Our Daily Bleg: Uncovering More Quote Authors

Seven 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.

Rusty asks:

“Politics is like sausage, once you find out what goes into either, you will want to have nothing to do with them for the rest of your life.” [Is this by] Mark Twain or Otto von Bismark or ???

This is usually attributed to Bismarck, but the Iron Chancellor was not associated with that quip until the 1930’s. The Daily Cleveland Herald, March 29, 1869, quoted lawyer-poet John Godfrey Saxe that “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made,” and this may be the true origin of the saying.

G. Armour Van Horn says:

Brian H., the quote regarding lies and statistics is from Mark Twain. He made it up, but attributed it as a quote from Disraeli. As the “Quotemaster” at Quotes of the Day, I spend a fair amount of time tracking these down, either because I’m curious or because I make the mistake of using a quote in the daily mailing and then getting called on it. The Twain/Disraeli one is easy; you’ll find details on it all over the web.

It is great to see a comment from the man behind the excellent qotd.org site, but the fact is that this is not at all an “easy one,” and the surest thing we know about it is that it was not made up by Mark Twain.

I would suggest looking at The Yale Book of Quotations, which employs exhaustive research to trace precise details of quotation usage, rather than details all over the web not based on accurate research, to find information on quotation origins. The Yale Book of Quotations and more recent research show that Twain used the “lies and statistics” line in his autobiography, but that it can be found long before that.

The earliest version that has been discovered (by Stephen Goranson, who has done considerable research on this quotation) is in The National Observer, June 13, 1891: “It has been wittily remarked that there are three kinds of falsehood: the first is a ‘fib,’ the second is a downright lie, and the third and most aggravated is statistics.”

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


Wow, defensive much? I'm pretty sure he implied he does research as well, and was merely commenting that a layperson (when it comes to quote-tracking) could find data on this particular one on the internet.


That quote was also paraphrased in an episode of "The West Wing," when Leo McGarry explains there are two things you don't want people to see you make: laws and sausages.

I'd still like to know who said "Every shot not taken is a 100% miss."


"It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit."
-some 19th century white woman I saw credited with it ona poster many years ago?

Please help. :)

Bette Neumann

"The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.”


"Compound interest is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.”

Often attributed to Albert Einstein, but debunked by Snopes.


You meed the services of Nigel Rees:



“I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Ettiene De Grellet or William Penn?


I'm sure this one is J.K.Galbraith, but I can't remember in which of his works it appeared: "The trouble with competition is that in the end somebody wins".


What is the source of the phrase, "Going to hell in a handbasket"?


No good deed goes unpunished.


'I swear upon God/Zeus that an outstanding runner cannot be the equal of an average wrestler'

I see this attributed to Socrates a lot, but I can't find a source for it.


"Do not ascribe to malice that which can be dismissed as incompetence." Is that Napoleon, or another bright person?

I will never be interested in politics.
It´s like another society with other rules.

João Pereira



I think it wouldn't be in the spirit of that quotation to find out who to credit it to :)


“Either we have hope within us or we don't, it is a dimension of the soul, and it's not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation... Hope in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed... Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense no matter how it turns out.” - VAclav Havel

I know it's a long one! I've looked through a lot of different quote books as well and I have also read a number of his books. Have never found this quote that I love though.


Perhaps yoo hoo are referring to Harriet Martineau-- she does fit the bill--- too much ahead of her time- but then she knew exactly what she was doing- Had this amazing capacity to conceptualize knowledge, to predict and to control. I give her a thumbs up.

The question is--can she be topped? I leave the matter open.

Goldstein, 2009

Yoni D

I have heard the quote, or a variation of it, below attributed to Albert Einstein many times, but have never seen a definitive source:

"The most powerful source in the universe is compound interest"

Your help would be much appreciated.

Michael Schlussler

"The beatings will continue until morale improves." usually associated with pirates or educational institutions.


This is a kind request for tracing the origin of the following quote:
“Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalized, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism.” massively attributed to Karl Marx in Das Kapital, 1867

I've been seeing this quote a lot lately, but I'm not sure of its precise origin. This was even referred recently at DealBook blog at NYTimes http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/fed-chairman-backs-call-for-higher-spending/ (comment 2)

I was hoping you could clear this out.
Thank you in advance, I really appreciate your work of bringing merit to those who have them.


did socrates (/plato) say something along the lines:
'when an elephant is down, even the ant kicks him'?


"There are no bad soliders, only bad generals."

I've heard it attributed to Napoleon, but I doubt it.