October 04, 2015

“The physician can bury his mistakes…”

Many books of quotations include a famous humorous quote by the eminent American architect Frank Lloyd Wright:

      “The physician can bury his mistakes, but the 
         architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”

This quote is usually given without any context, except to say that it comes from an article in the October 4, 1953 issue of The New York Times Magazine. (It’s sometimes simply cited as being from The New York Times, but was technically in the paper’s “magazine” section.)

I had once assumed that the quote was from an interview. However, when I looked it up in the online New York Times archive, I discovered that the article was written by Wright himself and that origin of the famous quote actually dates back to 1931.

When the NYT article was published in 1953, Wright was 86 years old. He was renowned as one of the greatest architects in the world. And, he was working on two of his final major projects: the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma (his only skyscraper) and his amazing, spiral-shaped masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

Wright’s NYT article was essentially his own overview of his career, starting in 1893 when he left the firm of his mentor Louis Henry Sullivan and began designing his famed “Prairie Houses.”

He opened the article with this anecdote:

       Of course, I will never forget the sensations when the Winslow House was built in 1893 in Oak Park [Illinois], the year I left Adler & Sullivan and started my own practice. All Oak Park and River Forest began prowling around the place: I remember climbing up into an upper part of the building during construction to listen to comments. I pulled the ladder up and waited. In came a young fellow with a couple of young women and the fellow said, “Have you seen the man who built this? God, he looks as if he had a pain.” Another one said, “They say this cost $30,000, but I can’t see it.” So I learned my lesson: I never listened like that again.

Wright went on to mention many of his most famous buildings and innovations in the article, including his new projects, the Price Tower and the Guggenheim.

He ended the article by noting some advice he’d given to young architects in a 1931 lecture in Chicago.

In the NYT piece, Wright briefly summarized that advice and gave the following version of his view on the difference between doctors and architects:

“The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines — so they should go as far as possible from home to build their first buildings.”

The first part of that quote is what shows up in most books of quotations.

The second part that advises architects to build their first buildings far from home may reflect Wright’s unpleasant eavesdropping experience at the Winslow House back in 1893.

In Wright’s 1931 lecture (published later that year in his book Two Lectures on Architecture), the two parts of the famed “plant vines” quotation are reversed. They appear as the 11th of 14 key recommendations Wright gave to young architects. Here are all 14…

     1. Forget the Architectures of the world except as something good in their way and time.
     2. Do none of you go into Architecture to get a living unless you love architecture as a principle at work, for its own sake — prepared to be as true to it as to your mother, your comrade, or yourself.
     3. Beware of the Architectural school except as the exponent of engineering.
     4. Go into the field where you can see the machines and methods at work that make the modern buildings, or stay in construction direct and simple until you can work naturally into building-design from the nature of construction.
     5. Immediately begin to form the habit of thinking “why” concerning any effects that please or displease you.
     6. Take nothing for granted as beautiful or ugly, but take every building to pieces, and challenge every feature.  Learn to distinguish the curious from the beautiful.
     7. Get the habit of analysis—analysis will in time enable synthesis to become your habit of mind.
     8. “Think in Simples” as my old master used to say—meaning to reduce the whole to its parts in simplest terms, getting back to first principles.  Do this in order to proceed from generals to particulars and never confuse or confound them or yourself be confounded by them.
     9. Abandon as poison the American idea of the “quick turnover.” To get into practice “half-baked” is to sell out your birthright as an Architect for a mess of pottage, or to die pretending to be an Architect.
     10. Take time to prepare. Ten years’ preparation for preliminaries to Architectural practice is little enough for any Architect who would rise “above the belt” in true Architectural appreciation or practice.
     11. Then go as far away as possible from home to build your first buildings. The physician can bury his mistakes—but the Architect can only advise his client to plant vines.
     12. Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken-house as to build a cathedral. The size of the project means little in Art, beyond the money-matter. It is the quality of character that really counts. Character may be large in the little or little in the large.
     13. Enter no Architectural competition under any circumstances except as a novice.  No competition ever gave to the world anything worth having in Architecture. The jury itself is a picked average. The first thing done by the jury is to go through all the designs and throw out the best and the worst ones so as an average, it can average upon an average. The net result of any competition is an average by the average of averages.
     14. Beware of the shopper for plans. The man who will not grubstake you in prospecting for ideas in his behalf will prove a faithless client.

I think some of Wright’s advice has application far beyond the realm of architecture. My favorite is the last part of #12: “It is the quality of character that really counts. Character may be large in the little or little in the large.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, who died in 1959 (the year the Guggenheim Museum was completed), clearly brought a huge amount of character to everything he did.

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October 03, 2015

“The forgotten middle class…”

On October 3, 1991, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, held a press conference in Little Rock to announce that he was officially running as a candidate to be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. 

