Quotes Uncovered: Spelling, Logic, and Frenchmen

Quotes Uncovered

75 ThumbnailHere are more quote authors and origins Shapiro’s tracked down recently.

Twelve 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. Hundreds of people have responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, a few per week.

Ben asked:

I have always wanted to verify one of my favorite quotes, attributed to Samuel Johnson (author of the first English dictionary): “It is indeed a dull man who can think of but one way to spell a word.”

The Yale Book of Quotations notes that this is frequently attributed to Mark Twain, but the earliest occurrence found in research for the YBQ was in Marshall Brown‘s “Wit and Humor” (1880): “A man must be a great fool who can’t spell a word more than one way.”

Steve Schwartz, a New York City LSAT tutor, asked:

Would love to find the source for: “Man always has two reasons for the things he does: the logical one and the real one.” Thank you!

The YBQ lists this under J.P. Morgan:

“A man always has two reasons for what he does: a good one, and the real one.” Quoted in Owen Wister, Roosevelt: The Story of a Friendship (1930).

Jonathan asked:

“Impossible n’est pas Français.” ["Impossible is not French."] I’ve often, but not always, seen it attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte. Just wanted to know if it was true.

The Yale Book of Quotations cites Napoleon’s July 9, 1813 letter to Lemarois:

Ce n’est pas possible … cela n’est pas Français.

The YBQ then notes that this is usually quoted as “Impossible? The word is not French.”

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  1. vimspot says:

    I had a college professor who claimed that when George W. was confronted with the data that suggested that abstinence only education led to higher rates of teen pregnancy, he said something to the following effect “This is a situation where values trump statistics.” I haven’t been able to find any online source to verify it, which makes me believe that it’s either completely made up, or said by somebody else. Anyone heard of anything like that?

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  2. BH says:

    Mr. Shapiro -

    Who first said “An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less, until eventually he knows everything about nothing”? I have only seen it as being attributed to the ever-present “anonymous.”

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  3. Dan Hoskins says:

    I remember reading that President Andrew Johnson said something like “I can’t stand a man who has only one way to spell a word.” He was known to vary his spelling, often differently for the same word in the same document.

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  4. Hani says:

    I would like to know where this quote originated from: “I did not pay her for sex, I paid her to leave” (in defense of being charged with paying for prostitution)

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  5. nancy says:

    A note on creative spelling:

    i think william clark was the grandest creative speller of all or perhaps a person whose journals were combed over the most because of his adventures. Didn’t he have nineteen ways to spell the word mosquito.

    but this should be taken into consideration:

    Some say lack of education, but a quick search on this behaviour reveals:
    “American English was not standardized in the eighteenth century, and even well educated Americans tended to focus more on penmanship skill than correct spelling. ”

    Interesting notes for the most creative letter arrangementiers:

    home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas/spfree17c.htm

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  6. noah says:

    @Hani That’s Charlie Sheen

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  7. maddy says:

    In my youth I often heard, “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.”

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