“QUOTE ...  UNQUOTE”

SEARCHING FOR LOST QUOTATIONS


Home page      


An important function of the Newsletter – and, indeed, of the radio show – is the tracking down of sources for quotations that have been asked about by readers and listeners.   The same research method is applied to the origins and use of phrases and sayings.   Since the list was begun in December 1987, there has been something like a 47% clear-up rate – though recently thanks to e-mail, the Internet and some dedicated sleuths – the rate has gone up to 59%.   Many people have turned to it as a last resort, having exhausted all other lines of inquiry.   But some queries resolutely remain unsolvable – or at least that is how it seems until someone stumbles across the answer, in some cases years after the query was originally posted. 

In response to requests from ardent sleuths, I have drawn up a list of what one of them termed the ‘hard core’ of queries that are still giving problems. 

If you can supply chapter and verse – and that is what we are after, not vague surmise – for any of these quotations or phrases, then you may rest assured that you will put someone out of his or her misery.   It is helpful if you can refer to the query number when providing information about it.   E-mail your information to the addresses given in HOW TO GET IN TOUCH WITH “QUOTE ...  UNQUOTE”.   All contributions will be acknowledged individually.   Selected highlights from the results are printed in the Newsletter. 

_________________________________________________________________________________

Q20 A precise source for the 4th Earl of Chesterfield’s alleged remark about sex: ‘The pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, the expense damnable’.   The earliest citation so far found dates from 1910 – but without the attribution to Chesterfield.  In fact, it may just have been a saying, known in the 19th century but with the ascription grafted on in the 1920s/30s.

Q43 Any pre-1938 use of the phrase, ‘The butler did it!’

Q103 Who wrote: ‘Il mondo in parte disegnar si puole: /  Ma pazzo è quel, che dominar lo vuole?

Q232 An original source for Augustus John’s remark to Nina Hamnet: ‘We have become, Nina, the sort of people our parents warned us about’?  Or the identity of the person who quoted it in a British newspaper in 1975-6?

Q247 A source for: ‘Everything’s done in my own little way / My own little tea-set, my own little tray’? 

Q376 ‘Hello birds, hello sky, hello clouds’ – origin or citations before the Nigel Molesworth books in the 1950s. 

Q416 Georges Feydeau, the French writer of farces (1862-1921), said: ‘In comedy there are only two main parts.  He who slaps and he who gets slapped.’  What is the connection, if any, between this remark and He Who Gets Slapped – the English title of the play (1914) by the Russian dramatist Leonid Andreyev?

Q524 Who referred to a woman of generous proportions as being ‘designed to give shade to her young’?

Q572 ‘When there is a great cry that something should be done, you can depend on it that something remarkably silly probably will be done’ – this was once attributed in the Herald Tribune to ‘a great English statesman from the nineteenth century’ – who he?

Q579 Gemma O’Connor once presented a delightful entertainment with the title Ferocious Chastity.  This was taken from a remark – ‘the ferocious chastity of Irishwomen’ – reputedly contained in a letter from Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels.  But where is it?

Q597 The film of Evita has made me think again of Tim Rice’s lyrics for the song ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’.  There is an unexplained conjunction between the title line and the inscription (in Spanish) which appears on Eva Perón’s bronze tomb in Recoleta cemetery, Buenos Aires.  That begins with words to the effect, ‘Do not cry for me when I am far away.’  Eva’s body was not returned to Argentina until 1976 and the inscription (of which there is more than one) in Recoleta cemetery bears the date 1982.  Could it have been inspired by the song (which was first performed 1976) rather than the other way round?

Q764 ‘Having distributed our guineas [?] to the populace, we drove on to the sound of renewed cheering’ – what is this?  I recall someone using it in 1965. 

Q788 Was the slogan ‘He’s back – and he’s angry!’ used for a film?  Before 1996, that is.

