Our Daily Bleg: Uncovering More Quote Authors

Seven weeks ago, I invited readers to submit quotations for which they wanted me to try to trace the origins, using The Yale Book of Quotations and more recent research by me. Dozens responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, a couple per week.

Rusty asks:

“Politics is like sausage, once you find out what goes into either, you will want to have nothing to do with them for the rest of your life.” [Is this by] Mark Twain or Otto von Bismark or ???

This is usually attributed to Bismarck, but the Iron Chancellor was not associated with that quip until the 1930’s. The Daily Cleveland Herald, March 29, 1869, quoted lawyer-poet John Godfrey Saxe that “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made,” and this may be the true origin of the saying.

G. Armour Van Horn says:

Brian H., the quote regarding lies and statistics is from Mark Twain. He made it up, but attributed it as a quote from Disraeli. As the “Quotemaster” at Quotes of the Day, I spend a fair amount of time tracking these down, either because I’m curious or because I make the mistake of using a quote in the daily mailing and then getting called on it. The Twain/Disraeli one is easy; you’ll find details on it all over the web.

It is great to see a comment from the man behind the excellent qotd.org site, but the fact is that this is not at all an “easy one,” and the surest thing we know about it is that it was not made up by Mark Twain.

I would suggest looking at The Yale Book of Quotations, which employs exhaustive research to trace precise details of quotation usage, rather than details all over the web not based on accurate research, to find information on quotation origins. The Yale Book of Quotations and more recent research show that Twain used the “lies and statistics” line in his autobiography, but that it can be found long before that.

The earliest version that has been discovered (by Stephen Goranson, who has done considerable research on this quotation) is in The National Observer, June 13, 1891: “It has been wittily remarked that there are three kinds of falsehood: the first is a ‘fib,’ the second is a downright lie, and the third and most aggravated is statistics.”

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

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  1. Michael says:

    Wow, defensive much? I’m pretty sure he implied he does research as well, and was merely commenting that a layperson (when it comes to quote-tracking) could find data on this particular one on the internet.

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  2. Allison says:

    That quote was also paraphrased in an episode of “The West Wing,” when Leo McGarry explains there are two things you don’t want people to see you make: laws and sausages.

    I’d still like to know who said “Every shot not taken is a 100% miss.”

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  3. Maria says:

    “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
    -some 19th century white woman I saw credited with it ona poster many years ago?

    Please help. :)

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  4. Bette Neumann says:

    “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.”


    “Compound interest is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.”

    Often attributed to Albert Einstein, but debunked by Snopes.

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  5. Buce says:

    You meed the services of Nigel Rees:


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  6. Roger says:

    “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

    Ettiene De Grellet or William Penn?

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  7. gordon says:

    I’m sure this one is J.K.Galbraith, but I can’t remember in which of his works it appeared: “The trouble with competition is that in the end somebody wins”.

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  8. Kathryn says:

    What is the source of the phrase, “Going to hell in a handbasket”?

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