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The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When [Paperback]

Ralph Keyes
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Editorial Reviews


"The research in Ralph Keyes' The Quote Verifier is impressive, and each conclusion is like the solution to a real-life historical mystery. Who knew a reference book could be so entertaining?"
--Will Shortz, Crossword Puzzle Editor of The New York Times

"Ralph Keyes has made it his mission to hunt down and expose false quotations, and in The Quote Verifier he does that brilliantly. The Quote Verifier is a much needed corrective to the countless 'quotations' that are misquoted, falsely attributed, or downright wrong. Keyes takes apart with surgical precision every dubious quotation, old and new. In the process, he tells engagingly the stories behind the quotes, stories that are often surprisingly funny and always interesting."
--Sol Steinmetz, co-author of The Life of Language

"Nice Guys Finish Seventh established Ralph Keyes as one of our leading quote sleuthers. With The Quote Verifier, he's become our verifier-in-chief. If you want to know who actually said what, this book is indispensable."
--Rosalie Maggio, author of The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women

"Quotations are powerful tools. Michel de Montaigne, the father of all essayists, observed, 'I quote others only to better express myself.' Intrepid quotations detective Ralph Keyes helps us to discover the clear truth about exactly what was said and who exactly said it."
--Richard Lederer, author of Word Wizard

"Quotation tracers will find this an excellent book to consult. It provides all the known details about authorship and wording of a large number of quotes, maxims, observations, slogans, comments, and catch phrases. But this is not simply a reference work. Reading it is a real pleasure. The book is easy to use. Quotes are arranged alphabetically by key word and source references are provided in meticulous detail. As a valuable new scholarly resource, The Quote Verifier will take its place alongside standard books of quotations."
--Anthony Shipps, author of The Quote Sleuth

"'I never said half the things I said,' Yogi Berra said. Or did he? Ralph Keyes' The Quote Verifier is an invaluable and irresistible resource for determining the provenance of dubious quotations. These have always been around, but with the rise of the internet, on which anyone can attribute anything to anybody, they're spreading at a terrifying pace. Thanks, Keyes, we needed that."
--Ben Yagoda, author of About Town

About the Author

Ralph Keyes's books include The Post-Truth Era, The Courage to Write, and Is There Life After High School? He lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

"ACADEMIC politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small" This observation is routinely attributed to former Harvard professor Henry Kissinger. Well before Kissinger got credit for that thought in the mid-1970s, however, Harvard political scientist Richard Neustadt told a reporter, "Academic politics is much more vicious than real politics. We think it's because the stakes are so small." Others believe this quip originated with political scientist Wallace Sayre, Neustadt's onetime colleague at Columbia University. A 1973 book gave as "Sayre's Law," "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue--that is why academic politics are so bitter." Sayre's colleague and coauthor Herbert Kaufman said his usual wording was "The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low." In his 1979 book Peter's People, Laurence Peter wrote, "Competition in academia is so vicious because the stakes are so small." He called this "Peter's Theory of Entrepreneurial Aggressiveness in Higher Education." Variations on that thought have also been attributed to scientist-author C. P. Snow, professor-politician Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and politician Jesse Unruh (among others). According to the onetime editor of Woodrow Wilson's papers, however, long before any of them strode the academic-political scene, Wilson observed often that the intensity of academic squabbles he witnessed while president of Princeton University was a function of the "triviality" of the issues being considered.

Verdict: An old academic saw that may have originated with Woodrow Wilson but was put in modern play by Wallace Sayre.

"Half the money I spend on ADVERTISING is wasted. The trouble is I don't know which half." In the United States this business truism is most often attributed to department store magnate John Wanamaker (1838-1922), in England to Lord Leverhulme (William H. Lever, founder of Lever Brothers, 1851-1925). The maxim has also been ascribed to chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, adman George Washington Hill, and adman David Ogilvy. In Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963), Ogilvy himself gave the nod to his fellow Englishman Lord Leverhulme (Lever Brothers was an Ogilvy client), adding that John Wanamaker later made the same observation. Since Wanamaker founded his first department store in 1861, when Lever was ten, this seems unlikely. Fortune magazine thought Wanamaker expressed the famous adage in 1885, but it gave no context. While researching John Wanamaker, King of Merchants (1993), biographer William Allen Zulker found the adage typed on a sheet of paper in Wanamaker's archives, but without a name or source. Wanamaker usually wrote his own material longhand.

Verdict: A maxim of obscure origins, put in famous mouths.

"If you have to ask how much they cost, you can't AFFORD one." J. P. Morgan's alleged response to an inquiry about the cost of his yachts is considered the epitome of wealthy imperiousness. (Some attribute the thought to Cornelius Vanderbilt.) No dependable evidence exists that Morgan actually said this, however, and biographer Jean Strouse doubts that he did. Calling the mot "implausible," Strouse concluded, "Morgan was a singularly inarticulate, unreflective man, not likely to come up with a maxim worthy of Oscar Wilde." The closest analogue Strouse could find on the record was Morgan's response to oil baron Henry Clay Pierce: "You have no right to own a yacht if you ask that question."

Verdict: Morgan's sentiments, not his words.

"AFTER us, the deluge." ("Aprés nous le déluge.") This classic remark is generally thought to have been uttered by King Louis XV of France after his forces were defeated by those of Frederick the Great at the battle of Rossbach in 1757. Biographer Olivier Bernier calls the attribution "wholly apocryphal." At least two memoirs by contemporaries attributed these words in the plural to the king's mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour. Others to whom the saying has been attributed include Prince Metternich, Marie Antoinette, and Verdi. However "Aprés moi le déluge" was a French proverb in common use long before Louis XV or anyone else was alleged to have said it.

Verdict: An old proverb put in many mouths, especially that of Louis XV.

"AIN'T I a woman?" This is the phrase ex-slave Sojourner Truth used to bring an 1851 convention of feminists to its feet. Or so we like to imagine. Contemporary news accounts of her talk reported no such exclamation. After exhaustive research, biographer Carleton Mabee concluded that Truth's rallying cry was actually concocted by convention chair Frances Dana Gage, a poet and antislavery feminist who inserted the phrase "Ar'n't I a woman?" repeatedly into her subsequent account of Truth's speech. According to Mabee this account, which was published twelve years after the fact, is "folklore." Most likely Gage simply abridged an antislavery motto, "Am I not a Woman and a Sister?", and translated it into dialect for her report on Truth. Over time "Ar'n't I a woman?" mutated into "Ain't I a woman?" Far from being what Sojourner Truth actually said, concluded historian Nell Irvin Painter, these famous four words are "what we need her to have said."

Verdict: Credit Frances Dana Gage for this feminist saying, not Sojourner Truth.

"It AIN'T so much the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we know that just ain't so." In various forms this popular observation gets attributed most often to Mark Twain, as well as to his fellow humorists Artemus Ward, Kin Hubbard, and Will Rogers. Others to whom it's been credited include inventor Charles Kettering, pianist Eubie Blake, and--by Al Gore--baseball player Yogi Berra. Twain did once observe, "It isn't so astonishing the things that I can remember, as the number of things I can remember that aren't so," but biographer Albert Bigelow Paine said he was paraphrasing a remark by humorist Josh Billings. (In Following the Equator Twain also wrote, "Yet it was the schoolboy who said, 'Faith is believing what you know ain't so.'") Billings, whose real name was Henry Wheeler Shaw, repeated this theme often in different forms. On one occasion Billings wrote, "I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain't so." A handbill for one of his lectures included the line "It iz better to kno less than to kno so much that ain't so." Across this handbill Billings wrote longhand, "You'd better not kno so much than know so many things that ain't so." Apparently the humorist considered this his signature "affurism."

Verdict: Credit Josh Billings.

"I want to be ALONE." Greta Garbo did say this, to John Barrymore, in the 1932 movie Grand Hotel, whose screenplay was written by William A. Drake. That movie was based on a 1929 novel with the same title by Austrian author Vicki Baum. In the English translation of Baum's novel, the character eventually played by Garbo says, "But I wish to be alone." In time that sentiment was attributed to the reclusive actress herself. Garbo was not happy about this at all. She once told a friend, "I never said, 'I want to be alone.' I only said, 'I want to be let alone!' There is all the difference."

Verdict: Credit novelist Vicki Baum and screenwriter William A. Drake for Greta Garbo's most famous line.

"AMERICA is great because America is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." Like presidents Eisenhower and Reagan before him, Bill Clinton was fond of attributing these words to Alexis de Tocqueville. Many another political figure, news commentator, and patriotic orator has cited this observation, said to have been made by America's most famous tourist. (The lines are thought to be preceded by "Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the greatness and genius of America.") Library of Congress researchers call the attribution "unverified." They did find the complete quotation, attributed to de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, in a 1941 book called The Kingdom of God and the American Dream by evangelist Sherwood Eddy (1871-1963). Claremont McKenna College political scientist John Pitney has devoted two essays to the misattributed quotation and its many uses. Who actually wrote these words remains a mystery. Sherwood Eddy gave no source for his de Tocqueville attribution. According to biographer Rick L. Nutt, Eddy tended to work from memory. Perhaps he'd read the 1908 copy of The Methodist Review in which de Tocqueville was quoted as saying he'd searched in vain for the sources of America's distinction until he entered a church: "It was there, as I listened to the soul-equalizing and soul-elevating principles of the Gospel of Christ as they fell from Sabbath to Sabbath upon the masses of the people, that I learned why America is great and free, and why France is a slave." These uncharacteristic words are not de Tocqueville's either.

Verdict: Words put in de Tocqueville's mouth.

"AMERICA is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization." In a 1945 magazine article, Danish writer Hans Bendix said his aunt told him French Premier Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) made this observation about America. Bendix's article seems to be the only source for that attribution, which now appears in many a quotation collection. (The saying has also been attributed to Oscar Wilde, Henry James, H. L. Mencken, and John O'Hara.) Judging from France's often stormy alliance with America during and after World War I, Clemenceau might well have reached such a conclusion. It "sounds like" the irascible French politician. However, as a young man, Clemenceau spent several years in the United States. He married a local woman, and considered America his "second country." Whoever was the first to say this owed an intellectual debt to Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1688-1744), who concluded that societies progressed in cyclical stages...

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