September 24, 2023

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 cited by thousands of quotation books and websites: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Versions of that Holmesian principle are used in several Sherlock Holmes stories. The first is spoken by Sherlock in Chapter 6 of Doyle’s story “The Sign of Four” (1890).

The full sentence in which he used it, in a conversation with his mystery-solving partner Dr. John H. Watson, is: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

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

In “The Beryl Coronet” Holmes says to a banker named Mr. Alexander Holder: “It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Early in the story “The Blanched Soldier,” Holmes explains to some concerned clients that his investigation process “…starts upon the supposition that when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Another famous Sherlockian catchphrase is “a three-pipe problem.” It comes from the story “The Red-Headed League” (1891). In that, when Dr. Watson asks Holmes what he will do to begin to solve a new case they’d been presented with, Holmes says he will start by smoking his pipe. He explains: “It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.”

One of the best-known phrases that comes from Doyle’s stories about the adventure of Sherlock Holmes is “the game is afoot.” It’s so well known you’d think it was some repeated line of Sherlock’s. But in the Doyle stories it is used in only one, “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange” (1904).

In that story, Holmes rousts Dr. Watson out of bed and says: “Come, Watson, come!…The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”

The famous quotations from Doyle stories noted above have all been used in later radio, movie and TV adaptations.

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

For example, Doyle’s Sherlock never said “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

In the story “The Crooked Man” (1893), Doyle’s 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.

As noted in a definitive post by Garson O’Toole on his Quote Investigator site, the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” was floating around in the early 1900s, but Sherlock Holmes movies probably deserve the credit for making it a widely known catchphrase.

The first movie to use it was The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929). It starred Clive Brook as Sherlock and was released in the USA on October 26, 1929.

The line was then reused in several other 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 originated in a comedic operetta titled The Red Mill (1906), which premiered on Broadway on September 24, 1906.

Ironically, the operetta is not 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 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 Doyle’s story “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, Nicholas Meyer’s film The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), adapted from his novel of the same name.

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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September 08, 2023

“Whatever is worth doing…


“Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.”
       Lord Chesterfield (Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield; 1694-1773)
       British statesman and diplomat
       One of the many bits of fatherly advice Chesterfield imparted in letters to his illegitimate son, Philip Stanhope. This one is from a letter dated March 10, 1746.
        Chesterfield’s use is generally thought to have led to the modern proverbial version: “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”


“If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing slowly — very slowly.”
        Gypsy Rose Lee (Rose Louise Hovick; 1911-1970)
        American Burlesque queen and author
        This quip has been widely attributed to Lee in the decades since her death and appears to have been a favorite witticism of hers. However, there doesn’t seem to be any record of her saying it or using it in any of her books while she was alive.


“If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly.”
       G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) 
       English writer, philosopher and critic
       A line from his book What’s Wrong with the World (1913). In context, it was his way of praising hobbies and other activities done by amateurs for pleasure, even if they have no special talent for them.


“My philosophy is that anything worth doing is too hard.”
        The character Wally, in the December 27, 2004 edition of Scott Adams’ comic strip Dilbert.


“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”
        This saying is widely attributed to Mick Jagger, but without any specific citation of when he may have said it. The Yale Dictionary of Modern Proverbs says it dates back to at least 1962, when it was used in the headline of an ad for Jantzen Sportswear.


“Anything worth doing is going to suck at the beginning. Anything worth doing is meant to require pain and sacrifice. Herein lies the problem facing America, which originally was built on the moral of impulse control. What once used to be a country filled with people sacrificing momentary pleasure for a better future, the overpowering message of today is live for the moment.”
        Benjamin P. Hardy
        American columnist and author
        In one of his posts on the site (Jan. 22, 2019)



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August 23, 2023

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

In 1897, two of the most famous residents of Hartford, Connecticut were Mark Twain and his friend and fellow writer Charles Dudley Warner, who was then editor of the local newspaper, the Hartford Courant.

They had been close friends for decades.

Back in 1873, they had even written a satirical novel together, titled The Gilded Age. (It was the only novel Twain ever wrote with a collaborator and its title coined the term that came to be used for the greed-fueled, corruption-tinged post-Civil War era it lampooned.)

Twain and Warner are also both connected to a famous joke about the weather that’s commonly given as:

       “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

This line is most widely credited as a quote by Twain. But it doesn’t appear in anything he wrote or in any of his recorded speeches.

It is also widely credited to Warner and there is a published source for that attribution. But that source — an editorial published in the Hartford Courant on August 24, 1897 — doesn’t exactly clarify the facts.

For one thing, the editorial was unsigned.

