Quotes Uncovered: Fools and Theory

Quotes Uncovered

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

A while back, 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 researches by me. Hundreds of people have responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, a few per week.

psychohistorian asked:

“You can fool all the people half the time, and half the people all the time.” I seem to recall this being attributed to Lincoln. I also recall a professor who had gone through most or all of Lincoln’s works and never found it.

The Yale Book of Quotations, which attempts to trace all famous quotations to their earliest findable appearances, has the following:

“You can fool all of the people some of time; you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

Attributed to Abraham Lincoln in The New York Times, August 27, 1887. According to The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Roy P. Basler, “Tradition has come to attribute to the Clinton [Illinois] speeches [September 2, 1858] this “most famous” of Lincoln’s utterances. Basler indicates, however, that there is no evidence of this saying in Lincoln documents. P.T. Barnum has also been a putative source for the quotation.

Frederick Michael

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” “Predictions are difficult, especially when they involve the future.” They are falsely attributed to Yogi Berra and Niels Bohr, respectively.

The first quote is presumably an apocryphal Yogiism. For the second one, The YBQ says:

“It is difficult to predict, especially the future.” Attributed to Niels Bohr in Marc Kac, “Statistics” (1975). Kac states that this saying may have been “an old Danish proverb.” K.K. Steincke, Goodbye and Thanks (1948), quotes it as a pun used in the Danish Parliament in the late 1930’s.

Michael in Iowa City asked:

I’m very curious if the expression “hard-knock life” existed before the musical Annie.

A search of the vast ProQuest database of historical newspapers and magazines does not reveal any pre-Annie usages, so I would conjecture that it was probably not in use before the musical.

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


I remember seeing a phrase a long time ago that went something along the lines of "If it were not for women, all the money in the world would be worthless" Just curious if I am remembering it correctly and who said it


I always assumed the Annie song was a derivation of "the school of hard knocks" which certainly predates the musical.


Was wondering where 'Pass the buck' comes from and if there is any connection to another phrase "The buck stops here"

Jack Millman

Which of the many explanations do you prefer:
"the whole nine yards"?

Science Frustrated

The thing to do is not to let IT get to ya.

So who said, "once you don't first succeed, try try again?

Science Minded

Dear Jack;

I don't know if we are on the same wave length--but in any case.......

There are "10 relatively separate ingredients of the one paradigm of science" And you may quote me, Robyn Ann Goldstein on this one forever more. It has been some time now since I discovered/recovered them all . And the last one is my original contribution to the series

Sorry, But I have lost my patience.

Robyn A. Goldstein, 4 PM Thursday, July 30, 2009

Robyn Goldstein copyright, 2008

Karen Nunan

"in harm's way" -- perhaps it is too short to be considered a 'quote' but I've tried for years to find its origins

Science Minded

harm or charm? I find it hard to imagine it harmful. Every time I take a long-distance trip, the question comes to mind what if? This time, the death of a classmate raised the bar a bit. Somewhat violated a norm perhaps. But in the name of science and not the norm of sharing.


Abe Lincoln was obviously mangling some Bob Marley lyrics.

Rod Chu

Not an exact quote, but an important observation I've searched for in vain:

"Those who are A's surround themselves with A's and A-pluses. Those who are B's surround themselves with C's and D's."

I recall it being used to describe Richard Nixon in his choice of cabinet members, in comparison to John F. Kennedy and his "whiz kids" cabinet. I've used it ever since in explaining appointments in every sector. Alas, I've been unsuccessful in tracking the exact quote or source.

It's such an important observation. Can you help?


"In harm's way" would be known from (not necessarily originated by) the John Paul Jones quote: "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way."

Matthew R.

#10 -- Those whiz kids got us into Vietnam, because they were so sure that they were so smart that they couldn't make a mistake. Smart isn't the best thing you can be.

Science Minded

Dear Laser;

Wow- an interesting fact-- why- the psychologist, Alfred Jones (whose original idea of "no mind, no matter" was his' grand or greatgrandson-- I forget-- but he told so me himself-

I guess-- great ideas run in families.

Mary Kathleen Kisiel

One of the history textbooks from my childhood attributed this to P.T. Barnum: "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." I think it has a plausible completeness, don't you?


Bob dylan uses lincoln's quote in a song, (talking III world war blues) " You can fool all the people half the time, and half the people all the time, abraham lincoln said that". And he hads, "I'll let you be in my dreams if I can be in your dreams, I said that".


Have you guys traced down the much quoted "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years."


i wanted to know who said (in reference to presidents faces on money) "i'll have no part of something practiced by european monarchs."

i don't know if thats the correct wording or not, but the quote is pretty close to those lines. i'm pretty sure it was a founding father that said it.


Where does the admonition "Don't kill the messenger!" originate? Some say it has something to do with the story of Marathon.


I have searched and searched, does anyone know the background for a quaote that goes something like this: "I am a soldier so my children can be farmers so their chidren can be poets"


In Naval circrles, the following quote is always attributed to John Paul Jones, though I'm almost positive that this is a mere attribution, not a genuine quotation: "It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy and the nicest sense of personal honor.

He should be the soul of tact, patience, justice, firmness, and charity. No meritorious act of a subordinate should escape his attention or be left to pass without its reward, even if the reward is only a word of approval. Conversely, he should not be blind to a single fault in any subordinate, though, at the same time, he should be quick and unfailing to distinguish error, thoughtlessness from incompetence and well meant shortcoming from heedless or stupid blunder."