Quotes Uncovered: Does Economics Make You Want to Sing?

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.

JeeBo asked:

Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.

In The Yale Book of Quotations, I trace this as far back as an attribution to Elvis Costello in 1983. Garson O’Toole has done brilliant research finding earlier analogues, such as “singing about economics”:

Strictly considered, writing about music is as illogical as singing about economics. All the other arts can be talked about in the terms of ordinary life and experience. A poem, a statue, a painting or a play is a representation of somebody or something, and can be measurably described (the purely aesthetic values aside) by describing what it represents.

-Citation: 1918 February 9, The New Republic, The Unseen World by H. K. M., Page 63, Vol. 14, The Republic Pub. Co. (Google Books gives an incorrect date of 1969. Quotation verified on microfilm)


Bill Harshaw asked:

Can you find the “West African proverb” that’s supposedly the basis for TR’s: Speak softly and carry a big stick?

Wolfgang Mieder, the world’s foremost proverbs scholar, has searched for years for this, but has been unable to track it down.

Rob asked:

I’ve been wondering about the original source for the quote “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel”. I’ve seen it attributed to Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin.

The YBQ lists this under the name of publicist William I. Greener, Jr.: “['Greener's Law':] Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” Attributed to Greener in Wall Street Journal, Sept. 28, 1978. However, Barry Popik has found that Irving Leibowitz, in his 1964 book My Indiana, ascribes “I never quarrel with a man who buys ink by the barrel” to former Indiana Congressman Charles Brownson.

Philip asked:

“Just because I am paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.” While my parents swear this was my grandfather, I am pretty sure i read it or it is from someone slightly more well know.

The Yale Book of Quotations cites the movie Catch-22 (1970): “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” but then goes on to note that:

Nigel Rees, Cassell’s Humorous Quotations, records two earlier versions: “Because a person has monomania she need not be wrong about her facts” (Dorothy L. Sayers, Murder Must Advertise ch. 16 [1933]); and “Has it ever struck you that when people get persecution mania, they usually have a good deal to feel persecuted about?” (C. P. Snow, The Affair ch. 11 [1960]).

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

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  1. Mike L says:

    “If we had some ham, we could make ham and eggs. If we had eggs.”

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  2. Samy says:

    “The problem is not the abuse of power, but the power to abuse.”

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  3. Justin says:

    First instance of “Play it again, Sam” – Was it the Marx brothers parody, or perhaps a review following the release?

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  4. Samy says:

    …and yes, economics does make me want to sing.

    “it’s a hard rain’s a’ gonna fall”

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  5. DK says:

    “No money, no mission”

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  6. Michael says:

    Sing? Economics (and economists) make me want to vomit.

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  7. John B. Chilton says:

    Economist’s don’t sing? What about the Economist’s Anthem?

    Well, I’ve got a hammer
    and I’ve got a bell
    and I’ve got a song to sing
    all over this world

    It’s the hammer of tradeoffs,
    it’s the bell of equilibrium,
    it’s a song about trade between
    my brothers and my sisters
    all over this world

    Source: John Chilton, Emirates Economist blog, March 25 2005

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  8. Eric M. Jones says:

    –Can you find the “West African proverb” that’s supposedly the basis for TR’s: Speak softly and carry a big stick?–

    This might be T.R.’s speechwriter’s turn of the phrase, “Trust in God and carry a big stick.” Remember that reference to God was thought improper by many at the time.

    Booksellers and Bookbuyers in Byeways and Highways” – - 1882 —Page 12

    “… he had found it well to trust in God and carry a big stick.”

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