It became become closely associated with him after he won the Democratic nomination and used it in subsequent stump speeches during the 1992 presidential election.

In his speech on October 3, 1991, Clinton spoke of “the forgotten middle class” three times.

At the beginning, after thanking his wife Hillary, his daughter Chelsea and his friends and supporters, he said:

“All of you, in different ways, have brought me here today, to step beyond a life and a job I love, to make a commitment to a larger cause: preserving the American Dream; restoring the hopes of the forgotten middle class; reclaiming the future for our children.”

In the middle of the speech, Clinton said:

“Together I believe we can provide leadership that will restore the American dream — that will fight for the forgotten middle class.”

Finally, he closed by saying:

“This is not just a campaign for the Presidency – it is a campaign for the future, for the forgotten hard-working middle class families of America who deserve a government that fights for them.”

After that, Clinton used and reused the term “the forgotten middle class” many times in his stump speeches on the way to winning the Democratic nomination and then the presidential election of November 1992.

So, it’s no wonder that his use of the phrase is the most famous.

But he didn’t coin it.

Republican politician Alfonse D’Amato used the slogan, “A Fighter for the Forgotten Middle Class” in his successful 1980 campaign to win a New York Senate seat.

Before that, in 1977, “the forgotten middle class” was used in newspaper interviews by Pat Caddell, the pollster and political strategist for then Democratic Presidential Candidate Jimmy Carter.

Before that, it was used by a number of other politicians and candidates in the 1960s.

And, of course, “the forgotten middle class” was inspired by a similar rhetorical phrase made famous in the early 1930s by Franklin D. Roosevelt: “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”

But we’re not quite at the bottom of the quote pyramid yet.

Roosevelt’s famed phrase was inspired by the “the forgotten man,” a term coined by Yale social scientist William Graham Sumner.

He used it as the title of a scholarly essay that was published in his 1883 book What Social Classes Owe to Each Other.

Sumner may have been inspired by some earlier phrase but, if so, it has apparently been forgotten.

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September 29, 2015

“Not fade away…”

[An updated version of a previous post. Thanks to the readers who emailed corrections to me.]

On October 27, 1957, American Rockabilly and rock music pioneer Buddy Holly and his band the Crickets released their second 45 rpm single, as a follow-up to their first smash hit “Peggy Sue.” This new single featured “Oh Boy” on one side and “Not Fade Away” on the other.

“Not Fade Away” was actually the “B” side of the record. But it eventually became more widely known.

It’s a classic rock ode with a Bo Diddley beat about a guy whose love for a girl is “bigger than a Cadillac” – a love, the guy claims, that’s real and “not fade away.”

Holly was killed in a tragic plane crash a little over a year after “Not Fade Away” was released. (The date of his death, February 3, 1959, was memorably called “the day the music died” by Don McLean in his 1971 hit song “American Pie.”)

Although Holly’s song popularized “not fade away” as a hip phrase, it had been used in literature as far back as the early 1800s.

And, it’s likely a vernacular echo of an earlier phrase found in the King James Version of the Bible: “fadeth not away.”

In I Peter 5, Saint Peter, the apostle of Jesus who is considered to be the first Pope of the Catholic Church, gives some advice to leaders of the growing number of Christian congregations.

Among other things, he tells them they need to take care of their flocks and set good examples for them.

If they do, he explains, they will be rewarded with a crown of glory that won’t fade away when Jesus returns in the Second Coming to take true believers to heaven.

In verse I Peter 5:2-4 of the King James Version of the Bible, Peter’s words are given like this:

     “…Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”

Of course, no one says “fadeth not away” nowadays unless they are quoting the Bible.

But the phrase “not fade away” is heard fairly often.

My favorite recent example was its use as the title of an episode of the AMC Network TV show “Fear the Walking Dead.”

And, in the decades since Buddy Holly’s death, the song “Not Fade Away” has certainly not, well, faded away.

It has been covered by many other great musicians and bands, including Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, The Byrds, Tom Petty, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow and the Grateful Dead.

For more background on the song, see the in-depth post about it on the American Songwriter website.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Back in 2009, on the day when I was writing the first draft of this post, I heard that William Safire had died. Safire's “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine and his many excellent books about the origins of famous quotations and phrases that grew out of it were among the inspirations that led me to create this blog. He was one of the great quote mavens of our time. May his legacy not fade away.

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September 28, 2015

“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

One of the most famous quotes in sports history is linked to the date September 28, 1920.

On that day, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson supposedly admitted during testimony to a grand jury that he was one of eight Chicago White Sox baseball players who took bribes to let the Cincinnati Reds win the 1919 World Series.

It came to be known as the Black Sox scandaland it was devastating for baseball fans.

