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A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

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.

Ed Catlett asked:

“People often say ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ I believe the original quote was actually ‘A picture is worth ten thousand words’ as stated by Fred R. Barnard, of Printers’ Ink, 10 March 1927. Which is correct?”

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Where Does “Wham, bam” Come From?

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.

merry staser asked:

“‘Wham, bam … thank you ma’m’” We have been looking for this one all over and can’t seem to find out where it came from … (travelling in a carriage … was one we found … but not a full explanation). Thanks.”

I don’t have a full explanation (and I’m not sure one is necessary, the meaning of the expression is obvious). The earliest occurrence I know of is in the 1948 play Mister Roberts, where a sailor character says “Well there goes the liberty. That was sure a wham-bam-thank-you ma’am!” Read More »



Rule of Thumb

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.

Joseph asked:

“Rule of thumb. I have heard it was a common law rule about the thickness of a switch with which no punishment would occur for spousal abuse. I have also heard that this is not correct. I cannot find a definitive source and meaning.”

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It Takes a Village

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.

noor asked:

“It takes a whole community to raise a child”

The Yale Book of Quotations traces the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” back to 1989. Subsequent to the publication of the YBQ, I found that Toni Morrison was quoted in Essence, July 1981: “I don’t think one parent can raise a child. I don’t think two parents can raise a child. You really need the whole village.” The forthcoming Yale Book of Modern Proverbs notes: “The saying is often referred to as an ‘African’ or a ‘West African’ proverb; however, no prototype from Africa has been discovered — though several sayings from that continent do urge cooperation in child rearing and other enterprises.”

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



The Often Misquoted

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.

Aaron asked:

I’ve heard that Ben Franklin was misquoted when he said ‘Jack of all Trades, Master of None,’ and that he actually said ‘Jack of all Trades, Master of Some.’ Is there any truth to this?

I believe neither of these sayings appears in Benjamin Franklin‘s writings. Read More »



A Grain of Salt

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.

Jamie asked:

‘Take it with a grain of salt’ is one I always have trouble with – do you know the origin?

The Yale Book of Quotations has the following entry:

 

“Addito salis grano
With the addition of a grain of salt.

Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis bk. 23, sec. 149. Usually quoted as ‘Cum grano salis’ (with a grain of salt). The reference is to salt being added to Pompey’s antidote to poison.”

 

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The Price of Liberty

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.

James Curran asked:

Could you try a question that is of some import to my family… The saying ‘Price of Liberty is eternal vigilance’ is generally attributed to Thomas Jefferson. However, the original sentiment was phrased as ‘The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance’ by the Irish statesman John Philpot Curran (of whom a complete lack of evidence has never stopped my family from claiming as an ancestor).

So the question becomes, did Jefferson paraphrase Curran? Or is the modern wording the work of some nameless editor who can’t quote or attribute correctly?

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If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

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.

Barry Ritholtz asked:

“I keep hearing variations of the following as Twain: ‘History may not repeat but it rhymes.’ But I have never been able to track that back to Twain anywhere.”

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