WHO SAID THAT ABOUT GOD?
All of us can toss around quotes about religion — and sometimes we’re even sure of the original source.
A year or two ago, for instance, I wrote a column mentioning the results of a national survey that showed the most well-known and commonly used quote from the Bible is this: “God helps those who help themselves.” Well, as I pointed out in the column, not only is that not found in the Bible, but the theology behind it is essentially unbiblical.
Where can we go to verify such quotes?
You’ve come to the right place today for an answer. You can go to the work of a guy I met in 1992 in Columbus, Ohio, where he was one of the speakers at the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. His name is Ralph Keyes, and his new book is called The Quote Verifier.
Among other things, Keyes (whose last name, by the way, is pronounced Kize, not Keez) teaches writing to ministers, mostly Baptist, in a doctoral program. So when he decided to put together this book checking on the true sources of various quotes, he included some faith-based quotes.
For instance, here’s his entry on “God helps those who help themselves”: “Despite a widespread misconception that these words come straight from the Bible, Aesop wrote, five centuries before the birth of Christ, ‘The gods help them that help themselves.’ Two millennia later, James Howell included in a 1659 collection of proverbs, ‘God helps him, who helps himself.’ In 1698 this became ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ from the pen of British politician Algernon Sidney. Thirty-five years after that, Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard observed, ‘God helps them that help themselves.’ Verdict: Credit Aesop for recording an early version of this thought, which was probably commonplace even in his time.”
You’ll also find interesting entries on such phrases as “Religion is the opium of the people” and “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Murder your darlings
There is a new and wonderful book for writers written by a good friend who is NOT an RPCV (even though my wife is convinced I don’t know anyone who wasn’t in the Peace Corps). His name is Ralph Keyes. The book is entitled, The Quote Verifier and it explores several hundred quotations that are often cited but seldom confirmed. To determine the roots of 460 such sayings, Keyes scoured old publications, accessed huge databases, watched vintage movies, consulted myriad scholars, and contacted those actually involved in coining popular quotations. His results routinely confound widespread assumptions about who said what, where, and when.
For example, “Murder your darlings.” This common admonition to writers (suggesting that they excise the parts of their work that most delight them) is widely misattributed to the likes of Samuel Johnson, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and William Faulkner. Its actual author was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who wrote in The Art of Writing (1916), “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”
The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When by Ralph Keyes is out this month from St. Martin’s Griffin.
My praise of The Quote Verifier [yesterday] was too restrained … Really an outstanding book.
Fred Shapiro, Editor, Yale Book of Quotations
Better Check Those Quotes
As commencement speeches are heard across the land, speakers are reaching for their inner Bartlett’s. Unfortunately, some of these speakers need to do a little more fact checking before they insert quotes into their speeches.
At Boston University last Sunday, for instance, Les Moonves, the president of CBS, quoted John Lennon to the assembled throng: ”Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans.” Senator Bill Frist, encouraging graduates-to-be at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, quoted Margaret Mead: ”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.” And Mark Warner, former governor of Virginia, promised the audience at Wake Forest University that he would follow ”Winston Churchill’s sage advice” on public speaking: ”Be clear. Be concise. Be seated.” You could look it up (as James Thurber, and then Casey Stengel, said), but could you trust the source? As Ralph Keyes explains in his new book, ”The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When” (St. Martin’s Griffin), even the most respectable sources can get attributions wrong, and the less respectable don’t even try to get them right. That line Moonves quoted does appear in a Lennon song, for instance-but it doesn’t originate there. Keyes found it attributed to Allen Saunders (creator of the comic strip ”Mary Worth”) in a 1957 Reader’s Digest-though you wouldn’t want to take that as the last word on the subject. Frist had the right wording for Margaret Mead’s most famous ”quotation,” but, says Keyes, nobody has ever been able to show, ”despite copious research,” that she ever said or wrote it. As for Churchill, he-like Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln-is what Keyes calls a ”flypaper figure,” a personage so famously quotable that lesser wags’ witticisms and anonymous maxims, like the one Warner used, get stuck to him. Why is it so easy to go wrong? ”Our memory wants quotations to be better than they usually were, and said by the person we want to have said them,” writes Keyes. A good line-like ”any man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart, and anyone who is still a socialist at 40 has no head”-deserves a Churchill (or a Disraeli or a Bismarck). Unfortunately, the sentiment originated with a French statesman named Francois Guizot. Who wants to quote Francois Guizot?