A crowd of fans were gathered outside the Cook County Courthouse where Jackson was testifying.

Word spread among them that their hero had admitted he’d helped throw the series to the Reds.

According to legend, as Jackson left the courthouse, a heartbroken young boy went up to him and begged: “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

It’s legend rather than fact because there are holes in various aspects of the story.

For one thing, there’s no court record of Jackson admitting he was involved in fixing the game – and, publicly, he always denied it.

In fact, in 1921, he was found innocent by a Chicago jury.

In addition, quotation experts have determined that the legendary quote is a misquote of a quote that was probably fabricated by a reporter in the first place.

One of the best overviews of the facts is in Ralph Keyes’ must-have quote debunking book, Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations.

As noted by Keyes, an Associated Press sportswriter named Hugh Fullerton was at the courthouse when Shoeless Joe left it that day.

In the original version of the story he filed, Fullerton wrote that a young kid approached Jackson as he emerged and said: “It ain’t so, Joe, is it?”

Fullerton wrote that Jackson replied “Yes, kid, I’m afraid it is.”

Somehow, by 1940, “It ain’t so, Joe, is it?” morphed into “Say it ain’t so, Joe” in rewritten accounts of the incident.

Then it became legend.

However, no other eyewitness accounts corroborate either version of the quote.

And, Jackson himself denied any such thing was said to him by a kid or anyone else that day.

So, basically, the quote and story were apparently made up by a reporter – and then distorted further in later press accounts.

Somehow, I am not surprised.

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September 24, 2015

Sherlock Holmes quotes that Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock did and didn’t say…

Naturally, some of the best known Sherlock Holmes quotations and catchphrases come from the classic detective stories written by Sherlock’s creator, British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).

For example, there’s the famed sleuthing maxim that’s included in thousands of quotation books and websites: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

The first version of that legendary piece of Holmesian wisdom is spoken by Sherlock in Doyle’s story “The Sign of Four” (1890).

Doyle also used variations of it in two other stories: “The Beryl Coronet” (1892) and “The Blanched Soldier” (1926).

Several famous Sherlock catchphrases also come from Doyle’s Sherlock tales, most notably:

     - “a three-pipe problem” from "The Red-Headed League" (1891);

     - “The game is afoot” from “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange” (1904); and

     - “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” (curious because the dog did nothing) in “Silver Blaze” (1893).

However, two of the most widely-quoted Sherlock Holmes quotations don’t actually come from the stories penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

For example, you might be surprised to find out that Doyle’s Sherlock never said “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

In Doyle’s story “The Crooked Man” (1893), Sherlock does say the word “Elementary” to his friend Doctor Watson, after Watson expresses surprise that Holmes had correctly guessed the doctor had had a busy day. But Holmes does NOT say “Elementary, my dear Watson” in that story or in any other Sherlock Holmes story written by Doyle.

That quote actually comes from Sherlock Holmes movies. It was first used in the film The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929), which starred Clive Brook as Sherlock and was released in the USA on October 26, 1929.

It was then reused in later Sherlock Holmes films, including: Sherlock Holmes' Fatal Hour (1931), The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case (1932), Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), Pursuit to Algiers (1945), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959).

Another line often cited as a Sherlock Holmes quote which does not appear in Doyle’s stories is “Quick, Watson, the needle.” 

That comes from a comedic operetta titled The Red Mill (1906), which premiered on Broadway on September 24, 1906.

And, that old operetta is not even a Sherlock Holmes story. The “needle” line is a quip by a con man who is impersonating Sherlock as part of a scam.

The Sherlock Holmes film Hound of the Baskervilles, released on March 31, 1939, further confused the facts about whether it was “real” Sherlock quotation.

In that film – one of the best of a series Holmes films that starred Basil Rathbone as the great sleuth – Basil as Holmes says: “Oh, Watson, the needle.”

There’s no such quote about a needle in Doyle’s stories, though Doyle did tell us that Sherlock was a user of both cocaine and morphine.

In “A Study in Scarlet” (1887), Watson comments that he often found Sherlock in a dreamlike state and “suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic.”

Three years later, in Doyle’s “The Sign of Four,” fans of Sherlock first read about the “seven-percent-solution.”

As that story begins, Watson sees Sherlock injecting himself with a needle and notices ugly track marks on his arm.

“Which is it today,” Watson asks, “morphine or cocaine?”

“It is cocaine,” Sherlock replied, “a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?”

Since then, the drug habit of the world’s greatest detective has sparked continuing controversy, articles, books and a great movie, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976).

Sherlock’s use of cocaine and versions of various Sherlock quotes continue to show up in recent Sherlock Holmes movies, TV series and books. Indeed, the great detective seems to be more popular than ever. And, if you’re a fan (like me), it’s no mystery why.

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