One more post about Ralph Keyes, often cited as THE key resource person by writers trying to build up their courage or stamina to write. If you ever find yourself struggling to put words on paper, his fine book The Courage To Write is the guidebook to turn to.
Keyes also may be THE leading resource person for those looking for information about the hows, whys and wheres on famous quotes. Many times, in fact, he’s shown that the way we “remember” or “use” a quote isn’t always the way it first appeared.
His book on the topic – Nice Guys Finish Seventh – has often been called “the best book on the origin of quotations ever researched and compiled.” As the title implies, the old saying “Nice Guys Finish Last” never started out that way at all. As Keyes immutable "Law of the Misquotation" implies, the original quote often is quite a bit off our common usage. Nice Guys Finish Seventh is a fascinating, eye-opening book.
A couple of other examples from its pages:
“Any man who hates dogs and children can’t be all bad,” was said about W.C. Fields, not by him.
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” was actually a slogan of UCLA coach Red Sanders, not the Green Bay Packers’ Coach Vince Lombardi, who simply adapted for himself.
“The opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings,” grew from an older saying: “Church ain’t out ’til the fat lady sings.”
Keyes says he enjoys researching for books as much as writing them. "The longer I write," he said, “the simpler I'd like my writing to be: a well cleaned piece of glass through which the reader can see clearly to the content inside. The ideal would be prose so transparent that readers wouldn't even be aware of my fingers at the keyboard. The hardest work of writing, I find, is concealing how much effort it takes, and beating down the urge to show off."
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