can do for the nation." When Kennedy was a prep school student at Choate, its longtime headmaster, Rev. George St. John, continually exhorted students to consider not what their school did for them, but what they could do for their school. While admitting that the "ask not" line had antecedents, Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., argued that this thought was the president's own. The historian thought it derived from a Rousseau quotation Kennedy recorded in his notebook at the end of World War II: "As soon as any man says of the affairs of the state, What does it matter to me? the state may be given up as lost." That is a stretch. More likely the thought was a rhetorical commonplace that wended its way into Kennedy's speech (speeches, actually; he used variations on this theme many times before the inauguration). In Ask Not, his book about Kennedy's inaugural address, Thurston Clarke concluded that the well-read president and his speechwriter Theodore Sorensen most likely were familiar with at least some of this line's antecedents. Nonetheless, Clarke reported, the final version was written with Kennedy's own hand. When it comes to a thought this pervasive, however, that act would be more transcription than invention.

Verdict: A thought in wide circulation long before JFK adopted it.

"My center is giving way, my right is in retreat. Situation excellent. I shall ATTACK!" By legend French General Ferdinand Foch sent such a message to Gen. Joseph Joffre as his position crumbled during the first battle of the Marne in 1914. Other versions include "My right gives way, my left yields, everything's fine--I shall attack!" and "My right has been rolled up. My left has been driven back. My center has been smashed. I have ordered an advance from all directions." Yet another version is mounted in a frame hung on a column in the entryway of Indiana University's Memorial Union Building: "My left is giving way, my right is falling back; consequently I am ordering a general offensive, a decisive attack by the center." This is a translation of the message General Foch wrote on a piece of paper while visiting the university in 1921. (The original French, handwritten, presumably by Foch, is "Ma gauche plie ma roite recule la consequence f'or donne nice appen jive générale, attaque decivise pour le centre. F Foch 4.11.21.") Beneath this, a typewritten addendum reads, "Message sent by Marshal Ferdinand Foch at the decisive moment of the first battle of the Marne, September, 1914. On the occasion of his visit to Indiana in 1921, Marshal Foch presented this autographed copy of his message to the undersigned for Indiana University. William Lowe Bryan [IU's president]." Although Foch was known for his sometimes suicidal emphasis on attacking the enemy, and apparently thought he'd made this vow during the Battle of the Marne, historians of the First World War consider the words more likely to be ones Foch wishes he'd conveyed than those he actually did. By one historian's account Foch's actual telegram read, "The situation is therefore excellent; the attack directed against the Ninth Army appears to be a means to assure the retreat of the German right wing."

Verdict: Revisionist Foch.

"Never ATTRIBUTE to malice what can be explained by ignorance." In Robert Heinlein's 1941 story "Logic of Empire," one character says to another, "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity."

Verdict: Revised Heinlein.

"He has no more BACKBONE than a chocolate éclair." In early 2005, The New Yorker's drama critic wrote of a play's character, "Tom has the backbone of a chocolate éclair." He neglected to mention (and may not even have realized) that this comparison had been made a century earlier, by Theodore Roosevelt, with reference to William McKinley. Roosevelt, in turn, may have borrowed the thought from House Speaker Thomas Reed. Spinal similes were quite popular after the Civil War. TR was especially fond of this genre of invective, saying about Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., "I could carve out of a banana a justice with more backbone than that." Several decades before Roosevelt compared backbones to bananas and chocolate éclairs, Ulysses S. Grant said of his successor as president, "Garfield has shown that he is not possessed of the backbone of an angle worm."

Verdict: Longstanding fill-in-the-blank invective.

"If you've got them by the BALLS, their hearts and minds will follow." These words were inscribed on a plaque hanging in the home of Richard Nixon's counsel Charles Colson. According to Colson, a former Green Beret had that plaque made up, then gave it to him because he thought this saying applied to his work in the White House. The saying subsequently received so much attention in press coverage of Nixon's hardbitten aide that it was widely assumed to have been Colson's invention. Over the years this adage became a favorite among executives who considered themselves tough. Where did it originate? One possibility is a Vietnam-era congressional debate in which a liberal Democrat pleaded for programs designed to "win the hearts and minds of the downtrodden." Hawkish Rep. Mendel Rivers (D-S.C.) responded, "I say get 'em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow." It's doubtful that this rejoinder began with Rivers, however. It certainly didn't begin with Charles Colson.

Verdict: Author unknown; not Charles Colson.

"I laughed all the way to the BANK." In 1954 the flamboyant musician Liberace capped a triumphal thirty-day tour with the first piano concert held at Madison Square Garden since Paderewski played there two decades earlier. His performance was a sellout. New York's music reviewers were underwhelmed by the winks, grins, and candelabra of this Gorgeous George of the keyboard. In response Liberace quipped, "I cried all the way to the bank." His cheeky retort caught the public's fancy. Over time it achieved cliché status. Liberace, who recalled first telling a San Francisco audience that bad reviews made him cry all the way the bank, said he regularly repeated this mantra to his staff. It became his signature line. As the years went by, however, Liberace's quip gradually morphed into "I laughed all the way to the bank." Today it is rare to see the lachrymose version in print.

Verdict: Credit Liberace, crying.

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Keyes

Meet the Author

Ralph Keyes's books include The Post-Truth Era, The Courage to Write, and Is There Life After High School? He lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Ralph Keyes is the author of The Quote Verifier, The Writer’s Book of Hope, and The Courage to Write. He lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he lectures and is a Trustee of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop.

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The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sits by myself
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Could not find assembly when l searched 'mcf'."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The boy pushed back his red hair with a gentle stroke, before he moved his hands to push hus glasses up his narrow nose. In is other arm, a small set of books were snug by his side. Todd pursed his lips as he marched around the bdy corner, "Oi..." he uttered.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She tentatively peers inside. "Hi."
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Walks in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She sits down and opens her book, and gets lost in it.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She sighed, and plugged in her headphones. She blared Avenged Sevenfold
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in wearing a no sleeve sweat shirt and faded jeans (put your name at the end of your post like this ~Austin)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She sighed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He shruggs. "Nevermind."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She wandered around
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found one thanks though
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She waves to Sophia. "Hey! I'm new here! Do you mind showing me around?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Yeah. Theres also blue typhone, baha, and blast. My favorite is code red. I think it has energy in it." She looks around. "Its kind of empty here...."
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Walks in
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Walks in
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Can i join?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I left a post at dorm
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Picked up his skateboard and grinded down the stair railings toward the work out room by the gym
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"May I join?" She asks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
((Godmoding is when you cant die or you just avoid every attack. It would be possible for anyone to kill another person and I didnt see anyone try to stop me or anything so im not godmoding at all. Let him know his character died. He can make a new one but i just did what i was asked to do. That is all.))
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walked around and walked out ( WESTEN I WAS FOING TO KILL YOU but not any more ps you sould ask lexa out . LEXA YOU DINT HEAR NOTHEN . ) lol &#9787
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She walked in, looking around, her guita case bumping against her side. ~Autumn