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Entitled to Know

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 researches.

jennifer atkinson asked:

“When did we start calling social security, medicare, and medicaid ‘entitlements’? Seems like they might well be deemed obligations.”

The Oxford English Dictionary does not yet include this sense of the word “entitlement,” but I believe that it originated with or was at least popularized by pioneering legal scholar Charles Reich. Reich used “entitlement” meaning “right to governmental benefits” in his landmark article “Individual Rights and Social Welfare: The Emerging Legal Issues” in the Yale Law Journal in 1965. He had earlier used the corresponding sense of the verb “entitled” in his even more landmark article “The New Property” in the Yale Law Journal in 1964.

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



Who First Said, “Great Scott!”? And Who Is Scott?

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 researches.

Bill asked:

“Great Scott!

As in, I’d love to know the origin of the phrase made famous most recently by Christopher Lloyd’s zany character in the Back to the Future series, but also used with some frequency much earlier by Hank Morgan, Mark Twain’s own Connecticut Yankee.”

Garson O’Toole, creator of the fantastic quoteinvestigator.com site, has found the earliest known example of the exclamation “Great Scott!” in The Eclectic Medical Journal, December 1856: Read More »



John Adams Said it First

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 researches.

Daniel Greenwald asked:

“If a person is not a liberal when he is twenty, he has no heart; if he is not a conservative when he is forty, he has no head.’ OR
‘If my son is not a liberal when he is twenty, I will disown him; if he is not a conservative when he is forty, I will disown him then.’
And other variants, I am sure.”

One of the pleasures of compiling the Yale Book of Quotations was tracing and cross-referencing different versions and precursors of famous quotes. This one is usually credited to Georges Clemenceau, but W. Gurney Benham‘s Book of Quotations cites French premier and historian Francois Guizot (1787-1874), translating his statement as “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.” Benham asserts that “Clemenceau adopted this saying, substituting ‘socialiste’ for ‘republicain. ‘”

But I was delighted to find that John Adams had expressed a similar idea well before Guizot entered adulthood. Thomas Jefferson preserved this quip, writing in a 1799 journal that Adams had said: “A boy of 15 who is not a democrat is good for nothing, and he is no better who is a democrat at 20.”

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



There Are Opinions, And Then There Are Facts

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 researches.

Enter your name asked:

“I’d like to know the origin of the statement, ‘You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.’ I’ve seen a version of it attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, but it would be fun to know if he’s the origin, or if he quoted someone else.”

Read More »



The (Accidental?) Wisdom of Yogi Berra

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 researches.
Jordan asked:

“Okay, but did he say the quotation in question?” [i.e., did Yogi Berra actually say, "I never said most of the things I said." From three weeks ago.]

According to the ever-helpful Yale Book of Quotations, Sports Illustrated, March 17, 1986, quoted Berra as saying “I really didn’t say everything I said.” Read More »



Is it Really Darkest Just Before the Dawn?

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 researches.

Georgia asked:

“where does the saying ‘the world is your oyster’ come from?”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this is an allusion to “the possibility of finding a pearl in an oyster” and means “one is in a position to profit from the opportunities that life, or a particular situation, may offer.” The earliest citation for the expression given by the OED is from Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor: “Why then the world’s mine Oyster, which I, with sword will open.”

Josh asked:

“I always get annoyed by people who say, ‘It’s always darkest just before the dawn,’ usually said to cheer somebody up who’s down on their luck with hope of better times. I’d prefer people either offer a unique thought or something that makes scientific sense. Where did this horrible quote come from?”

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A Scuffle over “Scuffle”

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 researches.

Jim asked:

This is a little different and may not really be possible to trace but…

For whatever reason, I am very irritated by the constant use of the world ‘scuffling’ to mean ‘struggling’ — as in having a hard time — by sportswriters and TV sportscasters and analysts (i.e., ‘Ever since his concussion, Justin Morneau has been really scuffling at the plate’). I was heartened to see that this New York Times article was reprinted with ‘struggling’ in place of ‘scuffling’ (see note at the bottom of the page).
I think of ‘scuffling’ in the context of fighting or struggling physically, not struggling in terms of performance in a sport or in a job, what have you. Do you agree that ‘scuffling’ in this context is misused? And, can you trace the beginnings of this mis-usage? I realize this is slightly different than what’s usually asked here but thank you.

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“I Never Said Most of the Things I Said”

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 researches.

BT asked:

Yogi Berra has been quoted as having said, ‘I never said most of the things I said.’ Is this correct? How many of the famous quotations associated with him been incorrectly attributed to him?”

Read More »