Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Just Ain't So

A Google search for a quote my pastor used in his sermon this morning led to a book by Ralph Keyes, The Quote Verifier.

Citing Mark Twain, the Pastor made the point, we don’t know too little but know things that “just ain’t so.” We need reliable information, he said.

I wanted to get the quote right, but also the point taken, how easy it is to believe a lie.

Discriminating between facts and opinions when so much bad information comes at us­— more in a day than people a century ago confronted in their lifetime—gets harder by the hour depending on who you listen to, talk to or read.

Here’s the quote and what Ralph Keyes said in the book excerpt: 

“It AIN’T so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.”

In various forms this popular observation gets attributed most often to Mark Twain, as well as to his fellow humorists Artemus Ward, Kin Hubbard, and Will Rogers. Others to whom it’s been credited include inventor Charles Kettering, pianist Eubie Blake, and—by Al Gore—baseball player Yogi Berra.

Twain did once observe, “It isn’t so astonishing the things that I can remember, as the number of things I can remember that aren’t so,” but biographer Albert Bigelow Paine said he was paraphrasing a remark by humorist Josh Billings. (In Following the Equator Twain also wrote, “Yet it was the schoolboy who said, ‘Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.’”) Billings, whose real name was Henry Wheeler Shaw, repeated this theme often in different forms.

On one occasion Billings wrote, “I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.” A handbill for one of his lectures included the line “It iz better to kno less than to kno so much that ain’t so.” Across this handbill Billings wrote longhand, “You’d better not kno so much than know so many things that ain’t so.” Apparently the humorist considered this his signature “affurism.”

Verdict: Credit Josh Billings.

Keyes also wrote The Courage to Write, a book I read for the message captured in the subtitle, “How Writers Transcend Fear.” Yes, writers must tackle fighting within and fears without, including the fear of making mistakes.


No comments: