[Ads-l] Popular George Bernard Shaw quotation has changed over time

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Aug 12 00:44:42 UTC 2019

While researching a saying employed by Oscar Wilde and George Bernard
Shaw I came across an oddity. The following line appeared in Shaw's
1903 drama “Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy”:

[Begin excerpt]
. . . there are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s
desire. The other is to get it.
[End excerpt]

Here is a link to the page with the quotation within a 1903 edition at

Yet, by 1949 a revised statement was circulating, and this new more
elegant version also began to appear in reprints of the play:

[Begin excerpt]
There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire.
The other is to gain it.
[End excerpt]

Apparently, Shaw (or someone else) revised the play in 1949 or
earlier. I do not know precisely when the revision was created. The
revised line appears in a large number of references which cite the
original 1903 work, e.g.:

The Best Guide to Humorous Quotations edited by Nigel Rees.
Encarta Book of Quotations edited by Bill Swainson
The Yale Book of Quotations edited by Fred R. Shapiro
The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes
The Times Book of Quotations
The Concise Columbia Dictionary of Quotations edited by Robert Andrews

Here is a link to the Quote investigator article about the saying:

Feedback welcome,

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

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