Quotes Uncovered: How Lies Travel

Photo: iStockphoto

I’m back to 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.

Smashley asked:

I heard recently that the quote, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes,” usually attributed to Mark Twain, is not actually by him.  Which is delightfully ironic, if true.

I am shocked, shocked that a quote attributed to Mark Twain is not actually by him.  The Yale Book of Quotations has the following entry:

“A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”
C. H. Spurgeon, Gems from Spurgeon (1859).  An earlier version appears in the Portland (Me.) Gazette, Sept. 5, 1820: “Falsehood will fly from Maine to Georgia, while truth is pulling her boots on.”  Still earlier, Jonathan Swift wrote in The Examiner, Nov. 9, 1710: “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”

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


Leonardo da Vinci's "Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication". I have read that sophistication didn't mean then what it does now.


One I've seen often attributed to Franklin, or Jefferson as well is "Those who would give up Essential Liberty
to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" (or variations there of).


For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.

I've seen this very commonly attributed to da Vinci, but I've also heard several times that it's not actually by him. Do you have any insight?


"History doesn't repeat itself, but it does tend to rhyme"

I've heard this attributed to Mark Twain, but couldn't track any definitive answer down online.


Mark Twain is probably the most quoted (and misqouted) person in history. I have heard two variations of a similar statement attributed to him: "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened." OR "I have been through some terrible things in my life, some which actually happened." I am curious if that is truly Twain.
Another one misattributed to Twain often is "There are three kinds of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." But I recall that when Twain used line he attributed it to Disraeli and I'm not sure he got it right.


"If you're going to be someplace - Be there". (Ghandi?)


"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

-Abe Lincoln

Matt Woodley

In my line of work (I help pastors develop sermons) I hear the following statement attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times--and if necessary, use words." Apparently he never said it.

Alicia Calzada

Let me know if you have any luck with this one: "Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel"

It has been credited in case law to both Mark Twain and publicist William I. Greener, Jr.
Brown v. Kelly Broad. Co., 48 Cal. 3d 711, 744 (Cal. 1989) (crediting Twain as the source of the famous
State ex rel. Plain Dealer Publ'g Co. v. Geauga Cty. Court of Common Pleas, Juv. Div., 90 Ohio St. 3d79,89 (Pfiefer, J., dissenting) ("The majority has elevated Greener's law" ('Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel')")

It has also been credited as undetermined, which I think is most accurate- : RALPH KEYES, THE QUOTE VERIFIER: WHO SAID WHAT, WHERE AND WHEN 64

The Mark Twain House in Connecticut has no record of Twain saying the phrase.


I've heard that attributed to Napoleon as well.

Henry IX

"If the only voice you listen to is your own, your intellect begins to deteriorate."

Attributed to Rosa Luxemburg, but I have not been able to confirm it. I have searched out some Luxemburg quotes that suggest the thought, but nothing, so far, that matches well.

Eric M. Jones

My betting money says that Leonardo never said: "For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards". Good evidence is that the phrase doesn't occur in Google Book search prior to1975, then it seemed to catch fire.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, John Gillespie Magee, Jr. (1942 Slip the Surly Bonds...), Rod Machado, seem more likely candidates. Leonardo never flew (?) and wrote Latin backwards...jus' sayin'.


I have heard this quote many times. I am from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, if that helps. The quote, apparently means , don't worry or fret about something that is past. Don't waste your time on things that can not be changed. Or something like that. Anyway here is the quote:
"Don't look up a dead horse's ass."


This is a sequence of quotes, in which the second serves to insult the speaker of the former. I have seen the sequence as a whole many times, but the quote by Hemingway is the only one I've been able to verify.

"Plato was a bore."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

"Nietzsche was stupid and abnormal."
- Leo Tolstoy

"...nobody's going to get me in any ring with Mr. Tolstoy unless I'm crazy..."
- Ernest Hemingway1

"Hemingway was a jerk."
- Harold Robbins

Fred Shapiro

I don't quite understand EA's sequence of insults in the posting above. Hemingway's comment about Tolstoy is not an insult, in fact Hemingway meant it as the very highest compliment.


"There never was genius without a tincture of insanity."

I find it phrased differently in different locations, using words like "brilliance", "madness", etc.

I find it attributed to one of these 3 people:
* Aristotle
* Seneca
* Pliny the elder



"The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."
I have seen it quoted, among others by Esther Duflo, as from Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Theodore Roosevelt. Who really is the source?

Trevor Hayward

The following seems to be attributed to John Lennon, but I can't seem to find any origin for it:

When i was 5 years old my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When i went to school, they asked me what i wanted to be when i grew up. i wrote down "happy." they said i didnt understand the assignment and i told them they didn't understand life.


"When a door closes, a window opens." I've seen variations of this, usually attributed to Helen Kellar but also once saw this attributed to Alexander Graham Bell as well.

Now I suspect it probably didn't come from either of them, possibly it was a quote that was floating around, just waiting to be attributed to someone.

Tom Gearhart

I have heard this quote attributed to Mark Twain for years: "Golf is a good walk spoiled."

This one attributed to W.C. Fields has been around for a long time, too: "I never drink water - fish frolic in it." The word, "frolic" was not the original word in the quote, but the original did begin with an "f."