Warner was writing editorials for the Courant at the time, so he probably did write it.

However, even assuming he did, there are two other quotation accuracy problems: the editorial itself credits the saying to someone else and gives it in a form that’s slightly different than the familiar traditional “quote.”

What the editorial actually says is:  

“A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it.”

It’s likely that the popular version of the “quote” was derived from or popularized by the version in this editorial.

It also seems likely that the “well known American writer” referred to was Warner’s friend Mark Twain.

However, when asked, Twain denied it and credited Warner with writing the quip.

A few years ago, on his Quote Investigator site, Garson O’Toole documented two sources published prior to 1897 that attributed versions of the quote to Warner, thus adding to the evidence that he — rather than Twain — coined, or at least popularized, the saying.

Interestingly, one of those sources claims Warner made the remark with reference to the weather of New England.

That makes me wonder if Charles Dudley Warner may also have inspired another famous saying that’s often mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain:

       “If you don’t like the weather in New  England, just wait a few minutes.”

Many websites and books, including some otherwise authoritative ones, like The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations, claim that Twain said this in a speech to the New England Society in New York City, on December 22, 1876.

In fact, he didn’t.

If you actually read the speech you find that, while Twain did make several remarks about the unpredictability of New England weather, he did not say the “If you don’t like the weather in New  England…” line. (Or anything close to it.)

My conclusion is that, while thousands of books and websites talk about the famous weather quotations attributed to Mark Twain, nobody has done anything about them that definitively clears up their true origins.

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August 20, 2023

“Love me, love my dog.”

In the Catholic religion, August 20 is the Feast Day of
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a medieval French monk who died on that date in 1153 A.D.

I’m not a Catholic. But as a dog lover and a quote lover, I’m a big fan of St. Bernard, because he’s the guy who immortalized a saying that’s now best known in the modernized form “Love me, love my dog.”

The older versions of this saying, cited by many books and websites, are “Who loves me, loves my dog” and “He who loves me, also loves my dog.”

Those are the more traditional and more grammatically correct translations of something Bernard said in a sermon he once gave on another Catholic feast day — the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, celebrated annually on September 29.

St. Bernard’s famous dog quote from that sermon was originally recorded in Latin as “Qui me amat, amat et canem meum.” (Back then, it was common for monks to use Latin for their written records and to deliver sermons in Latin to other monks.) 

The full sentence this quote comes from is “Dicitur certe vulgari proverbio: Qui me amat, amat et canem meum” which translates as “It is said truly in a common proverb: who loves me, also loves my dog.”

This makes it clear that Bernard was quoting an existing proverb. He didn’t actually coin it himself. But his use became famous and helped popularize the saying.

Contrary to what some people assume, St. Bernard of Clairvaux is not the Catholic saint associated with Saint Bernard dogs.

They were named after Saint Bernard of Menthon (a.k.a. Bernard of Montjoux), a different Catholic monk who died in 1008 A.D.

That St. Bernard established a monastery and hospice high up in the Alps. Over the centuries, the monks who lived there became famous for their efforts to rescue lost and injured travelers and for the large herding dogs they bred and trained to assist in their search and rescue missions. Since the 1700s, those dogs have been called Saint Bernards.

It’s not clear whether St. Bernard of Menthon or St. Bernard of Clairvaux were especially fond of dogs themselves.

St. Bernard of Menthon is the patron saint of skiing, not dogs or dog lovers. And, the breed of dogs named in his honor was developed by his followers after his death.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux is the patron saint of bees, beekeepers and candle-makers, apparently because Pope Pius VIII nicknamed him the “Honey-Sweet Doctor” for his honey-sweet style of preaching and writing.

And, for the record, the topic of the sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux that includes the words now paraphrased as “Love me, love my dog” wasn’t actually about canines. It was about angels and their love for humanity.

Bernard’s brief reference to dogs in the sermon was part of a metaphorical point he was making.

If you read (or use an online translator to decipher) the Latin transcription of his sermon, you find that he was comparing the relationship between dogs and people to the relationship between humans and Jesus.

“The holy us, in fact, because Jesus Christ loved us,” Bernard said in Paragraph 3 of the sermon. “It is said truly in a common proverb: who loves me, also loves my dog...We are the little dogs of the Lord...yes, like small dogs that want to feed on the crumbs that fall from the table of our masters.”

In case you’re wondering, there is a Catholic patron saint of dogs. His name is Saint Roch and his feast day is August 16.

According to legend, in the 13th century, Roch became gravely ill after ministering to plague victims and went off into the woods to die.

His life was saved by a dog from a nearby home. The dog accidentally found Roch, then brought him food to eat every day and licked his sores until he recovered.

I particularly like that legend because it fits my view that the creatures appropriately called “man’s best friend” are among the true saints of this world.

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August 16, 2023

“Facts are stubborn things…”

In the years leading up to the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775, the rebel-rousing
Sons of Liberty used an engraving of what they called “The Boston Massacre” to encourage anti-British sentiments.

The engraving, done by Paul Revere, shows a line of British soldiers coldly firing their bayoneted muskets into a crowd of Americans, several of which lay bleeding on the ground.

A poem underneath that scene describes how the King’s men “With murderous Rancour stretch their bloody hands, Like fierce Barbarians grinning o'er their Prey.”

It was good propaganda. But it did distort what happened at the “Boston Massacre” on the night of March 5, 1770.

That night, a local resident got into an argument over a debt with a British soldier. Eight other British soldiers came out on the street to help their comrade. A group of Americans surrounded the soldiers. The Brits were soon being yelled at and pelted with snowballs, ice chunks and debris by the much larger, hostile crowd.

The bloodletting appears to have started when a mulatto seaman named Crispus Attucks hit one of the soldiers with a piece of wood. The soldiers panicked. Somebody yelled “Fire!” and they shot into the crowd, killing Attucks and four other Americans.

When the British soldiers were arrested and put on trial for murder, a Boston merchant asked local lawyer (and future president) John Adams to defend them. He agreed, knowing it would make him unpopular and could ruin his career.

Adams believed the soldiers deserved legal representation as a matter of principle. After looking into the incident, he also believed they were provoked and should not be executed for murder, as many Bostonians wanted.
On December 4, 1770, the second day of the brief trial, Adams gave his summation to the jury.

He argued that anyone might have reacted the same way the soldiers did in such a confusing and potentially life-threatening situation. He suggested Crispus Attucks was more to blame for “the dreadful carnage of that night” than the soldiers, because of his “mad behavior.”
Facts are stubborn things,” Adams said, uttering what became a famous quotation. “And whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence: nor is the law less stable than the fact; if an assault was made to endanger their lives, the law is clear, they had a right to kill in their own defence; if it was not so severe as to endanger their lives, yet if they were assaulted at all, struck and abused by blows of any sort, by snow-balls, oyster-shells, cinders, clubs, or sticks of any kind; this was a provocation, for which the law reduces the offence of killing, down to manslaughter.”
The jury was persuaded. Six of the soldiers were acquitted. Two were found guilty of manslaughter and punished by having their thumbs branded.

Several years later, John Adams wrote in his diary that his defense of those British soldiers was “one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.”

“Facts are stubborn things” became one of Adams' best known and oft-cited quotes. However, contrary to what I once thought, he didn't coin that line.

As noted by quote mavens Garson O'Toole on his Quote Investigator site and Dr. Mardy Grothe in his Dictionary of Metaphorical Quotations, it was already a saying in England and America and dates back to at least the early 1700s.

Two centuries later, President Ronald Reagan uttered the most famous modern use and perceived “misuse” of that quote.
It came in his speech at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 15, 1988.

Reagan was there to speak in support of the current Republican presidential candidate, his Vice President George H.W. Bush, who was running against Democrat Michael Dukakis.

In the speech, Reagan recounted what he viewed as the successes of his administration and the reasons why he felt voters should elect another Republican as president.

Reagan repeated John Adam’s facts quote several times in the address. It was a rhetorical device he used in the part that focused on the economic problems he blamed on his Democratic predecessor, President Jimmy Carter.
“Before we came to Washington,” Reagan said, “Americans had just suffered the two worst back-to-back years of inflation in 60 years. Those are the facts, and as John Adams said, ‘Facts are stubborn things.’ Interest rates had jumped to over 21 percent…Facts are stubborn things…The median family income fell 51/2 percent. Facts are stubborn things.
Then he made what became one of his most-cited gaffes, saying:
“Fuel costs jumped through the atmosphere, more than doubling. Then people waited in gas lines as well as unemployment lines. Facts are stupid things.”
Reagan immediately corrected himself, adding: “Stubborn things, I should say.” But once the word stupid came out of his mouth, that’s the version that was picked up and cited by his critics.

Today, thousands of websites quote Reagan as saying “Facts are stupid things” as if it were somehow a significant quote — without noting that it came from a speech in which he said “stubborn things” several other times and quickly corrected his brief slip of the tongue.

Of course, thousands of others note that Reagan said “Facts are stubborn things” — without mentioning that he was quoting John Adams, thus creating the impression that Reagan coined the line.

When it comes to quotations on the Internet—and to politics—facts are often slippery things.

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