May 1, 2015

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” (And maybe 90% mental?)


“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
       Attributed to
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)
       American inventor and businessman 
       This oft-cited line is traditionally credited to Edison and he did say some things like it. However, the familiar version of the quote is not included in his writings or in his recorded speeches or interviews. The first mention of a definition of genius by Edison is in an article about him in
the April 1898 issue of the Ladies Home Journal. A paragraph in that article says:
       “Once, when asked to give his definition of genius, Mr. Edison replied: ‘Two per cent is genius and ninety-eight per cent is hard work.’ At another time, when the argument that genius was inspiration was brought before him, he said: ‘Bah! Genius is not inspired. Inspiration is perspiration.’” 
       An article
in a 1902 issue of Scientific American claimed that Edison once remarked: “Genius is 2 percent inspiration and 98 percent perspiration,” but it gave no source for the quote. That 2%/98% definition was also mentioned in a 1908 biography of Edison and a 1911 article in Chamber’s Journal — without providing any information on when Edison supposedly said it. Then in 1932, a year after Edison died, an article Harper's Monthly Magazine noted that sometime around 1902 or 1903 Edison said: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” No source for the quote was given by Harper’s. However, this version became legendary and is cited by many books and websites (often giving Harper’s Monthly Magazine as the source).


“Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”
       Yogi Berra
       US baseball catcher, manager and coach known for his funny, linguistically unique sayings
       This is one of the famous “Yogisms” that Yogi is generally believed to have actually said, though various versions have been cited and he used somewhat different wording at various times. In The Yogi Book: I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said! (1998), he quotes himself as saying: “90% of the game is half mental.” In What Time Is It? You Mean Now? (2010) he cites it as “Ninety percent of this game is half-mental.” In a commencement speech at Montclair State University (New Jersey) in 1996, Yogi gave the line a twist, telling the graduating students: “Remember that whatever you do in life, 90 percent of it is half mental.” In Baseball's Greatest Quotations, quotation maven Paul Dickson notes that baseball outfielder Jim Wolford may have used a version of the line before Yogi made it his own. 


“Genious is one per cent inspiration and ninety nine per cent perspiration.”
       A version on the Edison saying printed on a t-shirt with the word genius misspelled, offered for sale by the upscale European fashion store chain H & M.
       (Spotted and mocked by the site in April 2015.)


“Successful Washington speechwriting is one percent literary talent and ninety-nine percent political infighting.” 
       Attributed to Will Sparks
       Former speechwriter for President Johnson
       Quoted by Bradley H. Patterson Jr. in his book The Ring of Power: the White House Staff and Its Expanding Role in Government


“Real police work is ninety-nine percent facts, one percent inspiration.”
       Glover Wright
       British author and former rock ‘n’ roll guitarist 
       Line said by a character in his novel The Torch (1980)

For more variations of Edison’s famed quote, see this previous Quote/Counterquote post.

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