April 4, 2014

“If at first you don’t succeed…”


“‘Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try again.
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try again.”
       Popularized by William Edward Hickson (1803-1870)
       British philanthropist, music scholar and educational writer
       Lyrics from the first verse of the song “Perseverance; Or Try Again,” printed in Hickson’s book The Singing Master (1836)
       The saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” comes from the initial stanza of a work that began appearing in British and American books in the late 1830s and early 1840s, sometimes as song lyrics and sometimes as a poem. Some sources claim it was coined by the British-born American publisher and author Thomas H. Palmer (1922-1861). Palmer did include what he cited as a poem with those lines in a teacher’s manual he published in 1840, as did several other guides for teachers published around the same time. But the same “poem” had previously been published in 1836 as the lyrics of the song “Perseverance; Or Try Again” by William Edward Hickson, in his book The Singing Master. Hickson wrote lyrics for a number of songs during his lifetime, most famously an updated version of the British national anthem “God Save the King.” However, his book The Singing Master reprinted the lyrics of many existing songs for children, including popular nursery rhymes that had been put to music. So, the “Perseverance” song, with the famed motivational saying in its first verse, may simply have been recorded rather than created by Hickson.


“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”
       Attributed to W.C. Fields (1880-1946)
       American comedian and actor 
       Variations of this sardonic quip have been attributed to Fields since at least September 1949, when the version above was cited by Reader’s Digest magazine. Often, it’s given without the word “There’s.” Sometimes “no use” is replaced by “no point.” If Fields did actually say one of these versions, it may have been a quip he uttered in real life, since it does not seem to be a line from any of his films.


“If at first you don’t succeed, you may be at your level of incompetence already.”
       Dr. Laurence J. Peter
       Canadian professor and author, best known for creating “The Peter Principle” and writing the book of the same name (with Raymond Hull)
       This saying is widely attributed to Peter, but without a specific source. It does not seem to be in any of the editions of his popular book The Peter Principle, which was first published in 1969 and has remained in print ever since. The book does include the variation “If at first you don’t succeed, try something else” — which he may have stolen from the Fifties television Western Maverick.


“As my old Pappy used to say, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try something else.’”
       Bret Maverick (actor James Garner)
       The line above is one of the many sayings Bret attributed to his father Beau Maverick in various episodes of the classic American TV Western, Maverick, which ran from 1957 to 1962. 
       Other bits of wisdom Bret cited as things “my old Pappy used to say” include: 
            “...a man does what he has to do, if he can’t get out of it.”
            “...man is the only animal you can skin more than once.” 
            “...never play in a rigged game, unless you rig it yourself.”
            “...never cry over spilled milk; it could’ve been whiskey.”
            “...early to bed and early to rise is the curse of the working class.”
            “...if the Lord had more respect for money, He would have given it to a higher class of people.”


“If at first you don’t succeed then skydiving definitely isn’t for you.” 
       Steven Wright
       American comedian
       This dry joke is usually attributed to Wright, who apparently used it in his stand-up routine. However, another version is commonly attributed to comedian Henny Youngman, and other variations have long been popular among skydiving enthusiasts, suggesting that it may be have been, er, floating around for many the years.
       Wright is also commonly credited with another good “try again” takeoff: “If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.” 


“If at first you don't succeed, do it the way your wife told you.”
       A popular t-shirt, card and sign slogan, appearing in several variations. (The example shown at left is a sign available from Amazon.com.)

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March 10, 2014

Things you won’t go broke underestimating...


“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” 
       A famous quip
commonly attributed to journalist and editor H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
       Although these words are often credited to Mencken, they are actually a paraphrase of something he wrote in his column in the September 19, 1926 edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune. In it, he remarked on the recent upsurge in tabloid newspapers geared toward uneducated readers, including “near-illiterates.” Mencken correctly predicted that journalism of the future would “move in the direction” of the tabloids.
He noted, with his usual dry sense of humor: 
       “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”
       Over time, this longer quote came to be paraphrased and misquoted, most commonly in the form “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” For more background, see
the post about this saying on my ThisDayinQuotes.com site.


