Quote: Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler (antedating attrib Albert Einstein 1950)

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Feb 25 08:13:27 UTC 2010

A couple of VERY minor points that in no way detract from Garson's work.

Another reprint of Zukovsky's essays dates the same passage (or, at
least, that particular part of the essay) to 1948 and it looks like a
letter to WCW that's published as an essay--or perhaps the editor just
made it appear that way. Perhaps both are wrong--I found this snippet
that GB dates to 1949
It is unquestionably the same excerpt and it in the journal Poetry, so
it seems to be the right place. Should be verified.

There is a parallel quotation from William Saroyan (1964, apparently):

> The matter of style is one that always excites controversy, but to me
> it's as simple as A B C, if not simpler.

No, I am not suggesting the two are in any way related. In fact, this
turn of phrase is quite common.

As for the original quotation, there is an interesting Dore Ashton
version (apparently from 1972 Studio International):

> Everything should be as simple as it _is_, but not simpler.

Ashton credits someone else attributing the line to Einstein. (Can't
tell who the intermediary is from the snippets.) In fact, the same
version appears in a couple of other sources (1965 and 1971) but I could
not identify or verify them.

The version "as simple as possible" appears in some intermediary
publications--in 1969 by Jonathan Williams and again several times in
the 1970s, but it seems to be the version that is most commonly used
today--George Will seems to have opened this can of worms on Mar. 18,
1982. But the NYT had the same version nearly a month earlier (free
version here: http://bit.ly/baCFHZ) in a story about an 18 year old
Rhodes scholar. Only a year earlier, Time put out a Newswatch column by
Thomas Griffith (Apr. 27, 1981) that used "as it can be" version. So
both coexisted for some time, perhaps even on mass-produced posters
(that seems to be the most likely possibility for an 18-year old to have
pinned it on her wall).


On 2/25/2010 1:21 AM, Garson O'Toole wrote:
> Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
> This saying (and variants) are usually attributed to Albert Einstein.
> The Yale Book of Quotations has the earliest attribution and it is
> dated 1972. YBQ also states "No source has been traced for this
> quotation, which sometimes takes the form 'A theory should be made ...
> '"
> The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations (2008) has an attribution
> to Einstein in 1977 and says "The original source of this oft-quoted
> remark has not been found despite much searching." The Oxford
> Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2006) has it without a date.
> In 1950 the prominent modernist poet Louis Zukofsky writing in the
> journal Poetry attributed a version of the aphorism to Albert
> Einstein. The quote appears in a review by Zukofsky of the volume
> William Carlos Williams by Vivienne Koch (The Makers of Modern
> Literature Series). This is the earliest citation I have located.
> Citation: 1950 June, Poetry, Reviews section, Poetry in a Modern Age
> by Louis Zukofsky, Page 180, Vol. 76, No. 3, Modern Poetry
> Association. (Google Books snippet view. Verified on paper.)
> There is also the other side of the coin minted by Einstein:
> "Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler" – a
> scientist's defense of art and knowledge - of lightness, completeness
> and accuracy.
> http://books.google.com/books?id=GQEKAAAAIAAJ&q=minted#search_anchor
> Louis Zukofsky used the maxim in section A-12 of the poem A. The table
> of contents of the 1978 edition of the poem says that section A-12 was
> composed in 1950 and 1951.
> Citation: 1978, A by Louis Zukofsky, Page 143, University of
> California Press, Berkeley.
> Had he asked me to say Kadish
> I believe I would have said it for him.
> How fathom his will
> Who had taught himself to be simple.
> Everything should be as simple as it can be,
> Says Einstein,
> But not simpler.
> http://books.google.com/books?id=1GvlVBB8soEC&q=Einstein#v=snippet&q=Einstein&f=false
> Syndicated newspaper columnist Sydney J Harris used a version of the
> saying in 1964 without attribution.
> Citation: 1964 January 9, New Castle News, Strictly Personal by Sydney
> J. Harris. Page 4, New Castle, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
> In every field of inquiry, it is true that all things should be made
> as simple as possible - but no simpler. (And for every problem that is
> muddled by over-complexity, a dozen are muddled by over-simplifying.)
> (This cite is not freely accessible. Here is a link to the column in
> the Tri City Herald on January 14, 1964.(Google News Archive))
> http://bit.ly/cJVkMh
> The WikiQuote webpage on Einstein presents the following interesting
> 1933 statement: "It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of
> all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as
> few as possible without having to surrender the adequate
> representation of a single datum of experience." However, I think it
> would still take a creative act to produce the elegant saying
> "Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler" from
> the 1933 remark.
> http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein
> Lastly, here is a bonus citation that I have not checked: New York
> Times. 1963 December 8. (Google News Archive)
> ... wants help in locating a quotation which he remembers as:
> "Everything must be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." ...
> http://bit.ly/cUwI0f
> Garson

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