Quotes Uncovered: Who Worried About Events?

Quotes Uncovered

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

Thirteen 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. Hundreds of people have responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, a few per week.

Stan asked:

This may be too vague, but this quote essentially conveys: events that occur, not “issues” or a platform, define the term of a prime minister (or other leader). I think it’s Benjamin Disraeli, but if it rings a bell, I would love to know the real quote.

The Yale Book of Quotations has the following quote, which may be the one you have in mind:

[When asked what worried him most:] “Events, dear boy, events.” Harold Macmillan, quoted in Sunday Times (London), Nov. 15, 1992.

Nate asked:

Luck is the residue of desire. Branch Rickey is often quoted as saying “Luck is the residue of design,” but the version above is the one I have always remembered. Which one is correct, or was Rickey paraphrasing someone else?

It’s “design.” The YBQ, which attempts to trace all famous quotations to their earliest known occurrence, has:

“Luck is the residue of design.” Branch Rickey, quoted in Sporting News, Feb. 21, 1946.

Bob asked:

If there’s any chance you could find the origin of the phrase “The more things change the more they stay the same,” I’d be very pleased. Thanks.

Again, The YBQ has the answer:

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Alphonse Karr, Les Guêpes, Jan. 1849.

Joel asked:

After saying “Water finds its own mark” to someone the other day, the person told me that Anton LaVey, the renowned Satanist, had coined the phrase in the 1960’s. But my aunts and uncles seem sure that my grandfather used the term well before the 1960’s. So where did it originate?

This is an old proverb, usually phrased as “Water seeks its own level.” According to the Dictionary of American Proverbs, it dates at least as far back as colonial statesman Gouverneur Morris in 1778.

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

Barbara Boynton

Can you find the poem and author of "and the beads he wore were from some African country I never even heard of."

Joe Walsh

Could you provide a little bit more background for the quotations? In particular, I would be curious to know what Alphonse Karr was referring to.


I once caught a snippet of an Indian poem by the father of Amitabh Bachchan that went "...seek not the shade of a single leaf." And that is all that I remember. Beautiful poem and I have never been able to either confirm the author or find the correct poem.

I saw Bachchan speak once, quoting his father I believe, and since it was at a trade show, I was only half way paying attention, but that single phrase grabbed my ear and has stayed with me for nearly 15 years now.


It's amazing what can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.


I've always seen the Rickey quote as "Luck is the residue of design." I've seen the quote attributed to John Milton's "At a Vacation Exercise in the College" , but when I read through it, I couldn't find the quote.

Marc Anthony

I am not exact but here it is,"You can't make your cake and eat it to."

Refers to having everything work your way. Please research. This is a ridiculous cliche quote. I made the cake. I will eat the cake.


How about, "This too shall pass"?


"Do not attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence." I've seen this attributed to Napoleon, but not by any source I trust.

Science Minded

"Time is money"

"A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned"

The first two are Benjamin Franklin-- I would imagine this last one is his too.

"Haste Makes Waste."

I took my daughter to school this morning for the umteenth time. And she explained to me why she is so concerned about being late for school. There are grave consequences that kids suffer at her public school for being late. I explained the situation of the protestant ethic becoming like an "iron cage" and its neurotic quality and told her to calm down. I hope it helps or else she will go through life always unnerved when late--even when the situation is out of her control.


"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy. "

Brett Dunbar

@ 10

Attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee. Not actually found in any of his writings. First known from a newspaper letter in 1951.


MY Grandmother always use to say "back when Hector was a pup"-

I always figured it meant something old or a long time ago-


@8, “Do not attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence." Look at the article in Wikipedia on "Hanlon's razor" for more about this thought than you want to know.


I think “Water seeks its own level” is attributed to Blaise Pascal (b. 1623). It seems obvious as a proverb, but I think Pascal was the first to state it as a principal of hydrodynamics (just as Archimedes was the first to state the principal of buoyancy).

Dave English

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

This must be the most famous aviation quote that is not a verifiable quote. It is attributed everywhere (including some Smithsonian publications and the Washington Post) to Leonardo da Vinci, but I've never found definitive source information. Neither did some nice folks I talked with at 'National Geographic Magazine,' who contacted one of the world's leading Leonardo authorities in Italy as part of a long research process and were told that Leonardo da Vinci did not write it.

My question to Fred is: so who did write it?

-- Dave


Can you find the origin of the phrase "close, but no cigar"? Not only do I not know where it comes from, but I have never really been able to figure out what it means...


I'm not sure it can actually be traced, but I've always been curious to know the origin of the saying "For Pete's sake!" Who's Pete?

Ignacio Castuera

Years ago I read that "luck is the residue of design" is an old Latin phrase but I cannot find it any more. Howard Cosssell used it often as did Branch Rickey. John Milton is often acknowledged as the originator of the phrase, but he did study Latin as did Richey and possibly they ran across it in their studies. Can you add light on the subject?