Quotes Uncovered: Communism and Godliness

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

Theodoric Meyer asked:

I’ve seen many variations on “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” Who coined this expression?

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

[When asked to explain jazz:] “Lady, if you got to ask, you ain’t got it.” Thomas “Fats” Waller, Quoted in Washington Post, July 17, 1947. Often attributed to Louis Armstrong.

Rachel asked:

I would like to know the origin of a quote my dad and I often use: “The difference between communism and capitalism is that in capitalism, man exploits man. In communism, it’s the other way around.” I’ve seen it attributed to a variety of people, including John Kenneth Galbraith.

The YBQ has:

“Capitalism, it is said, is a system wherein man exploits man. And communism — is vice versa.” Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology (1960).

Elijah asked:

I have a quote that I’d like to know the origin of: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” Where is that from?

The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs quotes John Wesley, Sermons on Several Occasions: “Cleanliness is, indeed, next to godliness.” Wesley put the phrase in quotation marks, as if it were an already existing saying.

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

Paul Alexander

I'd love to know who came up with the line that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

I've heard it attributed to Frank Zappa and Elvis Costello, but a quick Google search failed to produce a winner. On the contrary, I found a list of about a dozen other contenders, from Thelonious Monk to Steve Martin.


"Every good-bye ain't gone."


I've been told this is an Irish proverb, typically said to children fussing about food that may have a touch of dirt in/on it: "You're going to eat a pound of dirt before you die. You might as well spread it out!"


"the fact of the matter is..."


"If you have to ask, you'll never know" seems like a derivative from Daoism, in particular of the famous quote from Tao Te Ching: "The Way that can be described is not the true Way."

Johnny E

the rooster often crows without a victory.

a man is needed for a day, a dog for a week, and a woman always.

guests should not forget to go home.

there is no medicine against death.

we all have a fool beneath our clothes, but some hide it better than others.

in calm seas every ship has a good captain.

Eric M. Jones

Okay Fred, I got one for you---

"A jerkwater town."

My theory: Many years ago steam locomotives would stop about every 50 miles to take on water. Fuel stops were far less frequent. Many small town were started just to support the water stops.

But in the 1930's the "jerkwater" was invented and put into common use. This was a scoop on the bottom of the tender that actually scooped up water from a trough between the rails. This was about the only excitement remaining since the train didn't stop there anymore--and so these were "jerkwater towns".

I have read other etymological theories of the term, but none so likely. Your theory?


Buy on bugles, sell on bells.

Attributed to one of the Rothschilds, regarding wars and the stock-market.

(Buy when the wars start - the bugles, sell when they end - the bells)


What are the origins of the phrase "paint the town red"?

Jack Neefus

A variation on the original quotation:

Many years ago, I saw a poster advertising a talk on women in management given the ironic title "Why Can't a Woman be More Like a Man?"

Underneath, someone had scrawled: "If you have to ask, the answer probably wouldn't make sense anyway."


I was told that the aphorism "cleanliness is next to Godliness" can be traced to a statement in Talmud (Avoda Zara 20)- "from here Rabbi Pinchas the son of Yair says, 'Torah study brings one to watchfulness, which leads to alacrity, which leads to cleanliness, etc'".


"Cleanliness is next to Godliness" My Mother said it.