Quotes Uncovered: A Bird in the Hand

Photo: Mike Baird

I’m back to 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.

von bargen asked:

May you live in interesting times.” I’ll bet you strike out. Maybe nobody ever said it first. Is it a curse or not?

The Yale Book of Quotations traces this earlier than anyone else has, to the American Society of International Law Proceedings in 1939. It goes on to state, “No authentic Chinese saying to this effect has ever been found.” It is usually said to be a curse.

Joel asked:

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Who is this credited to?

This is a proverb, and unlikely to ever be traced to a definitive originator. The Yale Book of Quotations gives as its earliest example John Bunyan‘s book, Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). The YBQ repeats the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs‘ note that mentions variant wordings of the proverb in Latin (13th century) and English (15th century).

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

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  1. Machiavelli says:

    A couple attributed to Baudelaire (for which I have been unable to find an accurate citation):

    1. The devil’s cleverest trick was to make us believe that he does not exist.

    2. A sweetheart is like a bottle of wine: a wife is like a wine-bottle.

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  2. Shyla says:

    Don’t mud wrestle with a pig …

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  3. Dean Pomerleau says:

    ‘Kick the bucket’.

    The explanation given by Wikipedia and other’s sources seem very lame. Can you do better?

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  4. Jonathan Hahn says:

    That’s what she said.

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  5. Bernie Plumber says:

    Keep up with the Jonese is one of the economic engine of United States

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  6. Mo' Money, Mo' Evil says:

    Aaron,
    “Money is the root of all evil” has Biblical roots, and is actually “The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” as written in the book of 1 Timothy chapter 6 verse 10.

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  7. Roderick says:

    “Well done is better than well said.”

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  8. Bob says:

    In the movie ‘Disclosure’ Donald Sutherland said the quote “May you live in interesting times” was a Chinese saying.

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