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?

Nicole Domingue

"I would have written less if I had more time" comes from Pascal. In French 'Je n'ai pas eu le temps de le faire plus court'


As to 16, I see that usually attributed to Jefferson regarding letter writing, that he was apologizing for a long letter because he didn't have time to write a short one, meaning one that condensed things.


There was a quote that basically said you don't need to be smart, the unemployment line is full of smart people, you don't have to be rich, ...You just need to be persistant and work hard. Can you find that quote? I would greatly appreciate it.


#13, "knock on wood," accompanied by the action, is an action taken to dispel evil spirits that supposedly lurk in wood, ready to sabotage your plans. Sort of like saying Kinehora (Yiddish phrase to ward off the evil eye). Somewhere along the way it also became an expression to affirm the truthfulness of a statement.

Yup, it was Dr. Johnson who said "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Actually, it is the antepenultimate refuge. When patriotism doesn't work, they turn to "protect the children!" and if all else fails, invoke tradition.

Steve, I seem to remember from way back in college that either Augustine or Aquinas said that if an ox (or cow?) could envision God, its god would take the form of an ox (or cow). Google isn't turning up the quote, though ... without an exact wording, I can't find the quote. (Complicating the search is the fact that "Ox" was Aquinas' nickname.) Perhaps some RC theologian would know.



"One of the earliest Greek philosophers (Xenophanes) observed that 'if oxen and horses could talk and draw they would tell us that the God is an ox or a horse.' "
Thanks, NVCC.edu site.


Where does the saying "knock on wood" come from?


"A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men." Wilder? Moncur? Anonymous? Not really Dahl.


I once heard "If triangles had a god, it would have three sides" attributed to Montesquieu.

Bob Cummings

Who said

"Every virtue taken to its extreme becomes a crime"?

I believe it was Defoe, but am unsure.

It is very timely today for Politics and religion!



For Greg Kennedy:

"No matter where you go, there you at" is attributed to D. L. Menard, a Louisana cajun singer/songwriter (and more.)

I don't know if he originated it, but he is a source of spreading it.


I once heard "If triangles had a god, it would have three sides" attributed to Montesquieu.

Yes, it's in his Persian Letters.


To Julie, 5: Jefferson said, "I am a great believer in luck, and find that the harder I work the more I have of it."

J. Bozeman


Used this during my Navy career when describing why I was increasing the workload on my sailors

"Excellence is its own punishment"

Did I steal it?


#23, I know this quote is goes like this:

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race"

by Calvin Coolidge


How about "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" - Was not Samual Clemens, as commonly attributed.


The Groucho quote I remember from one of the Marx brothers movies, and specifically referred to membership in a country club.

And, I thought the quote was "Jingoism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." but I forget the source. Would have been Teddy Roosevelt era.


A creative writing professor once told me the following:

An artist is someone who tells people a truth that they do not wish to hear, and makes them pay to hear it.

He attributed the quote to DH Lawrence, though I have since never come across it. Has anyone else ever even heard it? If so, attributed to whom? Perhaps this guy just made it up.


how about, 'the dogs bark, and the caravan passes on'?

Tim Suliman

"Time flies like the wind, fruit flies like the banana."

I've always thought it was Groucho, but I'm not sure. Thanks!

V. Baker

"Since Hector was a pup..."