Q862 Precise sources, please, for two widely-quoted sayings of John Ruskin: (1) ‘There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little more cheaply.  Those who buy on price alone are this man’s lawful prey’; (2) ‘It is bad to pay too much, but it is worse to pay too little.  When you pay too much, you lose a little money, that is all; but when you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought is incapable of doing the thing it was b(r)ought to do.  If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run.  And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better’?

Q899 A source for: ‘It is within the province of all of us to be great or small, according to the degree of service we render, service of one man to another, to a community, to a nation, to all mankind.  It is by service we are born, we live, and we are carried to our last resting place.  It is therefore not just an obligation, it is the very purpose of life – to serve’ – a British Royal perhaps?

Q914 ‘The trouble with socialism is that it would take up too many evenings’ – Wilde?  And, if so, where?

Q955 Did a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising say: ‘Nothing fails in Ireland.  It is only that the victory is delayed’?  Olivia Manning mentions it in a 1937 novel.

Q962 ‘Keep alive in our hearts that spirit of adventure which makes men scorn the security of the familiar to wrestle with the challenges of the unknown’ – what is this, a prayer or some other exhortation, presumably quite recent?

Q1368 Where did the phrase ‘not a happy bunny’ originate?  The earliest example I have so far found is from 1989 in the UK.

Q1748 Which 1940s / 50s film noir begins: ‘It was hot.  The only kind of hot you can get in L.A. in the summer’?

Q1976 What is ‘’Arry’s At Was Anging On the Atstand In the All’ – a poem or song?   A source, please.

Q2186 Any thoughts on the origin and use of ‘Trust me, I’m a doctor’ (first citation found in a 1954 novel) or ‘Trust us, we’re doctors’ (in use by 1993)?

Q2487  Who said: ‘A revolutionary must always have clean fingernails’?

 

Q2571  The expression ‘pipe isn’t fooling pussy’ occurs in Alan Bennett’s film An Englishman Abroad (1983).  Presumably it refers to sex, but was it an established coinage?

 

Q2800  P.G. Wodehouse more than once uses the expression ‘sleep poured over me in a healing wave’ – where is this from?  ‘Sleep which does something which has slipped my mind to the something sleeve of care poured over me in a healing wave’ – The Code of the Woosters, Chap. 14 (1938) – last line of book; ‘It wasn’t long before sleep poured over me in a healing wave, as the expression is’ – Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, Chap. 6 (1974).

 

Q3205  Origin of ‘when hardy comes to hardy’ or ‘when Hardy comes to Hardy’, meaning the same as ‘when push comes to shove’?  Is it Irish?

 

Q3534  A source for the anecdote about Lord Palmerston saying (to Queen Victoria?): ‘Change, change, all this talk about change.  Things are quite bad enough already!’?

 

Q3649  Where is this to be found in P.G. Wodehouse: ‘If it were not for quotations, conversation between gentlemen would consist of an endless succession of “What hos”’? 

 

Q3670  Did the Duke of Wellington ever say anything like ‘one resourceful man may do what an army cannot?’

 

Q3677  A source for ‘Out of my way, peasants!’ – and usage, perhaps in a film?

 

Q3737  He ran a pin in Gwendolyn / In Lower Grosvenor Place’ is believed to be from a comic song of the First World War and Anthony Powell quotes it in A Dance to the Music of Time.  It would be good to have a title and text?

 

Q3742  That LUFTHANSA is an acronym for ‘Let us f--- the hostesses and not say anything’ was reported in an American book and quoted in Godfrey Smith’s Sunday Times column some time before 1983.  What was the book and who was the author?

 

Q3746  Tolstoy is often quoted as having written ‘Whilst there are slaughterhouses there will be battlefield’ – but where did he say it?

 

Q3752  Where does the phrase ‘Hordes, Frobisher, hordes’ come from – a sea captain in a film?

 

Q3758  Who in particular said, ‘Irony is wasted on the stupid’?  Swift has been mentioned.

