Quotes Uncovered: When Ships Collide
Each week, I’ve been inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent research. Here is the latest round.
Larrie D. Ferreiro asked:
Thucydides never actually said “A collision at sea can ruin your entire day” in his work The Peloponnesian War, but it is attributed to him. Do you have any information on where this apocryphal citation began?
Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote about this on Feb. 14, 1971. He said:
THAT ALLEGED quote of Thucydides — “A collision at sea can ruin your entire day” — popped up all over the place in the wake of the Standard Oil spill, sometimes with the last word cleverly changed to “Bay” — and now it turns out that the great Greek historian (c.460-c.400 B.C.) never said it. It’s funny: Navy Capt. W. B. “Bill” Hayler of the Calif. Maritime Academy in Vallejo confesses he made it up while a student at the Naval War College in 1960. “We had a history prof who was absolutely hooked on Thucydides,” he says. “Quoted him all day long. So I concocted that one and told everybody it was from Volume IX of the Peloponnesian War. Of course, Thucydides only wrote eight volumes. When I took command of the USS Buck in ’60, I had it posted on the bridge — and then things began to get out of hand. Readers Digest picked it up in ’62 and paid me five bucks. And when the Navy published ‘Farwell’s Rules of the Road,’ they used the quote in all their ads. The editor was horrified when I told him it was a phony, but I think they’re still using it.”
Can any of our database jockeys shed any light on the veracity of the Hayler account or the earliest findable usage of this quotation? And I would welcome any input on whether this is a famous enough line that it should be included in the next edition of The Yale Book of Quotations.
Ken Gallant asked:
Winston Churchill is said to have said, “The Royal Navy runs on Rum, Buggery, and the Lash.” Or something like that. True? If so, when and where did he say it? If not true, did someone else say it (before me, I mean). If true, it would suggest that there was one important Conservative military man of the 20th century who didn’t object to homosexual acts in the military. Of course, it appears he didn’t object to drunkenness or severe corporal punishment either.
The Yale Book of Quotations has the following:
“Naval tradition? Monstrous. Nothing but rum, sodomy, prayers, and the lash.”
Winston Churchill, Quoted in Harold Nicolson, Diary, Aug. 17, 1950. Usually quoted as “rum, sodomy, and the lash.”
I’m interested in the idea of the misleading appeal of numbers as effective indicators of what may be important. At some point I came across the phrase, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Is this the original contruction? If not, where did it come from?
I have not researched this before. Another challenge for the Google Books / Google News / Newspaperarchive searchers?
Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?