This one's one of the many that never passed the sniff test for me,
because... well... it just doesn't sound like Twain. But thinking through
WHY it doesn't "sound like him" -- a pretty weak argument -- I realized
there are both syntactic and semantic "smoking guns."
This syntax was not often used by Twain. In fact, from a usage perspective,
it's a very contemporary construction (The [solution] is to [do something]).
In a quick and admittedly cursory scan of Twain texts, I found it very
rarely, and never with such raw simplicity. More significantly, Twain rarely
based his humor or his carefully written (and rewritten and rewritten)
"words of wisdom" on such trite orthographic word play. I won't say he never
did, but I couldn't find any examples I could point to as being even
There are several troubling semantic issues as well. First, the notion that
there is a "secret of success" is quite modern. In Twain's day, at least for
the "working class," conventional wisdom attributed success to hard work,
not some secret that one need only discover. Second, Twain often poked fun
at this and any notion that success could be achieved through any noble
effort. One of his favorite ways to make us laugh was to associate success
with sheer incompetence:
"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is
sure." -- Notebook, 1887
Twain did say something very similar in meaning to one of the primary
semantic components of the quote:
"What work I have done I have done because it has been play. If it had been
work I shouldn't have done it." -- "A Humorist's Confession," The New York
But the brightest red flag, I think, is raised by the quote's association of
enjoyable work with success. Twain never says or even implies -- here or
anywhere else -- that finding work that is like play will lead to success.
On the strength of everything we know he DID say or write about success, it
seems very unlikely that he would ever have made such an association.
By the way, as an aside, I did find a similar quote attributed to Eleanor
Roosevelt: "It is not more vacation we need - it is more vocation." While I
couldn't find any reliable source for that quote either, the attribution at
least makes sense within a historical context.
(All Twain quotes from TwainQuotes.com. Thank you, Barbara Schmidt!)
From: Mark Twain Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Terry Ballard
Sent: Thursday, February 23, 2012 10:34 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: GEICO quotes Twain
I checked a little deeper and found that in Google Books this did not show
up until 1986 when it appeared in a book by self-help guru Tony Robbins.
After that, every repeat is after 1992, the Internet Age when quote
attributions pretty much turned to mush. I agree with Gretchen that Robbins
likely took this idea from Tom Sawyer and rewrote it completely. Further
evidence is that it's missing from twainquotes.com, which seems to have a
100% track record for separating the wheat from the chaff.
On Thu, Feb 23, 2012 at 8:38 AM, Gretchen Martin <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> That resembles Twain's distinction between work and play in Tom
> Sawyer, Ch.=
> 2: "If he [Tom] had been a great and wise philosopher, like the
> writer of = this book, he would now have comprehended that Work
> consists of whatever a = body is obliged to do, and that Play consists
> of whatever a body is not obl= iged to do" (33). =20
Assistant Director of Technical Services for Library Systems The New York
185 West Broadway, New York, NY, 10013
Author of the forthcoming book "Google this"
"My memory has a mind of its own."