Quotes Uncovered: Did an Economist Really Coin "Free Lunch"?

Quotes Uncovered

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

Sixteen 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.

Kursad asked:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” is attributed to Einstein, Ben Franklin, and Rita Mae Brown. From what I can tell, Brown is the most likely, but I still would like to know.

The Yale Book of Quotations, which attempts to trace all famous quotations to their earliest occurrences, quotes Brown as follows:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Sudden Death (1983)

Rob asked:

“There is no free lunch” is a phrase used by economists since at least the 19th century, but I do not know of a firm attribution.

I don’t believe there is any evidence of economists using this in the 19th century. In my March/April 2009 quotation column in the Yale Alumni Magazine, I traced “There ain’t no such thing as free lunch” back to the El Paso Herald-Post, June 27, 1938, where it appeared as the punch line of an economics joke.


“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.” Etienne De Grellet or William Penn?

The Yale Book of Quotations has this:

The earliest appearance of “I will not pass this way again” found for this book is in the Coshocton (Ohio) Age, January 15, 1868, where it is quoted anonymously.

Julian asked:

“If you don’t like the weather here, just wait five minutes.” People say this (or something like it) all the time about their various hometowns, but where and with whom did it originate?

According to The YBQ:

[The earliest known] version, not attributed to any individual, appeared in the Washington Post, March 4, 1934, and referred to Washington, D.C.: “Just wait five minutes for a change. That’s what the weather here will do.”

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

John Watts

re: "There is no...free lunch." Ezra Taft Benson, President Eisenhower's Secretary of Agriculture, was reported to have said this while testifying before Congress.

Joe T

Re: "free lunch" as punchline, what was the rest of the joke?


"If you love your job, you'll never work a day in your life"

Gareth Chantler

"Love as if you'll die tomorrow, dream as if you'll live forever, dance as if nobody's watching..."

I've heard hundreds of variations on these dumb quotes and I've seen attributions from Gandhi to Mother Teresa, which all seem ridiculous. Can the YBQ bring clarity to this situation?


Actually, I understand that "no free lunch" comes from Knickerbocker (Dutch) New York City, where bars offered free lunch to lure drinkers. Thus, the contrary is there is no such thing as a free lunch, because you pay for it with the drinks and in a different manner after you drink. So, if accurate, that would predate your economist by over a century. Sorry.

Rich Wilson

I'd like to know if a quote is actually true. Did Bush senior really say: "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."?

It's all over the place, but no original source to back it up.


I'd like to know the original wording of The Bridge Builder, written by Will Allen Dromgoole. Many different versions exist, can you find the original? I know this isn't a typical request, but I'd appreciate a follow-up. Thank you.


I think you might need to do more research for "If you don't like the weather here, just wait five minutes!"
Any Okie will tell you that Will Rogers said it about Oklahoma, and considering that he died in 1935, it seems likely that he said it before the DC paper.

Ken Hirsch

The original source for George Bush's statement on atheists is Robert Sherman. See


Alexander Dalos

Could you look up "The more things change, the more they stay the same", please?


Hi, could you look up "Let them eat cake" I have heard more than one attribution for this quote, famously ascribed to Marie Antoinette


Here in Colorado you really can wait five minutes and the weather can change. I have seen it happen many times.


@Dallos #10. That comes from an old French phrase. There are several variations but the most common is: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. As in before the revolution there were injustices, after the revolution there are injustices.

Wait here is a purported attribution: In French: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (attributed to Alphonse Karr). In fact this may be the original quote.


Some French phrases used in English: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_French_phrases


About the expression "There is no free lunch" it seems to that it was wrote by Walras in his Principes d'économie sociale (sorry I don't the exact translation of the book title). When he deal with a story of schoolboys sharing their cup cakes sent by their parents, each after another. He insist on the fact we have to encourage such good deeds but ends by "Mais enfin l'économie n'est pas un repas gratuit"( But the economy is no free meal). So I guess with the spread of Walras' works under the translation in English, it had to give some idea of pun to politician and jounalist.

PS: I'm sorry for my approxiamtive English, I'm working on it.

Anto J

Wikipedia has a page on TANSTAAFL.
Is it wrong?


I believe the earliest version of the definition of insanity quote comes from

"If you keep on doin' what you always done, you're gonna git what you always got"

-Minnie Pearl

J. Costa

"Actually, I understand that "no free lunch" comes from Knickerbocker (Dutch) New York City, where bars offered free lunch to lure drinkers. Thus, the contrary is there is no such thing as a free lunch, because you pay for it with the drinks and in a different manner after you drink. So, if accurate, that would predate your economist by over a century. Sorry."

What a story, I am from Angola, an African country which was used to be a socialist country from 1975 to 1992 and I've been told by older people that back in socialism days, due to lack of wine production consumers could not drink a glass of wine unless they had a meal, so heavy drinkers were used to buy several meals and then hand them to the poor in order to have more drinks.


Who said "If 50 million people say a stupid thing, it's still a stupid thing"?

I remember it hanging on a wall in my elementary school, long ago...

Mojo Bone

TANSTAAFL is an engineering concept. " If you don't like the weather, wait a minute." is a common Hoosier expression.