 

Q3766  Was it Ben Jonson who said something about everyone who lives in London being either ‘crow or carrion’?

 

Q3779  From a Victorian diarist? – ‘ ... had a glance at a cold chicken and a bottle of claret before retiring to bed.’

Q3856  Did Byron really write (and if so where?): ‘The most beautiful contact between the earth and sea took place at the Montenegrin littoral.  When the pearls of nature were sown, handfuls of them were cast on this soil’?  And is there any proof that he called Dubrovnik (or even Venice), ‘the pearl of the Adriatic’?

Q3869  Edward Lear, the poet and artist, quoted many times: ‘We come no more to the golden shore where we danced in days of old’.  Where did he get it from?

Q3902  An origin for this exclamation: ‘May courage abound with cheerfulness and the day end well’?

Q3916  The mistake often made by the young is to assume that the old know what they are talking about’ has been ascribed to Henry Kissinger.  Any firmer attributions?

Q3925  Did Marcus Aurelius say something to this effect: ‘That which does not constantly strive to advance will not remain the same, it will inevitably regress’ – and if so, where?

Q3946  Where did George Cadbury (of the chocolate firm) say that he wanted the business to be ‘A force for good in a troubled world’?

Q3952  Common sense is nothing but undiagnosed ignorance’ – is this Nietzsche or somebody?

Q3963  Does anyone know the origins of the (?) poster poem ‘The Animals of Drink’ – ‘After one hour he is a monkey / After two hours he is an ass / After three hours he is a tiger / After four hours he is a sloth ’?

Q3987  Glory is fleeting but obscurity is forever’ – always attributed to Napoleon – but when and how did it enter circulation?

Q3989  Children’s rhyme: ‘The tower of toys for a minute / Stood steady and firm and tall ... ’, ending, ‘No wonder that Teddy refuses / To build up that tower again’ – more, please?  (There was a Tower of Toys in New York’s East Village until recently).

Q4014  Who said something to this effect: ‘Imprisonment is a long term process with an uncertain outcome whereas hanging is sure and takes only a moment’?

Q4042  Which British political figure used the expression ‘the consistency of the grave’?

 

Q4045  What was the exact date of the Giles cartoon in the Daily Express with the caption: ‘There was only one man who entered Parliament with good intentions – Guy Fawkes’?  Probably very late 1940s.

 

Q4057  A source for the expression, ‘Get back in your hole, it’s rat week’?

 

Q4059  A source for the saying ‘Manners, pianos, tables and chairs, all belong to the man upstairs’?

Q4062  Origin and full text of the parody of ‘Devon, Glorious Devon’ including: ‘In Devon, glorious Devon, / Where it rains six days out of seven, / Where barefaced hags. / Pursue the stags. / It’s their idea of heaven’ etc?

Q4066  In The Green Hat, Michael Arlen writes: ‘Mr H. G. Wells says that there is no money to be made out of any book that cannot bring a woman in within the first few thousand words.’  The source of this remark, please.

Q4099  Man knows not what the day bodes but must abide what it brings’ – what is this?

Q4105  In The Letters of Noël Coward, there is this in a c. 1956 letter to Marlene Dietrich: ‘A very brilliant writer once said (Could it have been me?), “Life is for the living” ... ’  Coward used the shorter version ‘Life is for [ ... ] living’ in the introduction to ‘A Bar on the Piccola Marina’ in his 1959 Las Vegas cabaret recording – which version he had already put in his play Design for Living (1933).  But why is this near-proverb not more widely recorded?  Google Books has the shorter by 1888.

Q4106  Early examples of something like ‘the world is made for those not blessed with self awareness’?

Q4107  Is SMOBELMABEES – or something like it – an acronym/mnemonic for remembering – what?  Fallen Angels?

Q4111  What is the poem about the story shown on a willow pattern plate that ends something like ‘and patter paling round the sun’?

Q4112  Bertie Wooster (in P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories) apparently invokes Captain Scott’s last messsage at some point?  Where?

Q4117  Origin of ‘Which part of the word “no” don’t you understand – the “n” or the “o”?’ – a film perhaps?

Q4118  How cowardice rushes in where courage once ruled’ – or words to that effect.  Source?

Q4119  In the film Sex’n’Drugs’n’Rock’n’Roll, Ian Dury says to his son that the painter Delacroix said, ‘Inspiration is about getting to one’s desk at 9 a.m.’  Did he really?

Q4127  In a 1986 book Wetland – Life in the Somerset Levels, an unattributed quotation is: ‘The slimed, light bodies of the secret eels’.  Where is this from?

Q4178  Did John Buchan say something to the effect that the epitome of adventure was ‘journeys made in haste by night’?

Q4204  Who called the Bible ‘a collection of self-aggrandizing myths of a nomadic tribe of unruly Semites’?

Q4205  About which politicians (perhaps) was it said that, ‘Beneath that bluff, unprepossessing exterior lies an equally unprepossessing interior’?

Q4214  Text of ‘Prayer from a Sick Room’, beginning ‘Think on me, Lord, and be very answerable to my necessities’?

Q4215  Does this mean anything to anybody ‘Abercandi Day [spelling?] – it was the day Napoleon seduced his coachman’?

Q4218  Origin of ‘Remember that night by the compost heap; two weeds in the garden of love’?

Q4220  An origin for the saying, ‘Where ignorance prevails, vulgarity generally asserts itself’ or ‘ ... vulgarism predominates’ or ‘ ... vulgarity invariably inserts itself’?

Q4246  Was ‘Easy mistake to make’ somebody’s catchphrase?

 

Q4252  Why were Bohemian Concerts (popular music recitals from, say, 1890-1930), so called?

 

Q4263  What is the Arabic origin of ‘Ye Benn Gudana [sons of Ghudaneh / Ghudineh] are neither gold nor pure silver but ye are pottery’?

 

Q4275  Louis Armstrong famously replied to someone who asked, ‘What is jazz?’ – ‘If you have to ask, you ain’t got it’ (or words to that effect).  Are there other (perhaps earlier) examples of put-downs in which someone is told that if they have to ask about a certain topic, it means they’ll never understand it?

 

Q4286  Someone’s grandfather was fond of saying, ‘There’s many a man, though poor, hard up’.  Anyone else know this?

 

Q4292  Success isn’t always what you know or who you know but sometimes what you know about who you know’ – has been attributed (after 1964) by Fletcher Knebel.  Any other claimants?

 

Q4294  This exchange between a surgeon and a nursing sister is reported from a Birkenhead hospital in the 1980s: ‘Scalpel, Nurse’ / ‘“Sister”, Doctor’ / ‘“Mister!”, Sister.’  Is this a known anecdote?

 

Q4295  A source for this saying by Dr Spooner to Roy Harrod: ‘You mustn’t think you aren’t the man you once used to think you were’?

 

Q4299  What is the origin of the phrase ‘sugar me pink!’?

 

Q4301  It is better for a man to dream of many beautiful women than to awake next to one ugly one’ – what is this?  A modern proverb?

 

Q4304  How well-known is the expression ‘Where were we when the rope broke?’ said between two people who have temporarily interrupted a job they are doing together?  A date for its origin?

Q4310 David Skinner wants to know about the saying, ‘I’ve just washed my hair and I can’t do a thing with it!’ and thinks it must be from a TV commercial ‘from my youth.’ Well, I am sure that it must have been used somewhere in advertising copy at some time (possibly for Kreml Shampoo in the US) but it was being described as ‘an old saying’ as long ago as 1929 (in an American book, Secrets of Charm by Josephine Huddleston) and it appears in A Weaver of Dreams by Myrtle Reed (1911). Any ideas?

