It Takes a Village

I’m back to inviting readers to submit quotations whose origins they want me to try to trace, using my book, The Yale Book of Quotations, and my more recent researches.

noor asked:

“It takes a whole community to raise a child”

The Yale Book of Quotations traces the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” back to 1989. Subsequent to the publication of the YBQ, I found that Toni Morrison was quoted in Essence, July 1981: “I don’t think one parent can raise a child. I don’t think two parents can raise a child. You really need the whole village.” The forthcoming Yale Book of Modern Proverbs notes: “The saying is often referred to as an ‘African’ or a ‘West African’ proverb; however, no prototype from Africa has been discovered — though several sayings from that continent do urge cooperation in child rearing and other enterprises.”

Do any readers have any other quotations whose origins they would like me to attempt to trace?

Dan W

For something maybe a little different... There's a Kobe Bryant quote along the lines of, "They're all playing checkers. I'm out there playing chess." I've been curious if he came up with that or if it comes from some more historic trash talk.


Yogi Berra has been quoted as having said, "I never said most of the things I said.” Is this correct? How many of the famous quotations associated with him been incorrectly attributed to him?


This is a little different and may not really be possible to trace but...

For whatever reason, I am very irritated by the constant use of the world "scuffling" to mean "struggling" -- as in having a hard time -- by sportswriters and TV sportscasters and analysts (i.e., "Ever since his concussion, Justin Morneau has been really scuffling at the plate"). I was heartened to see that this NYT article was reprinted with "struggling" in place of "scuffling" (see note at the bottom of the page).

I think of "scuffling" in the context of fighting or struggling physically, not struggling in terms of performance in a sport or in a job, what have you. Do you agree that "scuffling" in this context is misused? And, can you trace the beginnings of this mis-usage? I realize this is slightly different than what's usually asked here but thank you.



How about the phrase that's used to describe something new/fresh/amateur, "green behind the gills"?


Mr. Shapiro,
"We use American English not the King's English." Is this a quote by someone?
Thank you,


This is one of the silliest things I have ever heard of. "no prototype from Africa has been discovered". You won't find that person. This is what makes the proverb so powerful. You can't attribute a saying like this to just one person because communities know it and practice it. It is lived not written (although changing rapidly in the face of new ways of living, especially in cities). The oral tradition is a powerful one in this case and for you to limit it to just one person who was given a European accolade is wholly disappointing. Toni Morrison was not the first person to ever write it, and just because it was written does not make it either a 'quotable reference' or even a 'non-quote'. Please. Spare us your pedantry on the things with which you're not familiar, or at least dig a little deeper and come up with better answers than the above. And stop looking to 'discover' things in Africa. Such stagnant lines of thought when you look to attribute powerful lived experiences to just one person will not break any moulds. Especially at this time in history. Go back centuries, 1989 is just too early, too narrow.



Just give them fifty years and they might work it out


Let's not knock our Village leaders for their efforts. At least someones trying. Technically we can go back to prehistoric times of parents raising offspring and playing games etc. coming up with sayings in groups of tribes and villages around the world at the same time and various eras. We are a group of repetitive discoverers especially when it comes to our living experiences and the wisdom gained we pass on in word. We should be so quick to catch on. =) I for one appreciate every individuals effort and applaude them. Thank you all.

Marlene Stewart

Speak truth to power

Velma George

It's funny nobody paid much attention to this quote until Hillary Clinton said it. At that point it instantly became hers. I'm 73 years old and have heard it most of my adult life, and believe it or not, it wasn't Mrs. Clinton quoting it.