Answering Your Blegs for a Change
Our resident quote bleggar Fred Shapiro, editor of The Yale Book of Quotations, is back, but this time he answers your quotation blegs. If you have a bleg of your own — it needn’t have anything to do with quotations — send it along here.
Last week I invited readers to submit quotations for which they wanted me to try to trace the origins, using The Yale Book of Quotations and more recent research by me. Dozens responded via comments or e-mails. I will now respond as best I can, a couple per week.
Several people asked about “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” According to The Yale Book of Quotations, science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote in his 1941 story “Logic of Empire”: “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.”
Earlier, Thomas F. Woodcock wrote in the Wall Street Journal on December 22, 1937: “In this world much of what the victims believe to be malice is explicable on the ground of ignorance or incompetence, or a mixture of both.”
Nate submitted the supposed Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
He noted: “The attributions I’ve been able to discover always say that she said it, but never give specifics about when or where she did (or if she was the first to come up with it).”
The YBQ lists this under Mead, but its source is “Attributed in Christian Science Monitor, June 1, 1989.” That means that the 1989 occurrence is the earliest found in my research, and that there is substantial reason to doubt whether Mead ever actually said it.
Please submit other quotations for which evidence of origins is desired.