Quote of the moment: Trouble? It comes from “what we know that ain’t so.”


Kin Hubbard and Will Rogers, image from Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana

Kin Hubbard and Will Rogers, image from Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana

It was a warning from a prophet of the past, and it applies to almost every controversy you can think of in 2011:

It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.

The only problem is, to whom do we attribute it?  Was it Will Rogers who said, or Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard, or Artemus Ward?

Virtue may be its own reward, but ignorance costs everybody, especially when it is elected or promoted to power.

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9 Responses to Quote of the moment: Trouble? It comes from “what we know that ain’t so.”

  1. [...] it’s not the things we don’t know that gets us into trouble, but the things we know, tha… It’s not the target practice of the safe and sane occasional hunter that gets gun ownership [...]

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  2. [...] Isn’t that eerily similar to Kin Hubbard’s observation?  From Boorstin, the former Librarian of Congress, it carries the heft of more academic language than Hubbard’s version, but it clearly echoes the idea, doesn’t it? [...]

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  3. [...] of the hottest issues facing the committee he chairs, and what little he knows, is wrong.  Cue the Kin Hubbard/Mick Jagger [...]

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  4. Ed Darrell says:

    Josh Billings! I had forgotten that attribution It’s a good thought, regardless who came up with it first — but wouldn’t it be nice to put it to bed?

    Thanks for your searching — it’s good to know what isn’t the origin, as we continue to search for the origins.

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  5. sbh says:

    It would have been nice if your link–the Artemus Ward one–had specified where Artemus Ward is supposed to have said it. I can’t find it in his online works, even when I re-spell “trouble” as “trubble”. It does turn up on p. 23 of his complete works in the form “you’d better not know so much, than know so many things that ain’t so”–but that’s from an introductory essay by Melville De Lancey Landon, and he attributes it to Josh Billings.

    Artemus Ward of course wrote voluminously in newspapers and periodicals, and I personally doubt that all of it has ever been collected in book form. (We’re still identifying such fugitive Mark Twain items, after all–and he’s a much better-known author.) It could be from one of those, or from a book that hasn’t been digitized yet, or I could have missed it.

    Google Books doesn’t have any citation for the “gives us trouble” form until the mid-twentieth century. I suspect that it’s a variant of the Josh Billings version–unless, of course, an earlier Artemus Ward version does exist (as claimed) that is closer to the current wording.

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  6. sbh says:

    The Josh Billings version is: “I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.” It’s one of his “Sollum Thoughts.”

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  7. anthrosciguy says:

    Tried to track… it only made me tired :)

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  8. anthrosciguy says:

    I tired to track that one down about 20 years ago, leafing through the UC Berkeley libraries. I also saw “Josh Billings” (pen name of Henry Wheeler Shaw) often mentioned as the source. But nothing that really suggested anything definite.

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