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Chapter and Verse

Correspondence on not-so-famous lost words

May-June 2010

Douglas Watson requests a source for: “You tell me I am wrong. Who are you to tell me I am wrong? I am not wrong.” He was told the author was D.H. Lawrence, but has not been able to verify that. 


James Friguglietti hopes for a citation for an aphorism attributed to Oscar Wilde: “The best way to destroy a man’s reputation is to tell the truth about him.”


“Learning about normal functioning from extreme cases” (September-October 2009). James Finkelstein sent an earlier statement of the principle, from William Harvey’s Letter to John Vlackveld (April 24, 1657): “Nature is nowhere accustomed more openly to display her secret mysteries than in cases where she shows tracings of her workings apart from the beaten paths; nor is there any better way to advance the proper practice of medicine than to give our minds to the discovery of the usual law of nature, by careful investigation of cases of rarer forms of disease.”


“I am firm. You are stubborn. He is…” (March-April). Dick Dodds found this remark attributed, without citation, to British journalist Katharine Elizabeth Whitehorn on Wikipedia, and Richard Friedman found it reprinted in The Best of Sydney J. Harris (1975) as “I am a man of firm principles; you tend to be stubborn; he is pigheaded.” (Harris was a longtime columnist for the Chicago Daily News.) But Susan Zucker Leff cited S.I. Hayakawa’s Language in Thought and Action (2d ed.; 1964), which states in chapter 6 that “Bertrand Russell, on a British Broadcasting Company radio program called the ‘Brains Trust,’ gave the following ‘conjugation’ of an ‘irregular verb’: I am firm. You are obstinate. He is a pig-headed fool.” The New Statesman and Nation then ran “Week-end Competition No. 952,” seeking additional examples, and printed the best of the 2,000 results on June 5, 1948, validating recollections by Fran Donohue Hanson, Diane Zelby Witlieb, and Martin Mayer of such a contest. Witlieb forwarded one remembered example (“I have reconsidered it. You have changed your mind. He has gone back on his word.”), Mayer another (“I have about me something of the subtle, haunting, mysterious perfumes of the Orient. You rather overdo it, dear. She stinks.”).


“…unwise to publish one’s theory until late in life” (March-April). Herb Klein was the first of several readers who identified this passage from the introduction of Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert’s 2006 bestseller, Stumbling on Happiness.