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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who said that?

It wasn’t Ben Franklin
Not him
By Will Collette

Lately, we’ve received several crank e-mails warning Progressive Charlestown to stop writing about town issues, quoting the old proverb, "it's better to be thought a fool, then to open your mouth and confirm it" which was attributed to Ben Franklin by the e-mail writer.

We get e-mails like that from time to time – the author uses a quote or a statistic to try to establish that s/he is a serious person, but then the rest of the message either doesn’t make sense or is border-line obscene. Examples here and here

They remind me of pornographers after one of the early Supreme Court rulings that held that material is not obscene if it contains some content “of redeeming social value.” So porn makers would throw a couple of Shakespeare or Cicero quotes into the script to have something of “redeeming social value” to use during their obscenity trials. 

He said it
Most of the content of these recent e-mails deals with arguments and complaints we’ve already dealt with, so they go in the spam pile, but the quote attributed to Ben Franklin bothered me. Something about it didn’t seem right.

First problem, the quote is inaccurate. The actual quote is It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.

The second problem is Ben Franklin didn’t say it.
King Solomon said it first

The quote was first widely attributed to Abraham Lincoln, who paraphrased the Book of Proverbs 17:28 - “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”

Mark Twain got a lot
of credit for the quote

After Lincoln, the quote is most frequently attributed to Mark Twain. Also George Elliot. Some see the quote's origins in the words of Confucius. It’s fair to say that many wise people have said words of the same type and message, going back to King Solomon, who is believed to be the author of the Book of Proverbs.

George Eliot: she had dibs
on the quote, too.
But not Ben Franklin.

However, there is one remark that was actually made by Ben Franklin that is very fitting (we might even use this on the first of our line of Progressive Charlestown tee-shirts):

”Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.”

As with most good quotes, this one was also picked up, popularized and is now attributed to someone else. In this case, Dale Carnegie, late author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

Another great Benjamin Franklin quote that some of our readers might find inspiring:

"Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame."