Quotes Uncovered: Revenge Served Cold and Lobotomies


Each week, I’ve been inviting readers to submit quotations for which they want me to try to trace the origin, using The Yale Book of Quotations and my own research. Here is the latest round.

Andy asked:

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

How do you know it was from Fred Allen?

Hillary asked:

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.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary,

The theory that the origin of the phrase relates to any of several specific regions, such as the area of Ireland formerly called the Pale or the Pale of Settlement in Russia, is not supported by the early historical evidence and is likely to be a later rationalization.

Mark P asked:

I have heard the Labotomy quote attributed to Tom 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 the Creem Magazine date.

Other people have pointed this out to me, but thanks for the very good information, which I will incorporate in the next edition of The Yale Book of Quotations.

Jason asked:

I’d love to know if “Revenge is a dish best served cold” is attributable to anyone but the Klingons/Roddenberry. Any ideas?

The Yale Book of Quotations lists this in the Proverbs section, citing “Revenge is a dish that can be eaten cold” from Peterson’s Magazine, December 1870, and noting that “An article in the L.A. Times, May 8, 1896, describes it as a saying of Louis Napoleon‘s.”

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


How about the origins of "There's no such thing as a stupid question" or "There are no stupid questions"?

scott nolan

is there a known origin of the phrase " bad liver and a broken heart" other than the tom waits song?


can you tell me the origin of "the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client"


I have long returned the phrase "'I see' said the blind man" in response to a friendly explanation, but an associate of mine recently tacked on "to the deaf dog" in an effort to round out my annoying utterance.

Can you provide a context to this expression and potentially legitimize my friend's claim?


@RdV: I heard it in many iterations (including your friends), my favorite being:

'I see,' said the deaf man to his blind son as he was pissing in the wind, and continued 'It's all coming back to me.'

My $0.02

herb jernow

I wonder about "He bought the farm." I suppose it was a

mortgage guaranteed by a life insurance policy.



Regardless of whether that 'Beyond the pale' quote is actually based on the English occupation of Ireland or not, just for the record, the area surrounding Dublin NOT Northern Ireland was known as the Pale.

Alas, the BBC is fallible like the rest of us ...


@ j.b.garrity: I've heard it as "The lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client and a jackass for an attorney."

@ RdV: How about " 'I see,' said the blind man, as he picked up his hammer and saw."

Ken D

Who first said, "That Was Then, This Is Now""

Paul Mockapetris

"We are the friends of freedom everywhere, but the custodians only of our own"

occasionally liberty instead of freedom, other small modifications

usually one Adams president or another cited as source


If you're talking about "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy, " I had thought it was from Groucho Marx, but some poking around on the internet shows a consensus to Dorothy Parker.

Sarah K

@mSoli: We always used to say "I see," said the blind man as he picked up his hammer and saw...

J Wolfgang Goerlich

"If you're not a liberal at 20, you have no heart, and if you're not a conservative at 40, you have no head."

Some say Winston Churchill. Other say bollocks. Can you trace down the source of the quote?

Eric M. Jones

Grabbed off the Internet:
Google Books
World Visions and the Image of Man:
Cosmologies as Reflections of Man
By Carlton W. Berenda
New York, NY: Vantage Press
Pg: 196:
And the male, confronted with this creature from day to day, may be driven to reflect upon three alternatives: "A bottle in front of me, a frontal lobotomy, or the front off the bottom of me,"

AM Pillai

"It is either my way or the highway"
Frequently used in movies, cannot seem to find its origin.

Ken Hirsch

It looks like it may have been *Steve* Allen, not Fred Allen, who first used the "bottle in front of me" gag. In a Copley News Service story that ran in the Danville _Bee_ Nov. 26, 1976, there's part of a skit between Jayne Meadows and Steve Allen that includes these lines:

Jayne: I was thinking of a prefrontal lobotomy.

Steve: A free bottle in front of me? Listen, you need a prefrontal lobotomy like you need a hole in your head?

Eric M. Jones

Didn't 1965 come before 1976?


The Pale was Dublin. The English centre of power. The North was among the last places to be planted (colonised).The explaination is mixing up modern with past.


I'd love to know where "They knew not how to measure a man except as he handled an axe." comes from.


"The problem with common sense is that it's not common"