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Fred Shapiro

One More Time: Most Notable Quote of 2011

Since my last posting elicited many helpful comments, let me repeat it this week in hope of getting even more input:

I’m starting to think about my annual list, run by the Associated Press, of the top 10 most notable quotations of the year. By “notable” I mean “important” or “famous” or “particularly revealing of the spirit of our times” rather than necessarily being eloquent or admirable. Last year’s winners were a tie between Tony Hayward‘s “I’d like my life back” and Christine O’Donnell‘s “I’m not a witch.”

I would welcome suggestions of notable quotations from 2011, particularly ones from politics or popular culture or entertainment or sports or business or technology.

11/21/11

Bleg: Most Notable Quote of 2011

I’m starting to think about my annual list, run by the Associated Press, of the top 10 most notable quotations of the year. By “notable” I mean “important” or “famous” or “particularly revealing of the spirit of our times” rather than necessarily being eloquent or admirable. Last year’s winners were a tie between Tony Hayward‘s “I’d like my life back” and Christine O’Donnell‘s “I’m not a witch.”

I would welcome suggestions of notable quotations from 2011, particularly ones from politics or popular culture or entertainment or sports or business or technology.

11/4/11

Ole Mr. Micawber: "Result, Misery"

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.

Groatman asked:

“What is the saying that says something like ‘balance your accounts and if you’re groat over, happiness, and if you’re a groat under, misery’ and who said it and when and where? I believe Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac had a later similar version of this aphorism, but, if I remember correctly, he substituted a ‘penny’ and didn’t use the word ‘groat.’ What was it he said exactly?”

I’m not aware of Franklin saying something like this. The well-known version is by Charles Dickens, given by the Yale Book of Quotations as follows:

“‘My other piece of advice, Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.”
David Copperfield (1850)

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

10/28/11

Dogs and Cigars

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.

Sarah C. asked:

“When and where did the term ‘doggie bag’ (as in bringing home leftovers from a restaurant) originate?”

It is fascinating that you ask this, since I have long used “doggie bag” as my example of how historical dictionaries like the Oxford English Dictionary can shed light on the history of things as well as the history of words. The OED cites the following as its first two illustrations of “doggie bag” and related terminology:
“It’s a pleasure to hand this beautiful Doggie Pak to your patrons To Take Home Bones For Their dog… Printed in three colors… It’s class.”
American Restaurant, Sept. 1952

“More and more restaurant meals are going to the dogs, if stepped-up demand for the ‘Doggy Bag’ is any indication.”
Huronite & Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota), July 7, 1957

10/21/11

Political Football

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.

John machlachlan asked:

When did surgery start being called a ‘procedure’?

The Oxford English Dictionary quotes usage of the term “surgical procedure” from the medical journal Lancet in 1853, and “Osteoclasis is a simple procedure” from E. H. Bradford and R. W. Lovett, Treatise on Orthopedic Surgery (1890).

John also asked:

Was the secretary of defense ever called anything else such as the secretary of offense?

The answer is: Secretary of War.

10/14/11

Rules of The Game

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.
Michael asked:

“The best swordsman does not fear the second best, he fears the worst since there’s no telling what that idiot is going to do.”

10/7/11

The Absence of Proof

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.
James A Smith asked:

“‘Absence of proof is not proof of absence.’ Attributed to William Cowper, as a retort to one who claimed God does not exist because we can’t prove his existence.”

9/29/11

Follow the Money

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.
Jay K asked:

A friend recently quoted the Washington Post as saying ‘Follow the money’ during the Watergate days. I thought it was just a line from the movie ‘All the President’s Men’. But is the phrase older than that?

This is usually said to have originated in William Goldman‘s screenplay for the 1976 film All the President’s Men, uttered by the source called “Deep Throat.” (It does not appear in the earlier book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.)

9/23/11

Entitled to Know

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.
jennifer atkinson asked:

“When did we start calling social security, medicare, and medicaid ‘entitlements’? Seems like they might well be deemed obligations.”

