Quotes Uncovered: Songs and Dancing

Quotes Uncovered

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

A while back, 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 researches by me. Hundreds of people have responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, a few per week.

Gareth Chantler asked:

“Love as if you’ll die tomorrow, dream as if you’ll live forever, dance as if nobody’s watching.” I’ve heard hundreds of variations on these dumb quotes and I’ve seen attributions from Gandhi to Mother Teresa, which all seem ridiculous. Can the YBQ bring clarity to this situation?

The Yale Book of Quotations has the following:

You’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money,
Love like you’ll never get hurt.
You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watchin’.

Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh, “Come from the Heart” (song, 1987).

Josh asked:

Any thoughts on: “I care not who writes the laws of a people if you let me write their songs.” Snopes suggests attributing it or some variant to Plato or Napoleon, but offers no evidence.

Snopes is usually very reliable, so I’m surprised if that’s all that was said there. The YBQ has:

“If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, “An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Government for the Good of Mankind” (1704).

Michael asked:

“What we fear is not that we may be weak but that we may be incredibly strong.” It was said by Lennox Lewis but he read it out like he was quoting someone.

According to The YBQ,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are indispensable. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” Appears in Marianne Williamson‘s A Return to Love (1992). This is frequently misattributed to Nelson Mandela.

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

Joe T

A version of the first quote that I remember hearing goes "dance like nobody's watching, work like you don't need the money, love like you've never been hurt."

A friend of mine rearranged it and used it on his online dating profile: "Dance like you've never been hurt. Work like no one is watching. Love like you don't need the money." 


"People get the government they deserve."


just curious -- do speechWRITERS get attribution (e.g., "our finest hour" by churchill, "ask not..." JFK, "tear down this wall", "city on the hill" et. al. were all attributed to the leaders who said them, right?


I've heard this one attributed to both Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin:

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."


How about this one

"I heard people say that to understand is to forgive, but they are wrong to understand is to understand"


With regards to the Andrew Fletcher quote above, I noticed that the person who asked the question stated that Snopes could not identify the origins. I think it should be clarified that the quote in question was posed on the Snopes message board by a user and the answers given were also by other users. It was not a formal entry from the site's editors (the actual entries are indeed very well-researched).

Arnold D'Souza

Good question by #3 (Randy)... And the answer I'm afraid to say is "No!"

It's a pity.


The Marianne Williamson quote from A Return to Love begins, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate." Not "indispensable".


Im not sure if this has been done before but "Evil happens when good men do nothing" is often attributed to edmund Burke but im pretty sure it wasnt him


From the advice column Annie's Mailbox:

Dear Annie: Do you know the rest of the poem with the line "Dance like no one's watching"? I can't find it. — Virginia Beach, Va.

Dear Virginia Beach: William Watson Purkey is credited with writing, "Dance like nobody's watching; love like you've never been hurt. Sing like nobody's listening; live like it's heaven on earth." Later, the phrase "Work like you don't need the money" was added, often credited to baseball great Satchel Paige.

This poem obviously speaks to a lot of people, because over the years, many others have created their own additions. We think the sentiments are life-affirming.


This sounds like a different source; is the song lyric really the origin?


Not exactly tracing a quote, but confirming one.

Winston Churchill's "We shall fight them on the beaches" speech during World War 2 is a historically significant speech. Is it really true that in a whispered aside, he also said "... And we'll hit them on the head with beer bottles, because that's about all we got"?

Joe Paris

Grandma Lillian Bernard once told me :

"Choose friends and lovers not for money, you can earn more; not for knowledge, you can learn more; not for looks, we grow older by the season; choose disposition, THAT's the best reason."

Rold to me in response to question concerning How do I pick a friend or lover or mate ?

Dan Rubel

I would like to find out where this quote came from, "It is most apalling to note that 95 percent of the people of the world are drifting aimlessly through life without the slightest conception of the work for which they are best fitted and not the slightest conception of a definite objective with which to strive."

Mark (with the evil sister)

"all it takes for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing"
E. Burke

straight face

Dan Rubel,

I'm not sure who, but I'm pretty sure it was a socialist thinker/writer. Perhaps Sandburg, perhaps Dos Passos, perhaps Upton Sinclair. I know I know it, but I can't quite find it in definite memory.


I'd love to know where this one came from:

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit."

I've heard Aristotle, but I've also heard Tom Peters.

Robert Corcoran Neves

The origin of the phrase "third world"? And while we're at it, where is the second world? Also related: Aren't Portuguese and Brazilians part of the Latino set? For that matter, aren't the French and the Italians also Latino? I realize these questions are somewhat off topic, but maybe they will provide a topic for another column.


curious. don't you work better when you need the money?


jblog #4:

I had heard it was by Einstein, but then also I heard it was Jung. (Forever Jung).


A handful of popular books (most recently, Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What) have quoted St. Augustine as saying, "The church is a whore ... and (/but) she is my mother." It would be interesting if he had said that, but I rather doubt it. How did Augustine get saddled with this one?