Comment on article: Putting Words in Mark Twain's Mouth

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 10 20:32:50 UTC 2012

For years the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Carl M. Cannon has
written insightfully about the misattribution of quotations which is
commonplace in periodicals, books, and speeches. Today he has an
excellent article titled "Putting Words in Mark Twain's Mouth" at the
website Right Clear Politics which mentions Fred R. Shapiro, me, and
other researchers.

Short link:

Several of the quotations in the article have been examined on Cannon kindly linked to my website for some of
the quotations. In addition, I have worked on some of these sayings
but have not yet shared the results online. I hope to do so in the
coming weeks though busyness during the holiday season may delay
The lines that begin with numbers are from Cannon's article.

3. Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn’t matter.

Garson says: I have new earlier citations for this. I hope to share them soon.

5. "Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company."

Garson says: Twain used this quip, but current evidence suggests he
was not the first.

6. It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open
one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

7. A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.
[Not Twain. Source unknown, but earliest documented usage, according
to famed quote verifier Ralph Keyes, is the Dec. 31, 1914, edition of
a South Carolina newspaper.]

Garson says: I have new earlier citations for this. I hope to share them soon.

9. Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because
I’ve done it thousands of times. [Not Twain; this is a variation on an
old joke -- told by W.C. Fields, among others -- about drinking. It
was first applied to smoking, and to Twain, by the Journal of the
American Medical Association and Reader’s Digest in the 1940s.]

Garson says: The JAMA cite is dated December 1938. Relevant cites
start in 1907 with poker as the subject.

13. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” [Not
Twain. Earliest known source is 19th century essayist Grant Allen.]
(Cannon's link is supposed to go to my website but it is broken.)

18. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you're inclined to write ‘very,’ your
editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
[Not Twain. This was said by famed Kansas newspaper editor William
Allen White.]

20. Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

23. "History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme." [Not Twain --
and this line has no known source -- but as “Mark Twain in Eruption”
points out, he did say: “It is not worthwhile to try to keep history
from repeating itself, for man’s character will always make the
preventing of the repetitions impossible.”]

Garson says: This has been discussed on the ADS list. In 2010 I posted
on the list about a poem by John Robert Colombo. Barry Popik has key
cites. Dictionary of Modern Proverbs has key cites.

25. "I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one
instead." [Not Twain; “Yale Book of Quotations” traces it back long
before Twain was born to French mathematician Blaise Pascal, who
expressed this sentiment in 1657, and to John Locke (1690) and
Benjamin Franklin (1750). It’s a reflective observation, but it’s not
Mark Twain’s.]


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