Modern Proverb: Amateur practices till he can do it right; professional till he can't do it wrong (1976 probably)

Charles C Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Wed May 4 18:19:35 UTC 2011

That's a great reveal, Garson (as usual)!

Over the past few years, I have found myself, in my inner discourse (the voices!), referring to Doyle's Law--which, if it existed, would be formulated like this:  "Any dated instance of a phrase can be antedated by a researcher with sufficient skill [like Garson's] and time."

As for the saying "The amateur practices . . .":  I would tend not to call it a proverb.  Its length and structure make it an unlikely candidate for colloquial use, for oral transmission.  If fact, I myself can never remember its wording!

For elegant and often-repeated expressions that lack much existence in oral transmission, paremiologists often reserve the terms "aphorism" and "sententia."


From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Garson O'Toole [adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM]
Sent: Tuesday, May 03, 2011 2:45 PM

Here is a preliminary exploration for this modern proverb. Maybe
Charlie will find it useful. In the 1970s the phrase was used by

Cite: 1976, Dressage for Beginners by R. L. V. Ffrench Blake, GB Page
61, Houghton Mifflin, Boston. (Google Books snippet; Not verified in
paper; WorldCat date ok; Copyright date 1976 visible in snippet)

Work hard and constructively, and remember that "the amateur practices
till he can do it right - the professional practices till he can't do
it wrong."

Cite 1983, Working Trot by Jessie Haas, GB Page 71, Greenwillow Books,
New York. (Google Books snippet; Not verified in paper; WorldCat date

Somewhere he'd read, "The amateur practices until he can do it right;
the professional until he can't do it wrong."

The expression was used by Canadian thespians in the 1980s.

Cite: 1987, Canadian Drama and the Critics compiled and edited by
Leonard W. Conolly, GB Page 85, Talonbooks, Vancouver. (Google Books
snippet; Not verified in paper, Catalog shows a 1987 edition exists)

It is said an amateur rehearses until he gets it right; a professional
rehearses until he can't get it wrong.

Some of the core ideas that might have evolved to yield the modern
proverb are present in this 1902 precursor. The words professional and
amateur do not appear.

Cite: 1902 March 20, Michigan School Moderator [The Moderator], Editor
Henry R. Pattengill, Spelling, Page 432, Column 1, Volume 22, Lansing,
Michigan. (Google Books full view)

It must be admitted that spelling is not taught successfully; indeed,
the difficulty lies in the fact that it is seldom taught at all.
Spelling lessons are assigned, studied, recited, but not taught. Much
of the time spent in hearing children recite-guess till they get it
right-should be spent in a definite teaching process, until they can
not get it wrong.

It should be possible to push the date earlier than 1976.


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