Our Daily Bleg: More Quote Authors Uncovered

Three weeks ago, 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 am responding as best I can, a couple per week.

Mark C asks:

I’d love to see a definitive attribution to this old favorite, which I’ve seen attributed to Elvis Costello, Frank Zappa, and others:

Talking/writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

The earliest occurrence of this found by The Yale Book of Quotations was the following by Elvis Costello, quoted in Musician, October 1983:

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

TRad writes:

“Any 20-year-old who isn’t a liberal doesn’t have a heart, and any 40-year-old who isn’t a conservative doesn’t have a brain.” I’ve seen it attributed to several persons, most often to Bismarck or Churchill.

I wrote about this in my column in the Yale Alumni Magazine:

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 to 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?


I'd always heard "Talking about Jazz is like dancing about architecture" was from Thelonius Monk.


Saw this carved on a fireplace mantel in a library:
"Would that I had no grief that here a while I could idle".
I'd go back and ask, but the place doesn't really exist (it was in a dream).


I would really appreciate knowing who originally said this:

"A journalist is nothing more than someone who writes on the back of ads."

I thought it was Thoreau, but cannot find the source anywhere.

(I work in PR, and for a while considered anonymously sending this on a postcard to every ill-tempered or high-maintenance journalist I dealt with.)

Rob Weir

There is the old Goethe quote "I call architecture frozen music". Perhaps inspiration for the Costello line?


"Impossible n'est pas Francais."

I've often, but not always, seen it attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte. Just wanted to know if it was true.


I want to know who originally said "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity" or something similar. I usually see it attributed to Einstein, and the idea is he's making fun of the scientific method.


A well-known economist wrote that there are 4 things (or 5) people say when they do not understand economics: one of them is that demand is inelastic...
I would really appreciate knowing who said this and which are the other 3 or 4 erroneous statements.