 

Q4311  We are ordinary people yet in our mother’s eyes, we tread the earth like princes’ – from an episode of Rumpole of the Bailey, but an origin?  Or uses of the final phrase on its own.

 

Q4312 Tony Craddock writes: ‘My late grandfather who died in 1972 was fond of quoting “Fantasia Weeks is on the march” when referring to the feminist movement. A self-educated working-class socialist he was fond of quoting Bernard Shaw, Robert Burns and the like. I can’t find any reference to this quote at all or to the lady in question and I can’t say if the spelling is correct. There was a saying that “John Wilkes is on the march” and Wilkes did write a poem on women. Is this a clue?

 

Q4321  Who said, ‘The greatest love story in Western Literature is the story of Martin Luther and Jesus Christ, as told by Johann Sebastian Bach’?

 

Q4342  The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles’ – William Penn?  A proper source, please.

 

Q4347  Are there any pre-20th century appearances of Napoleon’s instruction to Josephine, ‘Home in three days; don’t wash’.  Indeed, where did it originate?

 

Q4348  Origin of ‘I thought we were the good guys’?

 

Q4350  Lord (‘power tends to corrupt’) Acton is said to have given us this: ‘The issue which has swept down the centuries and which we will have to fight sooner or later is the people versus the banks’?  But where is the evidence for this?

 

Q4369  What is the origin of ‘rien s’empêche comme le papier vide’ which roughly translates as ‘nothing puts off [a writer] so much as a blank sheet of paper’?

 

Q4404  It is a while since I have descanted on the enjoyableness of the Lyttelton/Hart-Davis Letters – exchanged between George, Eton master and father of Humphrey, and Rupert, the publisher – and published in six volumes from 1978 onwards.  Tim Riley likes them so much that he has even established a webpage where he chases up some of their references.  On one, he came to me: ‘Lyttelton quotes these lines:

“When were you chipped from the blue bowl of air
To haunt our vernal valleys, kingfisher?
Love moves through valleys even more enchanted,
Where rivers of the heart are halcyon-haunted.”

‘Neither he nor Rupert Hart-Davis could identify the author.  By the way, Lyttelton was a serial misquoter, but he always had the essence of the thing – from three millennia of literature.
  Any offers?  I have drawn a complete blank.

 

Q4405  Mark Holmes asks: ‘I wondered if you can help me with the origin of a quote: “It serves as a reminder that well-deployed silence is a thousand times more devastating than any sound”?’  Nothing showing up on the radar so far but I did find this Seeing Senses: On Film Analysis (1998): ‘Silence as a plot device.  Silence can often be even more devastating than any sound effect.’

 

Q4406  James Hogg wonders who first described journalism as ‘Better than working’?  It seems that Patrick Skene Catling was quoting his father – more precisely on ‘writing’ – when he took the phrase for his 1960 memoir.  But beyond that?  Well, the format ‘ … is better than working’ seems long established.  I have seen a 1690 ‘Praying is better than working’ …

 

Q4407  Edel Smith introduces me to an expression that perhaps I have heard before, but more likely not.  ‘There is a joke about a bloke dying and going to hell and being asked to choose a permanent dwelling from a variety of nasty looking torture rooms. However, in one room people were standing ankle deep in manure while drinking tea.  “This one doesn’t look too bad,” he says.  “I think I’ll stay here”.  Two minutes later comes the order, “Right tea break over, back on your heads”.  Does the expression come from the joke or does it pre-date it?  And is it even a very common phrase or just one we use in our family?’   I rather think the phrase does not pre-date the joke – even though it may not be very old.  All I have been able to establish is that in about 1975, a British group I had never heard of, with the name ‘If’, apparently brought out an LP with the title Tea Break Over, Back On Your Heads’.  Curious.

