Quotes Uncovered: Honest Abe

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.

Hugo asked:

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” – Abe Lincoln

The Yale Book of Quotations has the following entry:

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Attributed to Abraham Lincoln in Golden Book, Nov. 1931. The Chicago Daily Tribune, May 10, 1923, printed, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubts,” as a submission by reader Benedict J. Goltra.

Matt Woodley asked:

In my line of work (I help pastors develop sermons) I hear the following statement attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times–and if necessary, use words.” Apparently he never said it.

Right. Can any of our researcher/readers track down the earliest findable appearance of this apocryphal quotation?

As always: do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

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  1. Gary says:

    “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

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  2. Dane says:

    There is no documented source for that falsely-attributed Assisi quote within 200 years of his life. Many think it is a misquote of a reference he made in Chapter XVII in his Rule of 1221. Francis told the friars not to preach unless they had gained permission to do so. But he also said: “Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds.”

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  3. CH says:

    Everyone keeps talking about that mysterious MLK quote that popped up on Twitter and Facebook after Bin Laden was killed. Apparently he never said it! Did someone make it up, or is it another person’s quote that’s now been attributed to MLK?

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  4. Claye says:

    I’ve found this reference from 1999 (not that far back) cited in a discourse, which also attributes the quote to Assisi:
    [William Fay and Linda Evans Shepherd, Share Jesus without Fear (1999), 22.]

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  5. Eric M. Jones. says:

    Elbert Hubbard is often credited for this clever remark. Doesn’t sound very Lincolnesque…witty though it may be.

    American Medical Association, American Medical Association. House of Delegates – 1922 –
    … and the other is that it is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt of it. …

    Kentucky State Medical Association – 1921 – … we were wondering whether or not to sit still and look like a fool, or endeavor to speak and remove all doubt

    Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Board of Home Missions. Dept. of Church and Country Life Work – 1919 –
    … — was it Socrates remarked that at times ’tis better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt ?

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  6. sam says:

    “gravy train”

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  7. Daniel J. Luke says:

    Proverbs 17:28 “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”

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  8. Ken Hirsch says:

    Garson O’Toole researched the “remain silent” quote last year: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/17/remain-silent/#more-227

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