Quotes Uncovered: Who Punished Good Deeds?

Quotes Uncovered

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

Fifteen 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.

Ross asked:

Was Groucho Marx the first to say, “I would never join any club that would accept me as a member”? Always liked that one.

The earliest record of this immortal saying (referred to by Woody Allen in Annie Hall as the key quote of his adult life relative to women) given by The Yale Book of Quotations is the following:

[Explaining his resignation from the Hollywood chapter of the Friars Club:] “I do not care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.” Groucho Marx, Quoted in Look Magazine, March 28, 1950.

But compare these much earlier lines, also in the YBQ:

“I have now come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying; and for this reason: I can never be satisfied with anyone who would be blockhead enough to have me.” Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Mrs. Orville H. Browning, April 1, 1838.

“If I were settled I would quit all nonsense and swindle some girl into marrying me. But I wouldn’t expect to be “worthy” of her. I wouldn’t have a girl that I was worthy of. She wouldn’t do. She wouldn’t be respectable enough.” Mark Twain, Letter to Mary Fairbanks, December 12, 1867.


“No good deed goes unpunished.” I’ve heard it but never found who first said it.

This is usually ascribed to Clare Boothe Luce, but the The Yale Book of Quotations notes:

There is an earlier occurrence of “No good deed goes unpunished” in the Zanesville (Ohio) Signal, November 5, 1942, attributed there to Walter Winchell. The saying may in fact be proverbial: the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs cites “1938 J. AGATE Ego 3 25 January 175 Pavia was in great form to-day: ‘Every good deed brings its own punishment.'”

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

Howard Werner

Who said "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel?"

clark Shannon

You never know what you don't know until something comes along you don't know.


I came across the following quote once, which I recall being attributed to Averroes. "God is worshipped in many ways satisfactorily." I have not been able to find the quote since (and of course, I cannot find the source).


Always heard "No good deed goes unpunished" attributed to Oscar Wilde.

Who said, "If a man is alone in a forest, with no woman to hear him, is he still wrong?"

julie goodyear

who first said, "I find the harder I work, the luckier I get"?

Thank you.


Who actually first said (in print) 'If you don't like the weather around here, wait a minute; it will change'? Seems like every place I visit, the locals quote is as Mark Twain, and believe he was referring to their town.

John Christensen

attributed to Mencken:

"To every complicated problem there is a simple solution, which turns out to be wrong."

Actually sounds more like Bierce, now that I write it.

Greg Kennedy

no matter where you go, there you are. I've heard it quoted in two movies.


Re #1

I always thought it was Mark Twin/Samuel Clemens, but it was actually Samuel Johnson.

"Boswell tells us that Samuel Johnson made this famous pronouncement that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel on the evening of April 7, 1775." (from samueljohnson.com)


What is the origin of the latin motto "Ad astra per aspera" and what is its most popular translation?


If you give 100 trillion people time enough to say an average of 120 billion words over the course of their life, you'll produce quite a few Yale Book of Quotations.


Where does "the pot calling the kettle black" come from?


what is the origin of knock on wood?

Stephen Nightingale

"Only the dead have seen the end of war."

Attributed to Plato, but per my web search a few minutes ago no one has found it in his works - yet. Possibly Thucydides or Herodotus? Hesiod? Cain?

"If God were to make himself manifest to a clam, He would do so in the form of a very large clam."

Heard this at Catholic University many years ago from a very thoughtful and pious theologian who was trying to make a very serious point about religious tolerance..

- Steve


Who said "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel?"

I think it was Samuel Johnson


"I would have written less if I had more time." I've seen it attributed to Pascal and Twain among others.


Who said a bride is a woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her?


"It's amazing what can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit."
I've seen it attributed to Reagan, Truman, and also a woman who predates them but whose name I cannot remember.


I have been trying for decades to find the source of a description of the Mediterranean Sea, "a blue so blue that only blood is redder." Any ideas?

Frank Marrero

Reminds me of my step-father's saying, "Time wounds all heals."