 

Q4408  Rachael Harris’s grandfather was an RAF pilot killed in action in 1941.  His widow (no longer alive) had this inscribed on his grave in Germany: ‘Nor too closely approach the margent of things beyond our ken’.  This happened before 1956 when she herself died.  Rachael wants to know if this is taken from somewhere.  It certainly seems like a fragment – but of what?  Incidentally, the phrase ‘beyond our ken’, though now rather tainted by its use as the title of the late 1950s BBC radio comedy show, goes back to the early 18th century.  The OED has a 1691 citation of ‘beyond all ken’ but there is an Isaac Watts line ‘Glories beyond our Ken of mortal Sight’ in approximately 1715.              

 

Q4478  Azeem Sahu-Khan says that back in the 1980s he read a number of novels based on Roman life.  These included I, Claudius by Robert Graves, Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian and Thornton Wilder’s The Ides of March.  ‘There is one quote I remember from that time which could be from one of those three novels.  I think it may be in the context of a Roman general talking to one of his lesser officers.  It goes like this, “You have hardly seen the flame, you have never felt the heat, yet you talk to me of fire”.’

 

Q4519  Who would customarily pray, ‘Thank you Lord for another day in which I was not found out’?

 

Q4520  Text of poem known by the early 1950s about the four winds – north, south, east and west – which included a lone about one of the winds blowing across the desert and ‘exposed the bones of long dead men’?  Kipling’s ‘The English Flag’ while containing some of these elements, is not it.

 

Q4529  Who said, ‘The art of politics is to prevent situations in which we are faced with intolerable alternatives’?

 

Q4551  A source for Bismarck description of Napoleon III as, ‘a sphinx without a riddle’?

 

Q4563  Who said, ‘The essence of engineering is not in a contrivance of mechanisms however complex but rigid simplicity ‘?

 

Q4580  Origin of the tale about a Sicilian bandit who, when asked on his deathbed to forgive his enemies, replied, ‘Indeed I do, father – for I have killed them all’?

 

Q4591 Can we identify the sculptor who responded to the inevitable question of how he managed to visualise within a block of stone the form of the lion sculptures for which he was famous, by replying ‘Well, I look at the stone and carve away the bits that aren’t lion …’

 

Q4593  Who was it that referred to the Honours List listing many of the great and the good and suggested it was ‘the meaning of Pros and Cons’?

 

Q4597  An origin for ‘What would have happened if what did happen had not happened’?  Has been attributed to Lord Palmerston but there appears to be no evidence for this.

 

Q4598  An origin for the ‘Senility Prayer’ – ‘God grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones that I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference’.  It is, of course, based on the ‘Serenity Prayer’ usually attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr.  I can’t find it much before 2000.

 

Q4599  Who said, ‘I reserve the right to be solemn in the morning’?  Has been attributed to Albert Schweitzer.

 

Q4600  Does anyone know of this couplet:  ‘As the blood runs down the rill / It makes the parting sadder still.’

 

Q4601  Origin of saying, ‘Never disturb a lady when she is being a martyr, it’s her favourite occupation’.

 

Q4604  Who said, ‘It’s bad luck to be superstitious’?

 

Q4609  Who originated the view, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’?

 

Q4630  Who said, perhaps between the World Wars: ‘No wonder British English businessmen are successful as they only have other British English businessmen to compete with’?

 

Q4631  Who said, ‘Nothing really matters said the Gander to the Gnu’?

 

Q4632  Seneca we should measure wealth not by how much we have, but how little we need

 

Q4638   ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’ – an actual source for this quote attributed to Nelson Mandela?

 

Q4640  The Hobson-Jobson children were enamoured of the sciences. / (A state of mind which may seem very queer!) / They spent their pocket money on the strangest of appliances / And wasted none at all on ginger beer.’  Source?

 

 

Q4651  Who, when his wife died, ‘threw himself under a blonde’?

 

Q4656  Stanley Baldwin? – ‘I have enormous respect for the Conservative Party conference.  And I have enormous respect for my butler.  But I would not dream of consulting either of them to ask how I should carry out my job as Prime Minister.’

 


Home page