Our Daily Bleg: More Quotation Authors Uncovered

Five 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.

Authors Uncovered

75 ThumbnailHere are more quote authors Shapiro’s tracked down recently.

Ryan asks:

Sorry if this is vague, but there’s this quote that goes something like “You get the democracy you deserve” or “In a democracy you get the government you deserve.” I’ve heard that quite a few times and I realized recently I didn’t actually know where it came from.

The Yale Book of Quotations
has the following quote under Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) from Lettres et Opuscules Inédits, vol. 1, no. 53 (1851) (Letter of 15 August, 1811):

Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite. (Every country has the government it deserves.)

Ari asks who said the following:

In the long run, we’re all dead.

The YBQ has this under John Maynard Keynes, from “A Tract on Monetary Reform,” Chapter 3 (1923):

But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.

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


I'd love to know where the heavy gorilla came from. I don't think it's a direct quote from a specific person, but I have noticed the gorilla, like the elephant in the room, gets bigger all the time. I started noticing this in the late 90s when the gorilla was about 500 pounds and now I've seen gorillas as big as two tons (maybe to distinguish itself from previously not-as-big gorillas). This seems to be a completely journalistic metaphor, and I'm hoping the origin isn't as arbitrary as picking a gorilla seems to be.

Jeff Bladt

"In Dreams Begin Responsibility"

I know this is used as a lead-in quote from Yeats' 1914 collection Responsibilities. Yeats unfortunately only cites Old Play as his source. Later Delmore Schwartz borrows the phrase for a short story title, but again offers no proper citation.

Anyhow, I have heard whispers that the phrase originates from Chaucer, though I have never found any corroborating evidence to support this claim. Any insight here would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Jeff Bladt

“So I be written in the Book of Love/ I do not care about that Book above/ Erase my name or write it as you will/ So I be written in the Book of Love.”

I've recently heard Keith Olbermann use this wording, citing Clarence Darrow's quoting of Omar Khayyam in the closing argument of the Leopold & Loeb trial. Looking through transcripts of his closing, Darrow regrettably never cites his source for this particular translation. The only English version of the Rubaiyat I have read is the Edward FitzGerald translation, in which nothing approximating the above phrasing appears.

So, do you know which translation Darrow used? Did he use his own translation/interpretation? Thanks.


I was wondering where "the hostess with the mostess" came from. Obviously the rhyme is what turned it into a phrase, but my friend and I debated what mostess originally was referring to.


RE: In the long run ...

I would say this sentiment is key to the entire book of Ecclesiastes


"Every shot not taken is a 100% miss."

My family would really love the T-shirt that says this is Wayne Gretzky proven wrong. Or right, depending on who you talk to.

Andrew Scribner-MacLean

Fred - Re: “You get the democracy you deserve” or “In a democracy you get the government you deserve.”

Will Rogers said "Be thankful we don't get all the government we pay for" which, I think, is a little different take on a similar sentiment. http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Will_Rogers


The quote about "the democracy [we] deserve" may exist in a publication somewhere, but what I think the first paragraph is referring to is actually a quote by H. L. Mencken, who said, "The American people will get the idiot they deserve."


I had a friend who was absolutely conviced he came up with the phrase "If you play with fire, you're gonna get burned." He claims he had never heard it before, and just thought it up one day. No amount of evidence could sway him otherwise.


There's also this one which conveys pretty much the same sentiment
'A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves'
Henry de Jouvenel

Pedro Gandra


A quote I would like to know the origin of is the Latin "nec spe nec metu" which I believe dates from the Renaissance but not sure...

Paul Sand

When it comes to Mencken on democracy, this is my favorite: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."


Origin of "The murder of a beautiful theory by a gang of brutal facts"-- I have heard it attributed to Herbert Spenser, but also that it was not Spenser.


My roommate always uses the phrase, "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." He cannot figure out who said it, except that it was said by somebody important. Do you have any ideas?


"from hell" as in "she was the nanny from hell"


Was it a mathematician who said about his teaching, "Rather than cover many topics, I prefer to uncover a few", and if so, who was it?

Martin Henner

hostess with the mostess is from the Irving Berlin musical CALL ME MADAM.


Was Groucho Marx the first to say:
"I would never join any club that would accept me as a member"
Always liked that one.


"Inequality is the price of civilization"
or something like that.


“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

I used to say that, and my housemate used to ask were i got it from. I used to say John Lennon said it...