“No one has ever gone broke underestimating the capacity of Toronto mayor Rob Ford to shock the ostensibly unshockable.”
       Rick Conroy
       Canadian journalist 
       In his column in The Wellington Times (Ontario, Canada), January 17, 2014
       My own favorite Rob Ford shocker came during remarks he made to the press on November 14, 2013, while explaining why he filed a libel suit against some of former staff members. One female staffer, Olivia Gondek, claimed Ford told her he wanted to perform oral sex on her. Regarding her, Ford said: Olivia Gondek...says that I wanted to eat her pussy...I’ve never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I’m happily married. I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.”


“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the maturity of the American male. On the contrary, as the films of Judd Apatow and magazines like Maxim make clear, immaturity among 20- and 30-something guys is a reliable cash source.” 
       Kate Tuttle 
Freelance journalist and editor
In a review published by the Boston Globe, March 18, 2011


“To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, you’ll never go wrong underestimating the intelligence of those trying to reach a new collective-bargaining agreement...Now the principals are exchanging insults on Twitter. Management is taking cheap shots at the players, and the players are responding in kind, each group blaming the other, as if the blame isn’t equal.”
       Sports journalist
Art Spander
       Commenting on the ongoing collective bargaining deadlock between the National Football League team owners and players,
in his column on the Real Clear Sports website, March 10, 2011. (Cartoon by Daryl Cagle.)


“No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the attention span of the American people.” 
       Editorial by the St. Louis Post Dispatch, July 9, 2010


“Bachmann, Sharron Angle, Sarah Palin and others have turned the GOP into an international joke and brought amazement at the support and enthusiasm they generate. Legendary journalist H.L. Mencken once said nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American consumer. The same could be said of the American voters who actually cast their ballots for these folks.”
       Doug Thompson
       Publisher and founder of the website CapitolHillBlue.com
a post on his website titled “The GOP’s invasion of the Intelligence-snatchers”


“No one ever went broke underestimating how low a politician will go to gain an advantage. Exhibit A: Vice President Joseph Biden, who likens Wikileaks honcho Julian Assange to a ‘high-tech terrorist.’”
Gabor Rona
       International Legal Director for the Human Rights First organization
a post on the group’s website regarding a comment Biden made about Assange on Meet the Press on December 19, 2010

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Further reading: by and about H.L. Mencken...

February 17, 2014

“Variety’s the spice of life.”


“Variety’s the very spice of life
That gives it all its flavour.”
William Cowper (1731-1800)
       British poet
       From his multi-volume poetic work The Task (1785), Book II, “The Timepiece”
       The saying “Variety’s the spice of life” is usually traced to this poem by Cowper, though it may already have been proverbial when he used it. Another familiar line from this poem is “God made the country, and man made the town.” Other famous lines from Cowper’s poetry include:
“God moves in a mysterious way” (Olney Hymns, 1779) and “I am monarch of all I survey” (“Verses Supposed to be Written by Alexander Selkirk”, 1782).


“Variety is not the spice of life. It is the very stuff of it.”
Christopher Burney (1917–1980)
       British author and former spy for British Special Operations during World War II 
       Burney’s conclusion in
the book Solitary Confinement (1952), an account of the 18 months he spent in a Nazi prison cell during World War II.


“If variety is the spice of life, marriage is the big can of leftover Spam.” 
Johnny Carson (1925-2005)
       American comedian and host of The Tonight Show from 1962 to 1992
       Quoted in
Ifferisms: An Anthology of Aphorisms That Begin with the Word "IF" (2009), one of the many entertaining books of quotations compiled by quote maven Dr. Mardy Grothe


“I believe a little incompatibility is the spice of life, 
  particularly if he has income and she is pattable.”
Ogden Nash (1902-1971)
       The poem
“I Do, I Will, I Have,” included in Nash’s book Versus (1949)


“The bunt is the spice of baseball, the unexpected weapon, the stiletto in the ribs.”
Phil “The Scooter” Rizzuto (1917-2007)
       Baseball player for the New York Yankees, elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994
in the Baseball Digest, July 1964

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Recommended reading: quotation books by Mardy Grothe...

