Quotes Uncovered: Revenge Served Cold and Lobotomies


Each week, I’ve been inviting readers to submit quotations for which they want me to try to trace the origin, using The Yale Book of Quotations and my own research. Here is the latest round.

Andy asked:

The frontal lobotomy quote was from Fred Allen (1894-1956).

How do you know it was from Fred Allen?

Hillary asked:

Beyond the pale refers to the English invasion of Ireland that started during the reign of Henry VII. The Pale was the English stronghold in Northern Ireland, so beyond the Pale was uncivilized/barbarous. My source is the This Sceptered Isle radio series produced by the BBC.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary,

The theory that the origin of the phrase relates to any of several specific regions, such as the area of Ireland formerly called the Pale or the Pale of Settlement in Russia, is not supported by the early historical evidence and is likely to be a later rationalization.

Mark P asked:

I have heard the Labotomy quote attributed to Tom Waits, Dorothy Parker, Fred Allen, Groucho Marx, Lenny Bruce, and W.C. Fields. I doubt that Waits was the originator, but if you are going to attribute it to him, he used it on a Fernwood 2Night episode in 1977, which pre-dates the Creem Magazine date.

Other people have pointed this out to me, but thanks for the very good information, which I will incorporate in the next edition of The Yale Book of Quotations.

Jason asked:

I’d love to know if “Revenge is a dish best served cold” is attributable to anyone but the Klingons/Roddenberry. Any ideas?

The Yale Book of Quotations lists this in the Proverbs section, citing “Revenge is a dish that can be eaten cold” from Peterson’s Magazine, December 1870, and noting that “An article in the L.A. Times, May 8, 1896, describes it as a saying of Louis Napoleon‘s.”

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

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  1. James says:

    How about the origins of “There’s no such thing as a stupid question” or “There are no stupid questions”?

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  2. scott nolan says:

    is there a known origin of the phrase ” bad liver and a broken heart” other than the tom waits song?

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  3. j.b.garrity says:

    can you tell me the origin of “the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client”

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  4. RdV says:

    I have long returned the phrase “‘I see’ said the blind man” in response to a friendly explanation, but an associate of mine recently tacked on “to the deaf dog” in an effort to round out my annoying utterance.

    Can you provide a context to this expression and potentially legitimize my friend’s claim?

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  5. mSoli says:

    @RdV: I heard it in many iterations (including your friends), my favorite being:

    ‘I see,’ said the deaf man to his blind son as he was pissing in the wind, and continued ‘It’s all coming back to me.’

    My $0.02

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  6. herb jernow says:

    I wonder about “He bought the farm.” I suppose it was a

    mortgage guaranteed by a life insurance policy.

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  7. john says:


    Regardless of whether that ‘Beyond the pale’ quote is actually based on the English occupation of Ireland or not, just for the record, the area surrounding Dublin NOT Northern Ireland was known as the Pale.

    Alas, the BBC is fallible like the rest of us …

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  8. Geobie says:

    @ j.b.garrity: I’ve heard it as “The lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client and a jackass for an attorney.”

    @ RdV: How about ” ‘I see,’ said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw.”

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