Who said?

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

I always associated that line with someone in the entertainment business—P.T. Barnum or one of the old Hollywood studio heads. But before I threw it into my recent post about the questions Brian Grazer asks, I thought I’d better Google it. And the answer just knocked me off my feet.

The original source seems to be John Lydgate, a 15th century English monk whose day job involved writing poetry for Kings Henry IV through VI. Working at court, he undoubtedly led a cushier life than he would have in his Benedictine monastery. But it’s a tough gig when you think about it: What rhymes with “Henry”?

So Brother Lydgate coined the phrase but it have resonated most for Americans when someone who knew a thing or two about displeasing people put his own spin on it. No, not P.T. Barnum (well, maybe) or Mark Twain (also maybe, per the internet):

Abraham Lincoln:

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Sadly, he did not say this in a State of the Union address—or anything else we could consider a primary source. According to the interwebs, it appeared in a book called Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories: A Complete Collection of the Funny and Witty Anecdotes That Made Abraham Lincoln Famous as America’s Greatest Story Teller, written by his biographer, Alexander McClure.

I don’t usually trust those quotation compilations—especially if they’re intended to burnish a legend. But I would definitely use the Lincoln quotation for one of my clients, with the proper caveats.

 

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