Quote: If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation... (Woodrow Wilson and others)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 1 23:23:32 UTC 2014

An entertaining quotation attributed to Woodrow Wilson about
delivering speeches appears in some key reference works: Respectfully
Quoted (1989), Cassell's Humorous Quotations (2001), and The Yale Book
of Quotations (2006).

Wilson died in 1924, and the citation listed in these references is
from a biography published in 1946.

[ref] 1946, The Wilson Era: Years of War and After 1917-1923 by
Josephus Daniels, Quote Page 624,The University of North Carolina
Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Verified with scans)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]

A member of the Cabinet congratulated Wilson on introducing the vogue
of short speeches and asked him about the time it took him to prepare
his speeches. He said:

"It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for
preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two
days; if an hour, I am ready now."
[End excerpt]

Prompted by an inquiry I searched for earlier occurrences and found an
attribution to Wilson in 1918 of a close variant which is listed
further below.

Here are a selected set of citations tracing the evolution of the
saying. Tracing is difficult because of the variability of the
expression. The first relevant cite I've located in 1893 was a
rudimentary version of the idea ascribed to Abraham Lincoln who died
decades earlier in 1865.

[ref] 1893, Appendix to the Journals of the Senate and Assembly of the
Thirtieth Session of the Legislature of the State of California,
Volume 1, First Biennial Message of Governor H. H. Markham to the
Legislature of the State of California, Thirtieth Session, (Delivered
on January 3, 1893 in Sacramento, California), Start Page 3, Quote
Page 5, Published by A. J. Johnston, Superintendent of State Printing,
Sacramento, California. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
Lincoln once made a most apt suggestion applicable to such cases. When
asked to appear upon some important occasion and deliver a five-minute
speech, he said that he had no time to prepare five-minute speeches,
but that he could go and speak an hour at any time.
[End excerpt]

In 1895 a minister named J. N. Hall gave a speech at a meeting of the
Men's Sunday Evening Club as reported in a Rockford, Illinois
newspaper. Hall ascribed an instance of the saying to Rufus Choate who
was an orator and Senator from Massachusetts who died decades earlier
in 1859. This version was tripartite; however, the third part referred
to talking all day instead of speaking for an hour:

[ref] 1895 December 3, Rockford Daily Register Gazette, It's Second
Birthday: Men's Sunday Evening Club Properly Celebrates, Quote Page 5,
Column 2, (GNB Page 3), Rockford, Illinois. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
There is a great deal in condensation in these days of compressed
yeast and potted ham, and I am reminded of an incident told of Rufus
Choate, who being asked to make a speech on a certain occasion said,
"If it is to be a minute speech I shall need four weeks in which to
prepare, if a half hour speech, then two weeks, but if I am to talk
all day I'm ready now."
[End excerpt]

In 1900 a doctor employed an instance of the schema during a
convention of the New Hampshire Medical Society:

[ref] 1900, Transactions of the New Hampshire Medical Society at the
One Hundred and Ninth Anniversary, (Held at Concord, New Hampshire on
May 31 and June 1, 1900), "Nutrition" by J. G. Quimby and M. D.
Lakeport, (Discussion section: Speaker: H. L. Stickney), Start Page
245, Quote Page 253, Printer Ira C. Evans, Concord, New Hampshire.
(Google Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
Discussion opened by H. L. Stickney, M.D. of Newport.
Mr. President and Fellows:

Some one has said that "if you want me to speak two minutes you give
me a notification of two weeks; if you want me to speak five minutes,
I should have a notification of one week, but if you want me to talk
all day, here I am."
[End excerpt]

In 1915 a textbook chapter titled "The Art of Public Speaking" by
Grenville Kleiser presented an instance of the expression with an
anonymous ascription:

[ref] 1915, Kleiser's Complete Guide to Public Speaking, Compiled and
Edited by Grenville Kleiser, Section: The Art of Public Speaking by
Grenville Kleiser, Start Page vii, Quote Page ix, Funk & Wagnalls
Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
A man should take ample time in which properly to prepare his speech.
"How long do you wish me to speak?" asked a man who was invited by a
society to attend its annual dinner. "Why do you ask?" inquired the
secretary. "Because," said the orator, "if you want me to give a
ten-minute address I must have at least two weeks in which to prepare
myself, but if you want me to talk for an hour or more, I am ready."
[End excerpt]

In 1918 the saying was attributed to President Woodrow Wilson in the
pages of a trade publication for the four milling industry. The third
part of this version used the phrase "talk as long as I want":

[ref] 1918 April, The Operative Miller, Volume 23, Number 4, (Short
freestanding item), Quote Page 130, Column 1, Operative Miller Press,
Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
"How long does it take you to prepare one of your speeches?" asked a
friend of President Wilson not long ago. "That depends on the length
of the speech," answered the President. "If it is a ten-minute speech
it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour
speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it
requires no preparation at all. I am ready now."
[End excerpt]

In 1922 a textbook titled "Public Speaking Today: A High School
Manual" included a variant of the expression which was ascribed to
Thomas Babington Macaulay, a British statesman and historian who died
in 1859:

[ref] 1922, Public Speaking Today: A High School Manual by Francis
Cummins Lockwood and Clarence DeWitt Thorpe, Quote Page 155 and 156,
Published by Benj. H. Sanborn & Company, New York. (Google Books Full
View) link [/ref]


[Begin excerpt]
"It takes longer," says Professor Alden in his Art of Debate, "to
prepare a short speech than a long one on almost any subject." It
takes longer to round out a fifteen-minute speech than one an hour
long on the same subject. "How long does it take you to work up your
speeches?" Macaulay was asked. "That depends," he replied, "on the
length of the speech; if it is a two-hour speech I can prepare it in
two days; if it is an hour speech, two weeks; but if it is a
ten-minute speech it takes two months." In the short speech every word
must count.
[End excerpt]

In 1922 college fraternity publication reported in an interfraternity
dinner held in Chicago. A speaker stated that a professor he knew had
employed a variant of the expression:

[ref] 1922 July, Banta's Greek Exchange: A Journal Published in the
Interest of the College Fraternity World, The Chicago Interfraternity
Dinner, Remarks of Mr. Don R. Almy (Sigma Alpha Epsilon), Start Page
144, Quote Page 146, Published by George Banta Publishing Company (The
Collegiate Press), Menasha Wisconsin.(Google Books Full View) link


[Begin excerpt]
...that reminds me of a professor that I knew in college in that very
much over praised institution that you have heard about here tonight;
the boys used to go to him frequently and ask him to address the class
of Umpty-ump, or the Wearers of the C, or some other distinguished
gathering, and he used to say to them, "Well, now, if you want me to
talk fifteen minutes, I must have two weeks to prepare; if you want me
to talk half an hour, why I can get along with one week; but if I can
talk about the Elmira Reformatory and talk as long as I want to, I am
ready now."
[End excerpt]

More citations will be given on the QI website. If you can find
relevant cites before 1893 I would be very interested.

Thanks, Garson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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