The Oxford English Dictionary does not yet include this sense of the word “entitlement,” but I believe that it originated with or was at least popularized by pioneering legal scholar Charles Reich. Reich used “entitlement” meaning “right to governmental benefits” in his landmark article “Individual Rights and Social Welfare: The Emerging Legal Issues” in the Yale Law Journal in 1965. He had earlier used the corresponding sense of the verb “entitled” in his even more landmark article “The New Property” in the Yale Law Journal in 1964.
Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

9/15/11

Who First Said, "Great Scott!"? And Who Is Scott?

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.
Bill asked:

“Great Scott!
As in, I’d love to know the origin of the phrase made famous most recently by Christopher Lloyd’s zany character in the Back to the Future series, but also used with some frequency much earlier by Hank Morgan, Mark Twain’s own Connecticut Yankee.”

Garson O’Toole, creator of the fantastic quoteinvestigator.com site, has found the earliest known example of the exclamation “Great Scott!” in The Eclectic Medical Journal, December 1856:

9/8/11

John Adams Said it First

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.
Daniel Greenwald asked:

“If a person is not a liberal when he is twenty, he has no heart; if he is not a conservative when he is forty, he has no head.’ OR
‘If my son is not a liberal when he is twenty, I will disown him; if he is not a conservative when he is forty, I will disown him then.’
And other variants, I am sure.”

One of the pleasures of compiling the Yale Book of Quotations was tracing and cross-referencing different versions and precursors of famous quotes. This one is usually credited to Georges Clemenceau, but W. Gurney Benham‘s Book of Quotations cites French premier and historian Francois Guizot (1787-1874), translating his statement as “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.” Benham asserts that “Clemenceau adopted this saying, substituting ‘socialiste’ for ‘republicain. ‘”
But I was delighted to find that John Adams had expressed a similar idea well before Guizot entered adulthood. Thomas Jefferson preserved this quip, writing in a 1799 journal that Adams had said: “A boy of 15 who is not a democrat is good for nothing, and he is no better who is a democrat at 20.”
Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

8/25/11

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.”

8/18/11

The (Accidental?) Wisdom of Yogi Berra

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.
Jordan asked:

“Okay, but did he say the quotation in question?” [i.e., did Yogi Berra actually say, “I never said most of the things I said.” From three weeks ago.]

According to the ever-helpful Yale Book of Quotations, Sports Illustrated, March 17, 1986, quoted Berra as saying “I really didn’t say everything I said.”

8/11/11

Is it Really Darkest Just Before the Dawn?

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.
Georgia asked:

“where does the saying ‘the world is your oyster’ come from?”

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this is an allusion to “the possibility of finding a pearl in an oyster” and means “one is in a position to profit from the opportunities that life, or a particular situation, may offer.” The earliest citation for the expression given by the OED is from Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor: “Why then the world’s mine Oyster, which I, with sword will open.”
Josh asked:

“I always get annoyed by people who say, ‘It’s always darkest just before the dawn,’ usually said to cheer somebody up who’s down on their luck with hope of better times. I’d prefer people either offer a unique thought or something that makes scientific sense. Where did this horrible quote come from?”

8/4/11

A Scuffle over "Scuffle"

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.
Jim asked:

This is a little different and may not really be possible to trace but…
For whatever reason, I am very irritated by the constant use of the world ‘scuffling’ to mean ‘struggling’ — as in having a hard time — by sportswriters and TV sportscasters and analysts (i.e., ‘Ever since his concussion, Justin Morneau has been really scuffling at the plate’). I was heartened to see that this New York Times article was reprinted with ‘struggling’ in place of ‘scuffling’ (see note at the bottom of the page).
I think of ‘scuffling’ in the context of fighting or struggling physically, not struggling in terms of performance in a sport or in a job, what have you. Do you agree that ‘scuffling’ in this context is misused? And, can you trace the beginnings of this mis-usage? I realize this is slightly different than what’s usually asked here but thank you.

