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?


"Light dawns on marble head..." - in reference to someone "getting" something for the first time.

Clay B

Phyllis @ #6. Your quote is from Ecclesiastes 9:11.

Clay B

Well, part of it anyway.

Sean Samis

I believe the Pete in "for Pete's sake" refers to the Basillica of St. Peter's in Rome; on which great expense and effort were made for "St. Peter's sake".


I'm pretty sure that "For Pete's sake" is actually a corruption of the more sensible "For pity's sake."


DO you know who said "I was born Intelligent - Education ruined me."..Thanks