February 1, 2014

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”


“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
Charles Dederich (1914-1997)
       Founder of
Synanon, the 1960s drug rehabilitation organization that morphed into a cult 
Most sources credit Charles Dederich with coining this well-known self-help mantra in the 1960s, around the time he founded Synanon. Clearly, it’s use by Dederich and Synanon as a slogan for recovering drug addicts helped popularize the saying. However, Dederich may or may not have created it. It’s one of those sayings that just seem to have been floating around in the 1960s. Many websites and books say it was coined by the legendary Hippie activist/theater group called The Diggers. It was also used by Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman in his 1968 book Revolution for the Hell of It (1968), as the title of a song in the obscure 1968 musical Love Match, and on on everything from head shop posters and greeting cards. I suspect that’s why some sources simply (and perhaps rightly) credit it to “Anonymous.” (Related post: “One day at a time”)


“If today is the first day of the rest of your life, then what was yesterday?”
       Gene Denham
       American author
       A line from his poem "Tomorrow and Yesterday," in the book A Look in the Mirror: Poems and Reflections (2010)


“Do something outrageous, bold, unlike yourself. If the bathing suit doesn’t fit, skinny-dip. The clock ticketh. To adapt an old philosophy: Today is the youngest day of the rest of your life.”
Susan Swartz
       California-based journalist, author and public radio commentator
       Advice in her book
Juicy Tomatoes: Plain Truths, Dumb Lies, and Sisterly Advice about Life After 50 (2000)


“Today today is the first day of the rest of your life...and it too will suck.” 
T-shirt slogan (on Zazzle.com)


“Remember those posters that said, ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’? Well, that’s true of every day but one — the day you die.”
Kevin Spacey, as the character Lester Burnham
       A poignant quote from the 1999 film
American Beauty, spoken as a voiceover by Lester not long before he commits suicide.


“To our newest undead recruits. Good moaning. Today is the first day of the rest of your afterlife.”
Virginia Reynolds (a.k.a. “MsCadavreExquis”)
       American author alleged to be the “love child of Marcel Duchamp and Victoria Woodhull”
       From the "Deadication" of her book
The Art of War for Zombies: Ancient Chinese Secrets of World Domination (2011)

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Related reading and viewing…

January 11, 2014

“You shall not pass!”


“You shall not pass!”
       Gandalf the wizard 
       These are Gandalf’s defiant words to a huge Balrog demon on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, in a dramatic, pivotal scene in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Fellowship of the Ring
       The Balrog is pursuing Frodo and the other members of “The Fellowship” who are trying to prevent Middle Earth from being conquered by the Dark Lord, Sauron, and his army of evil monsters. Gandalf saves Frodo and the others by standing on the stone bridge after they have crossed, blocking the Balrog. He tells the creature “You shall not pass!” Then he uses his magic staff to shatter the bridge to pieces. Gandalf and the Balrog both fall with it into the abyss below, presumably to their deaths. 
       Because Tolkien was a Word War I veteran, it is believed that Gandalf’s words may been inspired by the defiant war slogan “They shall not pass!” This slogan was originally made famous by French troops fighting the Germans at the bloody Battle of Verdun in World War I. In 1936, it was adopted by anti-fascist forces defending Madrid during the Spanish Civil War.
       “You shall not pass!” became an Internet meme after the line was used in Peter Jackson’s film The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), featuring actor Ian McKellen as Gandalf. The movie includes an epic depiction of Gandalf confronting the Balrog and saying the those words, while holding his sword and staff. There are now thousands of generally humorous uses and variations of the quote posted online. Some of my favorites are below...


“YOU SHALL NOT PASS...in New Jersey!”
       A headline in the Huffington Post’s Google+ feed, linking to a story about the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal.
       The scandal erupted in early January of 2014, after leaked emails revealed that a top aide to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered the closure of certain traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge to purposefully create horrendous traffic jams into the city of Fort Lee, because the city’s mayor had declined to endorse Christie in the recent Gubernatorial election.


“You shall not pass judgement.”
       Slogan on a photo posted on The Confessions of a Geek Queen blog, showing actor Ian McKellen at a Gay Pride parade.


“You shall not pass!
Without research help
Ask a Librarian.”
       Online poster created by the Mississippi Library Commission


“You shall not piss!”
       Sign taped onto an out-of-order urinal, in a photo posted on the Karma Decay site 


“You shall not pass…gas in an elevator and blame it on someone else.”
       A graphic posted on the Meme Generator site. (One of many using “You shall not pass gas” that you can find online.)

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Related reading…

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