A version of this post appeared here in June, 2009:
I wanted to use the quote, “No good deed goes unpunished,” in a story, and it occurred to me that although I use the phrase from time to time, I had no idea of its origin. I pulled my copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations from my bookcase and found the phrase first in the index under “unpunished.”
When I followed the page reference back to the quotations, I was disappointed. The source is anonymous. That piqued my interest, however, and I found almost twenty pages of song verses, sayings, proverbs, and rhymes for which the authors are not known.
These seem especially relevant for the times:
“Keeping up with the Joneses.”
“A fool and his money are soon parted.”
“Use it up, wear it out;
Make it do, or do without.”
…..New England maxim
“You can’t use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!
…..Remark — Made by an unidentified cabinet member (possibly Secretary of the Interior Jacob Dolson Cox (1828-1900), quoted by Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, ch. 17.
“It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell.”
…..The Chicago Times (1861)
If you have a copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations in your own reference library, you can find a lot of good article and essay material. For instance, did you know that Henry David Thoreau is credited with this:
“Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.”
…..Journal , September 7, 1851
But in similar words, so is the Bible (Proverbs), Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Wellington, and then, finally, Franklin Roosevelt.
You can brainstorm new articles or stories from any of these quotations. For instance, articles on personal finance and why people should pay attention to those old sayings. Perhaps an essay on fear, or simple truths that survive centuries of change. Or a political blog about congressmen who need to be smacked on the snout. That one should be pretty easy, no matter where your political sympathies lie.
Have you ever used a famous quotation as the basis for a blog post, short story, or magazine article? Tell us about it.