Archives for fred shapiro



One More Time: Most Notable Quote of 2011

Since my last posting elicited many helpful comments, let me repeat it this week in hope of getting even more input:

I’m starting to think about my annual list, run by the Associated Press, of the top 10 most notable quotations of the year. By “notable” I mean “important” or “famous” or “particularly revealing of the spirit of our times” rather than necessarily being eloquent or admirable. Last year’s winners were a tie between Tony Hayward‘s “I’d like my life back” and Christine O’Donnell‘s “I’m not a witch.”

I would welcome suggestions of notable quotations from 2011, particularly ones from politics or popular culture or entertainment or sports or business or technology.



Bleg: Most Notable Quote of 2011

I’m starting to think about my annual list, run by the Associated Press, of the top 10 most notable quotations of the year. By “notable” I mean “important” or “famous” or “particularly revealing of the spirit of our times” rather than necessarily being eloquent or admirable. Last year’s winners were a tie between Tony Hayward‘s “I’d like my life back” and Christine O’Donnell‘s “I’m not a witch.”

I would welcome suggestions of notable quotations from 2011, particularly ones from politics or popular culture or entertainment or sports or business or technology.



Ole Mr. Micawber: “Result, Misery”

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.

Groatman asked:

“What is the saying that says something like ‘balance your accounts and if you’re groat over, happiness, and if you’re a groat under, misery’ and who said it and when and where? I believe Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac had a later similar version of this aphorism, but, if I remember correctly, he substituted a ‘penny’ and didn’t use the word ‘groat.’ What was it he said exactly?”

I’m not aware of Franklin saying something like this. The well-known version is by Charles Dickens, given by the Yale Book of Quotations as follows:

“‘My other piece of advice, Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.”
David Copperfield (1850)

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



Political Football

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.

John machlachlan asked:

When did surgery start being called a ‘procedure’?

The Oxford English Dictionary quotes usage of the term “surgical procedure” from the medical journal Lancet in 1853, and “Osteoclasis is a simple procedure” from E. H. Bradford and R. W. Lovett, Treatise on Orthopedic Surgery (1890).

John also asked:

Was the secretary of defense ever called anything else such as the secretary of offense?

The answer is: Secretary of War. Read More »



Rules of The Game

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.

Michael asked:

“The best swordsman does not fear the second best, he fears the worst since there’s no telling what that idiot is going to do.”

Read More »



The Absence of Proof

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 A Smith asked:

“‘Absence of proof is not proof of absence.’ Attributed to William Cowper, as a retort to one who claimed God does not exist because we can’t prove his existence.”

Read More »



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 »