There Are Opinions, And Then There Are Facts

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 researches.

Enter your name asked:

“I’d like to know the origin of the statement, ‘You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.’   I’ve seen a version of it attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, but it would be fun to know if he’s the origin, or if he quoted someone else.”

This is often attributed to Moynihan. However the forthcoming Yale Book of Modern Proverbs has as its earliest citation for this saying the Deming (New Mexico) Headlight, Jan. 6, 1950, which printed “Every man has a right to his own opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”  The New Mexico newspaper attributed it to Bernard M. Baruch. Since 1950 was long before Moynihan came into prominence, Baruch seems to have the strongest claim to priority.

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

David Byron

In many books and articles on Houdini, one finds the following quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw: "The three most famous names in history are Jesus Christ, Sherlock Holmes and Harry Houdini." For example, _Houdini: His Legend and His Magic_, by Doug Henning and Charles Reynolds makes this attribution. A Google search on "+jesus +sherlock +houdini" (requiring all three terms) turns up about 938,000 records.

This has long struck me as an unlikely attribution. Indeed, I once searched for clues in a Shaw concordance at the Sterling Library and came up empty. I've found no evidence of an interest in either Holmes or Houdini on the part of GB Shaw

It seems to me that the likely source was actually John Bennett Shaw, the Sherlockian scholar, and I think it's easy to see how the quote could be reassigned from the relatively less known source to the well known one. This Shaw was preoccupied with the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, and Doyle and Houdini were well acquainted, their friendship and eventual enmity being a public matter. However, I have been unable to link the quote to John Bennett Shaw.

Would you be able to get to the bottom of this mystery?




Garson O'Toole

Intriguing question from David Byron. In 1976 James 'The Amazing' Randi wrote "Houdini, His Life and Art" and according to Google Books the following passage appears on page nine:

George Bernard Shaw once said that as one of the three most famous people in the history of the world, real or imagined, Houdini took his place beside Jesus Christ and Sherlock Holmes.

James Randi has a website, and he still goes on tours. Maybe he can be contacted to see if he recalls the Shaw statement or if he kept notes for his book.


I really like the quote attributed to Frank Herbert, "The people I distrust most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action." But it's an unsourced quote. Can anyone verify it?


In his book 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferris offers this:

"Charles Munger likes to quote Charles Darwin: Even people who aren’t geniuses can outthink the rest of mankind if they develop certain thinking habits. "

I've looked, but the only references I can find are to Ferris or Munger (Peter Bevelin also uses the quote in the introduction to his book "Seeking Wisdom" without attribution). Did Darwin actually say this, if so when and where?

Peter Bevelin

Read the book. It is not a quote by Darwin Darwin’s. I wrote that Darwins lesson is that even people who aren’t geniuses can outthink the rest of mankind if they develop certain thinking habits.

It is a conclusion after reading Darwins autobiography


I apologize, my question was posed less than artfully, I did not mean to suggest that you actually quoted Darwin. However, your text contains text almost identical to what has been attributed as a quote of Darwin's . It may be that Munger mis-attributed your conclusion regarding Darwin as a quote of Darwin's or Ferris misunderstood the reference. My question seeks to clear that up for myself so that I know who I ought to be giving credit to when I use the quote.

Eric M. Jones.

I recently heard the term "hard-scrabble" used to describe Libyans rebels. I thought to myself...and now to you...that the term was so closely tied to the American dustbowl midwest that it is really hard to see its use applied to anyone else. It would be like calling poor Ethiopian women "babushkas".


Was "clown prince" coined in the Batman comics in reference to the joker?

Don Arthur

Who said: "The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations"?

I've seen this attributed to Adam Smith, but people familiar with Smith's work say that's wrong.

Enter your name



The origins of "not one iota"


I would love to hear the source of this "Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and little minds discuss people."


I always contributed the following to my father (and even quoted it at his funeral) but I was wondering if it was ever used in publications. "In order to be(come) happy in life you must be able to enjoy the little things"

Fn. Since I'm (and so was my father) Dutch the above is a translation and I'm not sure happy is the right word since (in my opinion) "geluk" covers both happiness and satisfaction, e.g. "blij" could also be used for happy or joyful etc.

"om gelukkig te zijn(/worden) in het leven moet je kunnen genieten van de kleine dingen"

Fred Bush

The quote is actually from at least 1946; this site finds a Toledo Blade article from October 9, 1946 as the source:

It didn't take long for me to find this. Why didn't you?