Quotes Uncovered: Who's Pete?

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

Eric M. Jones asked:

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy.” Dorothy Parker might have said it. This quip is frequently phrased (with variations): “a free bottle in front of me; a pre-frontal lobotomy.”

The Yale Book of Quotations, which attempts to trace all famous quotations to their earliest findable occurrence, has this:

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” Tom Waits, quoted in Creem Magazine, March 1978.

Beth Lavadia asked:

My mother used to say in exasperation to my sisters and I, “For Pete’s sake!” Who is this Pete fellow and why is his name used in such an expression?

This is usually thought to refer to St. Peter, chosen as a less offensive swear reference than Jesus or God. But in the etymology business, the proper answer is often “etymology unknown,” and no one knows for sure who this Pete fellow is.

Franz asked:

I have a book somewhere about Lombardi that attributes this quote to him: “Winning isn’t everything, but making the effort to win is.” This is certainly different than “… winning is the only thing.”

The Yale Book of Quotations demonstrates that Red Sanders used the “… it’s the only thing” quote before Lombardi, but the YBQ does credit Lombardi with your variant:

“Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is!” Vince Lomabardi, quoted in Esquire, November 1962.

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


My dad always said: "what in the Sam Hill is going on here?"

Fred Beukema

A few years ago, the representative of the company with which my firm's retirement accounts were invested came to do a presentation about our retirement options. At some point, he mentioned that Albert Einstein had called compound interest "the Eighth Wonder of the World." This immediately smacked of apocryphal sales bs, so I googled it. I came up with plenty of instances of people attributing this quote or something similar to Einstein, but all of them were people who were trying to sell investments. So: is it true? And, if it was true, was it sincere or sarcastic?


"Your name is Mud in this town".

I thought it meant muddy or dirty but I think it refers to Dr. Mudd who took care of John Wilkes Booth after he shot President Lincoln.

He was ruined by that association.

Shay Guy

As was said in The Fairly Oddparents:

"Oh, for the love of Pete!"

"Who's Pete? Someone I should know about?"


My wife says "for Pete's sake" as well, in an attempt to avoid more unsavory expressions in front of our kids. The other day, my 12 year old son had a friend over, who, after hearing my wife say that, asked "just who is this Pete, and does Mr Lee know about him?"

Phyllis Otto

Wondering what is the exact quotation of this and from whence does it originate: The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong but that's the way to bet it.

curly su

I have two ...

1) Beyond the pale... ? Or, is it 'Beyond the pail'?

2) Cold as a witch's teat in a brass bra.


Here's a shout-out to all those people doing stuff for my sake: Thanks so much; really appreciate it.


I have no idea if this was a common saying, or if my grandmother coined it:

"If you can see a patch of blue the size of a dutchman's pants, it's not going to rain."

Any clue? I always wondered what made a dutchman's pants different from other pants so as to deserve such a mention.


The frontal lobotomy quote was from
Fred Allen (1894-1956)


Curly Sue-

Beyond the pale refers to the English invasion of Ireland that started during the reign of Henry VII. The Pale was the English stronghold in Northern Ireland, so beyond the Pale was uncivilized/barbarous.

My source is the This Sceptered Isle radio series produced by the BBC.


When asked why he charged so much for his paintings, Pablo Picasso replied:
"You take something from me that I love, I must take from you, something that you love".

I don't know where I first heard this and have not been able to find any source for it or whether it was ever actually attributed to Picasso.


Could you try and find the origins of the phrase:
"Too late, she cried, and waved her wooden leg"?


My Latin Teacher said that PALE was a latin acronym. I cannot recall the specific words except for pallus post, but the gist was the post marked the boundary of the law.

Science Minded

Isn't the Peter of, "taking from Peter to pay to Paul?? So is Peter the wealthy one or is Peter? Isn't this the real meaning of the idea of a Ponzi Scheme?


I've seen this quote and its variant attributed to both Plutarch and Robert Browning. Was wondering which one it was if either.

No, when the fight begins within himself, A man's worth something. (Robert Browning)

When a man's struggle begins within oneself, the man is worth something. (Plutarch)


I've heard the story about Beyond the Pale originating in Ireland, but I also have heard it in connection to the limit of where Jews could live in the Russian Empire (the "Pale of Settlement"), so I'd also be curious as to the origin.

Mark P

I have heard the Labotomy quote attributed to Waits, Dorothy Parker, Fred Allen, Groucho Marx, Lenny Bruce and W.C. Fields.

I doubt that Waits was the originator but if you are going to attribute it to him, he used it on a Fernwood 2Night episode in 1977, which pre-dates thr Creem Magazine date.

Mike M

The frontal lobotomy quote sounds like something Groucho Marx would have said.

G Caldwell

The "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" quote supposedly originated in a 1953 John Wayne movie, "Trouble Along the Way". See: