Quotes Uncovered: The Real McCoy and Acting Locally

Each week, I’ve been inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent research. Here is the latest round.

Jim Frierson asked:

Origins of “the real McCoy” and “high falutin.” The Delta Queen’s onboard historian tells us these expressions can be traced to the steamboat era.

“High falutin’” is documented by the Oxford English Dictionary back to 1839. Is that the steamboat era? “Real McCoy” is just a variant of “real Mackay,” a Scottish expression of uncertain etymology that has been traced at least as early as 1857. That may be the steamboat era, although Scotland is kind of far from the mighty Mississippi.

Janet Karasz asked:

I would love you to parse the phrase, “Putting all your eggs in one basket.” Besides it’s origins, which I suspect is quite old, it has implications on the way we do business.

You’re right about this proverb being quite old. The Yale Book of Quotations documents it as follows:

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Samuel Palmer, Proverbs (1710). Palmer’s wording is “don’t venture all your eggs in one basket.” The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs cites a 1662 reference to an Italian proverb translation, “to put all one Eggs in a Paniard.”

Bruce Tolention asked:

Origins of: “in politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests”
“think global, act local”?

The all-knowing Yale Book of Quotations has the following two entries:

We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.
Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston, Speech in House of Commons, Mar. 1, 1848

In most human affairs, the idea is to think globally and act locally.
Rene Dubos, ‘The Despairing Optimist,” American Scholar, Spring 1977, The motto “Think Globally, Act Locally” first appeared as the title of an interview with Dubos in EPA Journal, Apr. 1978

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

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  1. Welch says:

    This is fairly obscure, but I’ve been trying without luck to find the exact phrasing and source of this quote: “Every morning I open the newspaper first to the sports page. The front page chronicles man’s failures, while the sports page chronicles his triumphs.” I think it’s Ogden Nash, but haven’t been able to find it.

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  2. Ben Russell says:

    Google books:

    Hawaii educational review, Volumes 30-32″ – Page 243
    Education – 1941
    We must think globally, but first act locally. If we can’t live decently in
    Columbus. Ohio, we can hardly do better when we attempt to change the world. …

    And the following:

    Official records of the General Assembly”
    United Nations. General Assembly – Political Science – 1967
    She recalled that a favourite theme at the Beijing Conference had been “Think
    globally, act locally”, which was equally relevant in 2001, as attested to in

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  3. Bill says:

    I’m so jaded now a days I thought we were talking about Betsy McCoy in some way.

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  4. Ben Russell says:

    But Google Books seems to have some dating quirks.

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  5. N I says:

    Earl Warren, according to NYT.

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  6. Brad Walters says:

    I have been trying to find the origin of the phrase “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.”
    some attribute it to Einstein, others to Howard Cosell.

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  7. MW says:

    Is 1839 steamboat era? Instead of asking you could have just looked it up.

    Wikipedia article on “Steamboat” (admittedly much less authoritative than YBQ) says “In 1811 the first in a continuous (still in commercial passenger operation as of 2007) line of river steamboats left the dock at Pittsburgh to steam down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and on to New Orleans.”

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  8. low falutin' says:

    You didn’t tell us much about the origin of “high falutin’.”

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