Don’t Get Caught Misquoting…
…as there’s an author ready to pounce. Ralph Keyes’new book, The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When, excerpted here in today’s Washington Post, looks at famous speakers and how they mangled quotes in speeches, sometimes to good effect. John F. Kennedy is the subject of the Post excerpt, and Keyes says that, in addition to being well-spoken, “Kennedy was also… a misquoter of eloquence, who showed how creative and unreliable memory can be when using comments others have uttered.” Check out the misquotes — including many that improved upon the original — and read the book to reconsider the sources you are using in speeches and conversation. We like an authoritative source, Bartleby, where you can search several collections of quotations and their correct citations. Then add Keyes’ book to your reference shelf; it’s out this month from St. Martin’s Press.
posted by dgr
‘Cause I know how much you guys enjoy your quotations. Pick up a copy of The Quote Verifier, by Ralph Keyes. I just got wind of this through Kilpatrick’s column, and apparently Yogi Berra didn’t say a lot of things he’s supposed to have said, and Edmund Burke apparently didn’t tell us “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
The Quote Verifier : Who Said What, Where, and When by Ralph Keyes. As a certified quote addict this is a “must read.” Keyes tracks down falsely attributed quotes and tells the stories behind them.
Word Daze: The Word Lover’s Almanc
Ralph Keyes in the book The Quote Verifier traces the history of hundreds of quotes and misquotes, including several famous quotations attributed correctly or incorrectly to Benjamin Franklin. See if you can identify which of the quotes below originated with Franklin:
1. For want of a nail the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost.
2. Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.
3. Love your neighbor, yet pull not down your hedge.
4. Whose house is of glass, must not throw stones at another.
5. Fish and guests in three days are stale.
6. Things as certain as death and taxes. . . . (3).
Quote of the Day: The immortal axiom-builder, who used to sit up nights reducing the rankest old threadbare platitudes to crisp and snappy maxims that had a nice, varnished, original look . . . –Mark Twain about Benjamin Franklin
Answers: None of the quotes originated with Franklin. Instead, as Twain explains above, he adapted them all from other writers, making them often more clear and concise.
1. George Herbert
2. Ralph Waldo Emerson
3. George Herbert
4. George Herbert
6. Daniel Defoe
August 24: Weather Words Day
Today is the anniversary of an editorial by Charles Dudley Warner published in the Hartford Courant in 1897. The subject of the editorial is long forgotten, but one quote from the article lives on as a famous quote: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
Although many credit Warner with the funny line, some argue that it really should be credited to Mark Twain, who was a friend and collaborator with Charles Dudley Warner. Ralph Keyes, the author of The Quote Verifier, comes down on Twain’s side, saying that the wording of the editorial reveals that Warner got the quote from Twain: “A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it”
A venue for solipsistic eavesdroppers, verbal voyeurs, and hoarse whisperers amid the endless din.
It ain’t not over ’til it ain’t not over.
Of course, you’re familiar with the more quotable “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” typically attributed to Yogi Berra. Only Yogi didn’t say it. Not exactly.
That’s what I’ve just learned from Ralph Keyes’s delicious book The Quote Verifier (St. Martin’s Griffin; $15.95). Also available at amazon.com.
It’s a gem of a book — for an aphorist, a laughorist, or anybody who loves words, quips, and getting the facts right.
Keyes takes hundreds of well-known quotes and painstakingly demonstrates each quote’s origin (insofar as it can be determined) and its evolution.
You’ll be surprised. And delighted.
This book is terrific entertainment (though I confess it can make the reader an insufferable snob if he or she cannot help correcting common assumptions about famous quotes, but I suppose that’s between me and my therapist, or at least my Supervising Laughorist).
But it’s great stuff.
If you want to learn more about The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When or its author, check out:
Since you’ve asked, Marie Antoinette did not originate the phrase “Let them eat cake.” And Leo Durocher, who managed my beloved Giants during their great 1951 miracle against the dreaded Dodgers (who unfortunately won today), did not quite say “Nice guys finish last.”
“You could look it up.”
Oh, that’s another quote Mr. Keyes deconstructs.
The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When by Ralph Keyes is a piece of impressive scholarship — and great fun — attempting to verify various famous quotations. Great fun.
Billy-Ball Daily / Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)
Leo Durocher is widely known for the quote, “Nice guys finish last.” But the Brooklyn Dodgers didn’t exactly say it, according to Ralph Keyes, who examined the origins of 450 famous quotes in his new book “The Quote Verifier.”
In going through microfilm of the July, 1946 copies of New York’s Journal-American Keyes found that he league-leading Dodgers were about to play the seventh-place New York Giants, and a radio reporter asked Durocher why he couldn’t be nicer, the manager waved at the Giants’ dugout and said, “The nice guys are all over there. In seventh place.”
The next day, Frank Graham of the Journal-American wrote a column titled “Leo Doesn’t Like Nice Guys.” A reprint of the column in Baseball Digest said nice guys were in “last place,” instead of “seventh place.” Durocher’s words were subsequently compressed into the very quotable “Nice Guys Finish Last.”
“Verdict: Credit the concept to Durocher, its pithy version to the press,” writes Keyes,
Here’s one more – In 1920, when “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was being tried for his role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, a sportswriter quoted a little boy as asking Jackson outside the courthouse, “It ain’t so, Joe, is it?” That quote was polished to “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
But other sportswriters present at the scene did not include any variation of the quote. And it’s not the type of quote most reporters would gloss over. Jackson, himself, always denied it happened, later calling it “the biggest joke of all.”
“Verdict: Joe said ‘it ain’t so’ was never said, and he probably was right,” Keyes writes.
Ozzie Guillen is hoping to hire Keyes to determine what he means as soon as he says it.
I refer you to a new book out in paperback: The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes; you’ll be surprised how many quotations are misattributed. It’s very entertaining.
the laughorist said…
Speaking of obesity, as I just told Meloncutter, I heard a radio report saying the obesity of Americans is, well, growing. We’re getting phatter, or at least fatter. And something like 7 of the 8 top-fat states be in the South. Jump on dat, folks. (You could look it up, as Casey Stengel sorta said according to Ralph Keyes’s The Quote Verifier book.)
But let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil
Too much checking on the facts has ruined many a good news story
So far, I naively quoted others – “only to better express myself” (Michele de Montaigne). This will, however, change after having read now “The Quote Verifier – who said what, where and when” by Ralph Keyes. He nicely explains in the foreword
The misattribution process is not random. Patterns can be discerned. If a comment is saintly, it must have been made by Gandhi (or Mother Teresa). If it’s about honesty, Lincoln most likely said it (or Washington), about fame, Andy Warhol (or Daniel Boorstin), about courage, John Kennedy (or Ernest Hemingway). Quotations about winning had to have been made by Vince Lombardi (or Leo Durocher), malaprops by Yogi Berra (or Samuel Goldwyn). If witty, a quip must have been made Twain’s concoction, or Wilde’s, or Shaw’s, or Dorothy Parker’s.
I would really like to recommend this book for reading. I am only hesitating as I learned that “A man is known by the books he reads, by the company he keeps, by the praise he gives”. Yea, yea.