Quotes Uncovered: Fool Me Twice

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.

Ian Gilbert asked:

Governments with less-than-infinite budgets must choose between “guns and butter”. This has been attributed to Herman Goering, speaking before World War II. Is this attribution correct?

The Yale Book of Quotations quotes Goering as saying in a 1936 speech in Hamburg: “Would you rather have butter or guns? … Preparedness makes us powerful. Butter merely makes us fat.” But the YBQ also quotes Joseph Goebbels in a Jan. 17, 1936 speech in Berlin: “We can manage without butter but not, for example, without guns. If we are attacked we can only defend ourselves with guns not with butter.”

Ian Kemmish asked:

“Nobody ever got rich by over-estimating the intelligence of the public.” Was it Louis B Meyer? Intelligence or taste? Public or audience?

The YBQ cites H. L. Mencken, writing in the Chicago Tribune, Sept. 19, 1926, as the source of this immortal quotation. Mencken’s wording was “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”

Nate Rosenberg asked:

Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me.

The Yale Book of Quotations lists this as a “modern proverb,” giving as the earliest known citation The New York Times, Nov. 6, 1947.

James Kellinger asked:

P.T. Barnum, as I recall, had a completely different view of humanity. Wasn’t it he who said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”?

The YBQ cites The New York Times, Dec. 30, 1883, as its earliest citation for this saying; it is followed in the 1883 Times article by “as the gamblers say.” The attribution to Barnum is most likely apocryphal.

Jennifer asked:

No offense (and I do hope this is published….I’d be very disappointed if it isn’t), but “quote” is a verb…and the title is therefor incorrect. It would be “Quotations uncovered” (How to remember: you quote a quotation).

Yes, “quote” is a verb. It’s also a noun, listed in the Oxford English Dictionary with a citation from T. S. Eliot, and also listed in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. You could even say it functions as an adjective in phrases such as “quote mark.”

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

Ali Unwin

Do you know the origin of a phrase something like 'the poverty of the people is the poverty of their ambition'? i think it was a Briton in the early twentieth century. Have never been able to find out!

Paul Robichaux

"That's a hell of a way to run a railroad.


"fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again."

George W. Bush


What about famous misquotes? For instance, what is the first use of "Play it again, Sam", which appears in popular memory but not in Casablanca?


What about "This is related to economics how?"


Who first said, "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile"?


"Much art goes into hiding art," or something along those lines.


to # 5 - fool me twice relates to economics how ....

Tax cuts increase revenues
trickle down
no need for regulation, the free market will handle it

and other Reagan/Republican/corporatist myths that have dominated our political economy (both parties) for 30 years ... creating an economic disaster.


Who said "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger"?
Is there are derivative of it that says something like: "what doesn't kill you still wounds and maims you"?


Jennifer got served.

Adrian Woo

Re "guns or butter" quotation. It has been an economics vehicle for illustrating "opportunity cost" concept. Who invented that?


Groucho dictating a letter:
"...blablabla, quote, unquote, quote...how many quotes is that?"
"That's three quotes."
"Add another quote and make it a gallon."


#8 - how about one example of a nation taxing itself to prosperity?


"Development is not about changing economies, it is about changing people's life"

I'm not sure if it's the exact wording, but it should be 95% similar.


Kirk Kittell

I've seen this one attributed to George Orwell, but I've never found a proper citation: "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act."

Is that actually Orwell? What work is it from?


Goering: "Would you rather have butter or guns? ... Preparedness makes us powerful. Butter merely makes us fat.".
Goering became really, really fat so no surprise Germany wasn't prepared for WWI when the going got tough.

Mark Tinker

what doesn't kill you makes you stronger - Nietsche
opportunity cost - David Ricardo

Jim K.

I was recently re-reading A Study in Scarlet (which I believe was first published in 1887) and was very surprised to see the following line "It's heads I win and tails you lose". If Conan Doyle wrote that in 1887, where/when did it originate?

James Curran

Gary (#13)

er..um... How 'bout all of them... Prosperous first world countries have much hire taxes than poor third-world countries. The USA's prosperity is mainly due to it large work force and abundant natural resources (and comparatively little graft on the part of government officials) ,rather that it's low taxes. European countries match us on prosperity and quality of life, with vastly higher taxes.

Ken Olson

My students, I teach high school in Indiana, asked me today if I new where the term "speedy gonzalez" came from. I told them I did not know, but I thought I might know a way to find out, so I showed them your blog posts and told then that I would send a comment in today to see if you could tell us.

Thank you in advance.