Quotes Uncovered: Showing Up and Fair Play

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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.

bsdetector asked:

“Turnabout is fairplay.” Methunk t’was Shakespeare, but alas, no.

According to the esteemed reference work, The Yale Book of Quotations, the earliest known occurrence of the proverb “Turnabout is fair play” is in The Life and Uncommon Adventures of Capt. Dudley Bradstreet (1755).

Eric M. Jones asked:

Just for your amusement: What you can find on the web….

Ninety percent of life is just showing up. … Woody Allen
“Eighty percent of success is just showing up” – Woody Allen. Seventy percent of success in life is showing up
Woody Allen once said, “Fifty percent of life is just showing up.”

The Yale Book of Quotations, which attempts to trace all famous quotations to their earliest discoverable source, records “Showing up is 80 percent of life” from The New York Times, Aug. 21, 1977 (attributed there to Allen). If any reader can supply earlier documentation than that, I would love to hear about it.

Zach asked:

Can you find the origin of the phrase “My Bad”


Garson O’Toole, whose great website?quoteinvestigator.com is well worth checking out, has traced “my bad” to 1985 using Google News:

1985 November 14, Gainesville Sun, “Welcome to the wonderful, wacky world of SEC football” by Bobby Tyler, Page 3E, Gainesville, Florida.
(Google News archive. The assigned Google date misses by a day)
“Yes, the Vols still must host Vandy the following weekend, but c’mon, Vandy? Oops, my bad, I forgot for a moment what the Commodore did to Georgis. Silly me.”

This predates the Manute Bol usage in 1989, so Bol probably did not originate it.

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


I have one, Mr. Shapiro.

"99% of all the friction in the world is caused by the wrong tone of voice."

Could you find out please who said that first? He/she must be an extremely gracious person to have had that insight.

Thank you.


I'd like to know the origin of this phrase:
"Academia is where the rubber meets the sky"


Corey White

I'm dying to know where this phrase originates:

"Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

It's been attributed to everyone under the sun and I'm hopeful it's fabricated.


Where does the phrase "fog of war" come from, and what was it originally intended to refer to?


What's the origin of "You can't polish a turd?"

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

"Show Up and Play Fair"

I like the Corollary:
" Arrive Late, Concoct Some Excuse and Cheat"

Eric M. Jones

"Ninety-six percent of success is just showing up. ..." Woody Allen

Of course, the number is 80% and it is from the film Annie Hall in 1977. My intention in commenting on it was to introduce the notion that numbers in quotes have a way of floating around.

I can't find anything earlier, so it might be a clever invention of Woody Allen's, but as pure speculation he may have read "New Dimensions" Robert Silverberg - 1972
"... ninety-nine percent of life is sheer abstraction...."

Only a guess, but the time is about right.

Michael Dennis Mooney, Albany, NY

How about:

"Those who can't do teach.
Those who can't teach
teach gym."

How about:

"Outside of a dog, a book
is a man's best friend.
Inside of a dog, it's too
dark to read."

John Roberts

I'd say Woody was about 20 percent short on his estimate. If you don't show up, you're probably not alive.


We were wondering recently who first said "If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."

A.J. Venter

I've seen this attributed to Mark Twain, Robert Heinlein and most recently George Carlin, I would love to know who actually said it because I rather like quoting it.

"Censorship is insisting a grown man drinks warm milk because a baby can't chew a steak"

Fred Shapiro

Re #7: I'm not sure whether Eric M. Jones is joking about the Allen quote occurring in "Annie Hall." Is this a serious assertion?

Eric M. Jones

--@#12, Fred,

Am I wrong?


@ #8: The second quote (i.e. Dog, Book, Dark etc.) was attributed to Groucho Marx.

Matt Dooley

I have one what's the origin of "One man's trash is another man's treasure'?

Fred Shapiro

Re #13: I think so, although I have not verified that definitively.

Fred A

What is the origin of "I won't blow smoke up your arse"?

Garson O'Toole

Great thanks to Fred Shapiro for mentioning my blog. I have not been able to antedate the saying attributed to Woody Allen.

In 1989 William Safire obtained a response from Woody Allen about the quotation. Allen's comments are interesting because the quote he presents in 1989 differs from the one in 1977, and the circumstances he remembers are different too. The direct quote from Allen in 1989 uses the word "success" instead of "life". Of course Allen is writing 12 years after the original attribution and memories are malleable.

The August 21, 1977 NYT article is a joint interview with Marshall Brickman and Woody Allen. Brickman says "I have learned one thing. As Woody says, 'Showing up is 80 percent of life.' Sometimes it's easier to hide home in bed. I've done both."

On August 13, 1989 Safire prints a letter from Woody Allen: ''The quote you refer to,'' Mr. Allen writes, ''is a quote of mine which occurred during an interview while we were discussing advice to young writers, and more specifically young playwrights.

''My observation was that once a person actually completed a play or a novel he was well on his way to getting it produced or published, as opposed to a vast majority of people who tell me their ambition is to write, but who strike out on the very first level and indeed never write the play or book.

''In the midst of the conversation, as I'm now trying to recall it, I did say that 80 percent of success is showing up.''




Warm Greetings, Mr Shapiro

I've got one and its goes like this
"If you are smart enough to cheat, you must be dumb enough to get caught",
can you please reveal who said this, when, why and how because it is just devastatinly honest and down right funny?

Thank You


My friend and I were wondering the origins of the saying "holy cow" and if it originated from the golden calf