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?

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  1. Ali Unwin says:

    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!

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  2. Paul Robichaux says:

    “That’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.

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  3. John says:

    “fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”

    George W. Bush

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  4. Justin says:

    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?

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  5. IslandGirl66 says:

    What about “This is related to economics how?”

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  6. Chuck says:

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

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  7. Aaron says:

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

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  8. justsomeguy says:

    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.

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