7/28/11

"I Never Said Most of the Things I Said"

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.
BT asked:

Yogi Berra has been quoted as having said, ‘I never said most of the things I said.’ Is this correct? How many of the famous quotations associated with him been incorrectly attributed to him?”

7/21/11

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

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.
Ed Catlett asked:

“People often say ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ I believe the original quote was actually ‘A picture is worth ten thousand words’ as stated by Fred R. Barnard, of Printers’ Ink, 10 March 1927. Which is correct?”

7/14/11

Where Does "Wham, bam" Come From?

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.
merry staser asked:

“‘Wham, bam … thank you ma’m'” We have been looking for this one all over and can’t seem to find out where it came from … (travelling in a carriage … was one we found … but not a full explanation). Thanks.”

I don’t have a full explanation (and I’m not sure one is necessary, the meaning of the expression is obvious). The earliest occurrence I know of is in the 1948 play Mister Roberts, where a sailor character says “Well there goes the liberty. That was sure a wham-bam-thank-you ma’am!”

7/7/11

Rule of Thumb

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.
Joseph asked:

“Rule of thumb. I have heard it was a common law rule about the thickness of a switch with which no punishment would occur for spousal abuse. I have also heard that this is not correct. I cannot find a definitive source and meaning.”

7/1/11

It Takes a Village

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.
noor asked:

“It takes a whole community to raise a child”

The Yale Book of Quotations traces the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” back to 1989. Subsequent to the publication of the YBQ, I found that Toni Morrison was quoted in Essence, July 1981: “I don’t think one parent can raise a child. I don’t think two parents can raise a child. You really need the whole village.” The forthcoming Yale Book of Modern Proverbs notes: “The saying is often referred to as an ‘African’ or a ‘West African’ proverb; however, no prototype from Africa has been discovered — though several sayings from that continent do urge cooperation in child rearing and other enterprises.”
Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

6/23/11

The Often Misquoted

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.
Aaron asked:

I’ve heard that Ben Franklin was misquoted when he said ‘Jack of all Trades, Master of None,’ and that he actually said ‘Jack of all Trades, Master of Some.’ Is there any truth to this?

I believe neither of these sayings appears in Benjamin Franklin‘s writings.

6/16/11

A Grain of Salt

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.
Jamie asked:

‘Take it with a grain of salt’ is one I always have trouble with – do you know the origin?

The Yale Book of Quotations has the following entry:
 

“Addito salis grano
With the addition of a grain of salt.
Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis bk. 23, sec. 149. Usually quoted as ‘Cum grano salis’ (with a grain of salt). The reference is to salt being added to Pompey’s antidote to poison.”
 

6/9/11

The Price of Liberty

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.
James Curran asked:

Could you try a question that is of some import to my family… The saying ‘Price of Liberty is eternal vigilance’ is generally attributed to Thomas Jefferson. However, the original sentiment was phrased as ‘The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance’ by the Irish statesman John Philpot Curran (of whom a complete lack of evidence has never stopped my family from claiming as an ancestor).
So the question becomes, did Jefferson paraphrase Curran? Or is the modern wording the work of some nameless editor who can’t quote or attribute correctly?

6/2/11

If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

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.
Barry Ritholtz asked:

“I keep hearing variations of the following as Twain: ‘History may not repeat but it rhymes.’ But I have never been able to track that back to Twain anywhere.”

5/26/11

Finally, the Gravy Train

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.
Sam asked:

“gravy train”

Sam has been patiently asking about this over and over again, so here goes. Jonathon Green, in his magnificent, just-published Green’s Dictionary of Slang, has as its earliest citation for “gravy train” the following:

5/19/11

Ink by the Barrel

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.
Alicia Calzada asked:

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 adage; 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.

5/12/11

Quotes Uncovered: Honest Abe

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. Hugo asked: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” – Abe Lincoln. The Yale Book of Quotations has the following entry.

5/3/11

Quotes Uncovered: Twain or Not Twain

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.

4/25/11

Quotes Uncovered: Youth and the Young

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.

4/14/11

Quotes Uncovered: How Lies Travel

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.

4/7/11

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